1. Kathleen Eavenson says:

    I can think of a classic Isaac Asimov story (sorry, can’t remember the title…uhmm, Nightfall?) where a one-in-thousands of years total eclipse destroys the civilization. The people had wondered why their archeologists found records of several previous civilizations destroyed by fire. The planet is in a particularly star rich area where they never see dark skies. *Then* comes this TOTAL eclipse which terrifies everyone. Think this one fits your description??

    • Absolutely. Now that’s making the most of space events! I do wonder, though, why fantasy doesn’t capitalize on the same. Seems like it could be great as a plot point. Instead of prophecies, why not messages in the stars? Seems there could be a creative use for these in fantasy. Thanks for this example, Kathleen.


  2. Jonathan Lovelace says:

    I can only think of two examples. One is another Asimov story, which I haven’t actually read myself (yet), but I’ve both read and had recounted to me a particularly incisive review at the time. According to that critic (though I paraphrase from memory), Asimov’s style (tone) is so pompous that it leads the reader to expect the heavens to be rent apart, galaxies to go off course, etc. … but what actually happens at the “climax” is that a single star goes nova, with one person left on the planet orbiting it at the time.

    The other, more pleasant, example is, of course, Prince Caspian, in which there is a close conjunction that serves several purposes: giving Doctor Cornelius and Caspian an excuse to talk privately, foreshadowing the return of the Pevensies and of Aslan (though the reader by that point already knows the Pevensies have returned, which makes this far more satisfying for me as a reader than prophecies or other astronomical or symbolic foreshadowing usually are in fiction), showing Doctor Cornelius to be a man (dwarf) of learning, giving an astronomical event for Glenstorm to refer to when they meet him, and helping to build the sense of numinous wonder that fills the whole series.

    • Oh, excellent examples, Jonathan. I’d forgotten about Prince Caspian. And as I think about it, I believe Dawn Treader also has stellar events, in the sense that the world of Narnia had an end, that Reepicheep was sailing into an enlarged sun. I guess those are the kinds of things I’m thinking of—they don’t follow our “natural” world. But they could, like the super nova in the Asimov story. It seems to me that this is an area that we writers could glean for gold if we chose to, because the heavens are largely ignored. But I thought maybe there were many more and I simply hadn’t read them.


  3. Roger Spendlove says:

    All of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels were predicated upon an interesting planetary phenomenon. Of course, the Pern stories are still more SF than Fantasy.

    I think the difficulty with using celestial phenomena or events in a Fantasy story is that Fantasy is by definition NON-scientific — the world-building as to how a Fantasy world functions usually has more to do with powers that have nothing to do with a scientific mindset. Not that a blending of Fantasy with a “scientific” astronomical event CAN’T work (the Narnia example above is perfect example); just that they tend to be a bit incongruous.

What do you think?