7 Eclipses In Literature To Help You Prepare For This Rare Astrological Event
If you haven't heard by now, North Americans are going to be treated to a complete solar eclipse on August 21st. It's probably going to do funky things to your zodiac sign, and it's definitely dangerous to stare directly at the sun, but mostly it's just going to be incredibly cool. So break out your eclipse-viewing glasses and your favorite eclipse-based piece of fiction. As we all gear up for 2017's total eclipse of the sun, here are some of the famous eclipses of literature (because it doesn't get much more dramatic than a total solar eclipse).
Because solar eclipses are rare and, if you don't know what's happening, fairly frightening, eclipses tend to turn up in a lot of fiction and folklore. The earliest ever recording of a solar eclipse comes from an Ancient Chinese record, written around 2134 B.C.E. Astronomers were able to predict most eclipses but, apparently, the widespread belief was that an eclipse was caused by a dragon devouring the sun. Archers would have to shoot arrows into the sky until the dragon was chased off, restoring sunlight to the land (in their defense, this strategy always worked).
Here are a few other eclipses, both historical and entirely fictional, that have made their way into famous literature:
'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court' by Mark Twain
What to do if you're a time traveler who's about to be burned at the stake in King Arthur's court? Predict a solar eclipse, of course. In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court our titular Yankee, Hank, saves himself from execution by remembering the date of the historical solar eclipse in 528 C.E. He claims that if he is put to death, he will use magic to forever blot out the sun. The locals laugh him off but, at the very last moment, the sun is eclipsed and everyone is plunged into darkness. The courtiers are terrified and release Hank, who pretends to "return" the sun to them (A.K.A., the eclipse ends naturally).
'Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun' by Hergé
I'm not saying that Hergé stole from Mark Twain...but Prisoners of the Sun has almost the exact same plot point as A Connecticut Yankee. Tintin and Captain Haddock are captured by the Prince of the Sun in Peru, and sentenced to death for being nosy jerks. But the Prince lets Tintin choose the hour of their death, and of course Tintin picks the exact moment of a handy solar eclipse. The Prince and his people are so freaked out by Tintin's ability to command the sun that they agree to free him if he brings daylight back. So...if you're planning to gt captured and put to death, try to do it in North America on August 21, 2017. (And yes, Hergé did later apologize for his racist depiction of the ancient Incan people, who actually understood solar eclipses quite well.)
'Dolores Claiborne' and 'Gerald's Game' by Stephen King
If it's in any way freaky or weird, it's definitely appeared in a Stephen King novel. King actually planned a longer series called "In the Path of the Eclipse," but for now he has two novels linked by the same solar eclipse. In Dolores Claiborne, Dolores uses the cover of the 1963 solar eclipse to murder her abusive husband. The same solar eclipse appears in Gerald's Game, as Jessie relives a traumatic incident from her childhood that took place during the midday darkness.
'Nightfall' by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg
Even on planet Earth, solar eclipses are a pretty noticeable phenomenon. But what happens when there's an eclipse on a planet that has never known darkness? In Asimov's Nightfall, the planet Lagash (Kalgash in later editions) is illuminated at all times by at least one of its six suns. No one has ever known night. A rare, total eclipse gives the inhabitants of Lagash their first ever view of the night sky...and the shocking revelation of stars, and the possibility of other planets out there in the universe, drives the entire population mad.
'The Strain' by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Who loves a solar eclipse more than a vampire? Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's sci-fi series begins with a total eclipse that lets our vampiric friends finally venture out in the daytime...and start spreading their vampiric virus to everyone in New York City. This is more of a scary vampire novel than a sexy vampire novel, so fan's of Stephanie Meyer's Eclipse might not get on board, but if you like your solar eclipses filled with grotesque monsters, this one's for you.
'Faraon' by Bolesław Prus
You may not have heard of the late 1800s Polish novel Faraon (Pharaoh, in English), but it's worth mentioning for two reasons: 1) Everyone stole Bolesław Prus's solar eclipse plot device and 2) Bolesław Prus is quite possibly the most amazing name ever given to a real human being. After Bolesław witnessed the 1887 solar eclipse himself, he was inspired to write one into the climactic scene of his novel. In the book, Pharaoh Ramses' chief adversary, Herhor, exploits a solar eclipse and pretends that he has the power to control the sun (a plot twist that Mark Twain stole from poor Bolesław).
The Epic of Gilgamesh
One of the earliest mentions of a solar eclipse in fiction has got to be this not-quite scientifically accurate description from the ancient Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh: "Early in the morning at dawn a black cloud arose from the horizon . . . [the gods] turned everything to blackness." Hopefully the 2017 solar eclipse will feel a lot more exciting and a lot less...ominous.