Bearing A Hourglass  
Paperback book cover
Author(s) Piers Anthony
Country United States
Language English language
Series Incarnations of Immortality
Genre(s) Fantasy
Publisher Del Rey Books
Publication date 1984-07-12
Media type Hardcover and Paperback
Pages 293
ISBN 978-0345313140
OCLC Number 10507643
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 19
LC Classification PS3551.N73 B4 1984
Preceded by On a Pale Horse
Followed by With a Tangled Skein


Bearing A Hourglass is a fantasy novel by Piers Anthony. It is the second of eight books in the Incarnations of Immortality series.


Some time in the future (as evidenced by technology in use that is much more advanced than in the first story), Norton—a man of about forty—is living a life of nomadic wandering when a ghost named Gawain asks him to father a child to his widow, Orlene, with whom Norton eventually falls in love. Gawain then asks Gaea, the Incarnation of Nature, to make the child in his own likeness so his bloodline would continue. Unfortunately, the child ends up dead due to a disease that runs in Gawain's family. Orlene then commits suicide.

Feeling depressed about the disastrous results of his affair with Orlene, Norton is approached by Gawain again, who offers Norton the position of Time (Chronos), where he must rule over all Earthly aspects of time. Gawain explains to Norton that Chronos lives backwards in time until the moment of the birth—or conception, it is never made clear—of the office holder's previous self, who is still living forwards. The ghost baits Norton, explaining to him that, by living backwards, he can continue to see Orlene, since she is still alive in the past. Norton accepts, and Gawain leads him to the spot where the future office holder of Time, Norton's predecessor, will pass the hourglass onto Norton. Norton immediately starts literally living life backwards in time, though he can temporarily go forward in order to interact with others. However, when he is living backwards, he is not visible to mortals. Norton experiments with his hourglass, recognized by all the Incarnations as being the most powerful magical device in the world, to halt and/or reverse time, travel many millions of years into the Earth's past, and work with the Incarnation of Fate, who needs his hourglass to help fix tangles in her threads of fate.

Because Norton lives backwards in time, his past is everyone else's future, making him an isolated character even among the other Incarnations. He also realises that this will make it impossible to have a relationship with the forward-living Orlene. He does, however, have an affair with Clotho, the youngest aspect of Fate. This is both awkward and intriguing to Norton since her past is his future.

Residing at his new residence in Purgatory, Norton is then visited by Satan, who informs Norton that while he can travel anywhere in time with his hourglass, he cannot leave Earth. Satan claims to have the power to travel the whole universe, since evil permeates all of reality, and gives Norton some samples of this ability by having him travel to other planets where, Satan claims, time flows backwards, allowing Norton to live normally and to get involved in both a space opera ("Bat Durston and the BEMS") and an epic fantasy adventure. Satan offers Norton the ability to have that power if Norton will grant Satan a favor; to go back in time 20 years and save a man from committing suicide.

Norton goes back in time to check out this young man, but after consulting with the other Incarnations, he is informed that this man is the current office holder of the Incarnation of Death (Thanatos—in other words, Zane, from the previous novel) and that it is Zane's attempted suicide that brought him to that position. This man is needed as Thanatos in order to protect his girlfriend, Luna Kaftan, from Satan's mischief so she can go into politics and fulfill a prophecy of thwarting Satan.

However, a relic Satan had given Norton turned out to be a demon in disguise. When Norton went back in time, the demon disembarked a few years in the past to prevent Luna from going into politics (the demon gives an incumbent politician an antidote to keep him alive so Luna doesn't take his place). Due to some of the limitations of the hourglass, intercepting this demon is difficult, but Norton eventually manages to stop it.

Not giving up, Satan tries one more time by trapping Norton on one of the other planets he had an adventure on. Not sure how to get back home, Norton starts toying with the hourglass, traveling all the way back to the beginning of the observable universe and all the way to its end (from the big bang to the point where all matter became trapped in black holes) and realizes that, since the Incarnations' magic does not extend beyond Earth, his adventures on other planets were illusions created by Satan, and that Norton had, in fact, never left Earth.

Norton then finds out that the demon that created the illusion had been attached to him and, once again, disembarked at a point in the past, two years after the events of the first book, to begin a campaign to discredit Luna so she doesn't run for office. Norton then goes back in time to this point and uses his hourglass to show the world all the bad things that will happen if Luna doesn't get elected. As Norton is no longer fooled by Satan's illusions, Satan stops trying to exploit him.


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Incarnations of Immortality series by Piers Anthony
On a Pale HorseBearing an HourglassWith a Tangled SkeinWielding a Red SwordBeing a Green MotherFor Love of EvilAnd EternityUnder a Velvet Cloak
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