Michael Crichton


  • This summary of Timeline includes a complete plot overview – spoilers included!
  • We’re considering expanding this synopsis into a full-length study guide to deepen your comprehension of the book and why it's important.
  • Want to see an expanded study guide sooner? Click the Upvote button below.

Timeline Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Timeline by Michael Crichton.

Best-selling American author, Michael Crichton, published Timeline (1999) to critical and popular acclaim. The novel follows a group of graduate archeology students who traverse through a time machine to rescue their professor in fourteenth-century France. Timeline was adapted to a feature film in 2003, as well as a popular video game in 2000. As with most of Crichton’s work, Timeline employs many scholarly resources to inform its narrative; with Timeline, Crichton’s bibliography comprises eighty-one books.

Prominent themes include the nature of greed, authentic friendship, and the surprisingly dynamic connection between the past and present. Timeline is narrated from third-person, omniscient perspective, frequently shifting point of view to build suspense and increase mystery.

Four parts correspond to a region of France or the United States that the main characters explore: Corazon, Dordogne, Blackstone, and Castelgard.

In Corazon, Dan Baker and his wife are lost and driving through the Northern Arizona desert when they come across a man in his seventies with very little hair on his head but a sizeable beard. He looks like a priest. They pull over to help him, then take him to a hospital in Gallup, New Mexico. They learn that the man works at ITC and has unexplainable growth abnormalities in his blood vessels. The man dies twenty-four hours later.

In the Dordogne (southwest) portion of France, Archeology Professor Edward Johnston leads a group of relatively young archaeologists as they study the fourteenth-century towns of Castelgard and La Roque. Professor Johnston travels to New Mexico because he has reason to believe ITC is guilty of foul play. During his absence, his students discover several disturbing sights, including the lens to Professor Johnston’s glasses and an inexplicable message from him.

The students—Chris Hughes, Kate Erickson, and André Marek—search for Johnston by flying to ITC headquarters in New Mexico. They are joined by David Stern, a computer geek whom André trusts with his life.

While there, ITC CEO Robert Doniger informs them that Professor Johnston has traveled to 1357 using their undisclosed quantum technology. The students decide to venture into the past to rescue the professor. Stern chooses to stay behind, realizing that time travel is probably terrible for one’s biology.

Immediately when they arrive in 1357, they are attacked by knights. Their ITC guards are murdered and the machine is severely damaged: none of them are able to return to the present.

Kate and André find Professor Johnston; Lord Oliver of Castelgard is keeping him under arrest. Lord Oliver is convinced Professor Johnston knows the secret passageway to the famous castle of La Roque. La Roque is commanded by Arnaut de Cervole, Lord Oliver’s arch-nemesis, who plans to attack Lord Oliver’s domain.

Meanwhile, Chris tells a boy-in-disguise that he is a nobleman, which leads the boy (who really is Lady Claire) to take Chris to Sir Guy de Malegant. Chris and André (who has since found Chris) meet Sir Malegant, and to their surprise, are challenged to a joust: Chris’s proclamation of nobility and his flirtations with certain women have turned him into the enemy of several men. The two escape thanks to André’s intelligence and knowledge of the area; André was so enamored by medieval times that he taught himself jousting, fencing, and longbow archery.

Lord Oliver of Castelgard orders the students’ deaths. They flee and are pursued by Sir Malegant and his knight, Robert de Kere. To keep Lord Oliver’s men from pursuing them, the students look for the secret passage to La Roque. Chris and Kate focus on the secret passage while André gains entry into Castelgard by posing as Professor Johnston’s assistant. André learns that the professor is helping Lord Oliver build a weapon to defeat De Crevole’s incoming forces.

Simultaneously, Chris learns that another future-person is helping De Crevole’s forces. The man is Rob Deckard, an ITC worker who has undergone so many quantum leaps that his DNA is tampered and weakened, much like the seventy-year-old man the couple in Arizona found at the beginning of the novel; Rob Deckard does not plan to return to the future. Chris also overhears that the knight, Robert de Kere, plans to take the next trip to the future for himself.

De Crevole begins the siege of Castelgard, which the graduate students know from their textbook, he wins. Around the start of the battle, the students learn that they have thirty-six hours left to travel back into the present time.

During the battle, Kate runs away from Sir de Malegant and inadvertently kills him. André and Chris free Professor Johnston from a dungeon. They see De Crevole battle with Lord Oliver; De Crevole wins and murders Lord Oliver.

The knight De Kere attacks Chris, as he still wants the machine to take him to the future. But Chris defeats him by setting him on fire with gunpowder supplied by Professor Johnston.

The team waits for Stern, who remains in the present, to fix the machine’s launching pad so they can return. André chooses to stay in the fourteenth century. The rest of the team returns to 1999.

Back in the present and in control of the time machine, the team condemns ITC CEO Doniger to travel back to 1348, which was the start of the Black Plague. Learning the extent of Doniger’s inhumanity during their travels, they feel this punishment is just.

The novel concludes with an epilogue. Chris and Kate are now married and expecting their first child. While digging through a site one day, they come across the grave of André and Lady Claire. They are pleased to know the two led a happy life together.