The film "Groundhog Day" has a plot centered around a character whose day repeats exactly the same way each day, and upon waking retains memory of the previous day. This is what I call a "time-loop," which has a full explanation on TVTropes.

What is the earliest known instance of this idea being used in a story?

Edit for clarification: one or a few main characters remember the previous iterations of their day, and their actions can alter the events of the day. However, after the end of the day, the character wakes up with memories in tact. The day then repeats in the same way, possibly with different events depending on what the main character tries to do in reacting to their situation.


5 Answers 5


The following is from a book titled Now and Then We Time Travel: Visiting Pasts and Futures in Film and Television by Frasier A. Sherman (2017), p. 193:

Some sources have cited William Dean Howell's "Christmas Every Day" (1892) as the earliest time-loop story, but that's incorrect: Time passes normally in the story, with magic forcing everyone to celebrate Christmas no matter what the date is. The time-loop concept goes back at least as far as 1922's Worm Ouroboros: At the end of a great war, the protagonists opt to have time recycle endlessly rather than settle into postwar lives of peace and comfort. In Malcolm Jameson's 1941 story "Doubled and Redoubled," a more conventional time loop, a man experiences the best day of his life, and wishes every day could be like that, and a witch overhears ...

So "Christmas Every Day" (1892) features the repetition of a holiday, though time moves forward nonetheless; Worm Ouroboros (1922) involves a time loop over a period of years, but it's one the heroes choose at the end to maintain their sense of purpose; "Doubled and Redoubled" (1941) features the first time loop that occurs over the course of a single day, in a way reminiscent of Groundhog Day.


1927: "The Prince's Birthday Present", a short story by Anthony Armstrong, first published in The Strand Magazine, December 1927 and reprinted in Armstrong's 1932 collection The Prince Who Hiccupped and Other Tales, seems to be the earliest known example of this theme, according to the "Time Loop" entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, from which I quote:

[. . .] The present entry discusses the form of time loop in which, typically, periods of time are repeated and re-experienced by a character's consciousness: there is often some hope of breaking out of the useless cycle of repetition.

This is not so in Anthony Armstrong's early comic-fantasy example "The Prince's Birthday Present" (in The Prince Who Hiccupped and Other Tales, coll 1932), whose ungrateful recipient of three wishes – multiplied by recursive wishing to an indefinite number – is finally unwise enough to ask that he may relive the last, particularly enjoyable half-hour; the replay of course includes this fatal wish. A Mad Scientist entraps his victim and indeed the whole world in a reiterated New Year's Eve in the Shadow radio segment "The Man Who Murdered Time" (1 January 1939). [. . .]


The Wikipedia page on "Time loop" refers to the 1915 novel "Strange Life of Ivan Osokin", which is summarized as:

When the protagonist realizes that he can recall having lived his life before, he decides to try to change it.

There are earlier references like "Christmas Day" (1892) from another answer or the 1904 book "The Defence of Duffers Drift" that I don't think fit the description.


Somewhere here: 1960 - 1973, Carlos Castaneda had written his book "The Wheel of Time: Shamans of Ancient Mexico".

However, there is repeats not a day, but couple of weeks/months... and repeats only once, maybe twice or thrice... In first "loop", Carlos had not seen group of Ancient Shamans on plato in the middle of Sonora desert, he just jumped from this plato to the ground, and appeared couple of hundredth kilometers away from this place in Los Angeles. But in second loop, he remembered party of Don Juan Matus gathered on this plato 12+ members and students, and how Don Juan declared them, that their Shaman's education is finished, they said good bye each other and Carlos with another one graduated called Pablo jumped to the abysm... Pablo was cried...

Moreover, Castaneda declared his books like documentary, not a tabloid literature.

So, as @LitGuest mentioned, seems that the roots of "time loop" hidden deeper in human history and it is not a fiction but practice.


Time loops are an ancient idea, and many instances of history/lifetimes/cycles/eons repeating are found in various world religions and myths. But if you are looking specifically for an early story where a single day repeats, there's "Christmas Every Day" by William Dean Howells, written in 1892.

  • When you say that "Time loops are an ancient idea", are you referring to the old cyclical or circular concept of time? Or are you referring stories that use the concept creatively, especially cultures with a linear concept of time?
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 19:11

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