Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Some thoughts on stars...

Stars in the sky. They've been around a long time, and been used for many different things by different peoples. Navigation has always been one of their big functions (yay, Polaris!). I also think immediately of the Greek constellations which still remain part of our culture today. That's pretty impressive staying power, and it's clear to me that whatever society is first to assign a categorization system to something can retain great influence in the way that thing is represented by other groups (for a very long time!). I should also mention the Southern Cross, which features on my husband's native flag. I've seen it from the Southern Hemisphere - and boy, is it a kick to see Orion upside-down!

The other day, stars in the sky featured prominently in the Curious George cartoon show. George went to the country and became so fascinated by the stars that he tried to count them all. This involved him falling asleep counting multiple nights in a row, until he found a constellation he could use to keep track of which regions he was counting. (I wouldn't have had the heart to tell him it was hopeless, would you?) The interesting part for me was when he went back to the city and tried to count, he couldn't see the stars at all until a citywide blackout occurred. Something about that episode had a beautiful, personal quality for me. It's not just about whether the stars are there, or about teaching that cities have a lot of light that obscures the stars - it also had George being sad that he couldn't see the stars that were his friends. Perhaps it's a little like my own feeling of oddity when I see Betelgeuse below Orion's belt: it situates me in the world.

My Varin world is underground, but when I first wrote about it, I had people swearing by the heavens. Then I went back and said, Hey! One possibility would have been to suggest that they swear by something else. Some of the locals, I decided, do swear by the Pit of Darkness. But instead of "fixing," I decided that the heavens connection should suggest something about the history of the Varin people: that they had once known the stars, but lost them when the society moved underground. From such a simple "error" an entirely new dimension of history and worldbuilding was born, and I'm glad of it.

Here's to the stars.