Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.” I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”
Thin clouds set by the moon aglow;
Concentric circles fade away:
White like sun on face of snow
Melts through silver into gray.
The surface is not smooth, but creased:
Rents and patches, not a few,
Hurried on from West to East,
Sometimes let a star shine through.
Frame it all with stands of pine,
Silent shapes against the light.
Shifting shadows redefine
Modulating moods of night.
Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!
Donald T. Williams, PhD
A couple weeks back I talked about how to start building a world, and I want to keep that theme going. Throughout history the stars have been incredibly important to human kind. Not only do the moon and sun have significant physical effects on the world, but various cultures have believed that they could use the sky to determine everything from an individuals purpose in life, to his/her best potential mate, to the day that person would die. Astrology is one of the oldest, and most pervasive, ‘sciences’, but it is generally ignored in fantasy literature. I have read many fantasy novels in which the sky is almost never mentioned. In many stories it is impossible to tell if the world even has a moon, much less what affect the moon might have.
So, how does the sky affect our fantasy worlds? Perhaps how can the sky affect our fantasy worlds? Does your world have one moon, like earth? Does it have more than one moon? Does it have a moon at all? How does the moon affect the world?
For instance, in the world of Avnul there is no moon, simply sun and stars. The most obvious effect of this lack is that the night is significantly darker. However, probably the most significant effect is upon the oceans. No moon equals no regular tidal movement which equals significant differences in sea-travel and coastal life. Animals that, in our world, depend on the tides as a regular part of their life cycle do not exist in Avnul, or exist in significantly different ways. For instance a variety of small fish, various species of crab or mollusk, and some oceanic plant life simply are not present in the world of Avnul due to the lack of tidal movement. Other types of crab are significantly more mobile in the world of Avnul because they are forced to move to and from the water, instead of the water moving to and from them. The small fish that dwell in tidal pools are non-existent because they do not have the protection of the small ecosystem such regularly refilled pools offer.
The lack of regular tidal movement also means that travel by ship is not hindered by the tide. A ship does not have to wait for high tide to leave or dock at a port, for instance. The lack of a moon also has a significant affect on the tracking of time. Many, I can probably safely say most but I haven’t done the research necessary to back up such a statement, early calendars were based on the lunar month. With no moon the means of tracking months generally revolves around seasons, which makes for much longer months, or religious standards. The lack of a moon also means that months are not regular in their period of time, while one month might be only sixty to sixty five days another month might be over a hundred days. Among the Neshelim there are two religious months that last only fifteen days each.
The stars are also very important, historically speaking, in religion and occult ritual. For instance, medieval astrologers proposed connections between the planets and the greco-roman gods. They also proposed mystical connections between various important constellations, the movement of the planets through said constellations, and events on earth. Various forms of divination, such as augury (divination through studying the flight of birds) and haruspicy (divination through studying the entrails of animals) both compared their mediums to the placement of objects in the sky. These connections are often nonsensical to the modern mind, but were intrinsic to the ancient mind. Modern astrology still draws on many of these ancient connections to make its predictions.
Applying this to fantasy writing: in the world of Avnul the Longminjong identify thirteen important constellations in the sky, six individual stars (actually planets but the Longminjong have not yet made the distinction), and the sun. The interaction of these celestial bodies is extremely important to their lives.
For instance the constellation named ‘The Rat’ is identified with certain days of the year, the color green, the mineral jade, the direction west, and several animals. The Rat symbolizes cleverness, luck, ingenuity, and a mischievous nature. Thus those individuals born on days that are associated with The Rat are expected to have a be clever, but troublemakers. They are expected to pursue certain careers (such as thievery, politics, or engineering), to have a natural aptitude for certain tasks (public speaking, debate, or invention), and to be compatible with certain people. The constellation is also called upon, and directs, a variety of magical techniques. For instance The Rat might be called upon in the creation of a talisman intended to bring an individual good luck. Such a talisman would be made from the tail of a rat or ferret (two animals associated with The Rat), it would be created while the maker was facing west, and require the use of jade implements to craft the amulet. Alternatively such a talisman might be made in the west, with the pattern of the rat carved into a small jade tablet.
Among the Nemmi the common belief is that their gods live among the stars. So the Nemmi identify certain groupings of stars with a particular god or spirit and will often create dances that mimic that pattern of stars as a part of their prayers. A Nemmi who wished to draw the attention of a particular god might build a fire in the shape of that god’s constellation, and then dance in a pattern that mimics said constellation. The Neshelim, on the other hand, generally look down on such astrological connections. They do, however, use the stars to navigate through the desert, much as a sailor might use the stars to navigate through the sea.
These are just a few examples, from the world of Avnul, of how the sky can be used to great effect in your fantasy worlds. So, what impact does the sky have on your world? Does it have an impact at all? Is this something you have thought about?