Tag Archives: eclipses

Lovecraft’s “The Other Gods,” Part 2: The Role of the Eclipse

tumblr_o62mtmIZTg1vnhtpro1_1280

This article concludes the discussion on H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Other Gods” with an assessment of the role of the eclipse in this tale.  While the story is fairly short, an eclipse is mentioned four times in the text. The first time it is mentioned is when villagers tell how Barzai the Wise “…went up a mountain on the night of the strange eclipse.” The fact that the eclipse is mentioned to occur at night indicates that it must be a lunar eclipse and not a solar eclipse. As previously described, a lunar eclipse is where the sun, Earth and moon are aligned with Earth in the middle. During a total lunar eclipse, direct sunlight is completely blocked by the Earth’s shadow so the only light observed is that refracted through Earth’s shadow. Lunar eclipses give the moon a reddish color and so are sometimes called a blood moon.  This is due to the scattering of more blue light and more red light being received by our eyes.

lunar_eclipse_fb A Lunar Eclipse

Later in the tale it is said, “The moon is dark, and the gods dance in the night; there is terror in the sky, for upon the moon hath sunk an eclipse foretold in no books of men or of earth’s gods…” This statement is particularly strange for two reasons. First, it states that the moon was dark. Lunar eclipses can only occur when the moon is full; in contrast, solar eclipses occur only during the day when the moon is new and thus would be dark. We know that the events in “The Other Gods” occurs at night and we know the moon is visible so I hypothesis that the moon was still full and thus visible (if it was not visible why would it be mentioned). However, the term “dark” may refer to the moon not being as bright as it typically is during a full moon.

The second odd point in the statement above was that the eclipse was not predicted or foretold in any books. Once you understand that relationship between the sun, Earth and moon and know that an eclipse can only occur when the sun is close to a node in the moon’s orbit, such events can be predicted. In ancient times on Earth the appearance of an eclipse was an indication of apocalyptic events since they were not understood and could not be predicted (similar to comets; celestial events that appear to be initially chaotic compared to the movement of the sun, moon, stars and planets). Even if the arrangement of the Dreamlands sun, Earth and moon is slightly different in the Dreamlands multiverse compared to ours, the fact that it states that this eclipse was not foretold indicates that this was a unique event and that eclipses are typically predicted by astronomers in the Dreamlands.

2012-02-13-dreammap-color-small A map of the Dreamlands by Jason B. Thompson (www.mockman.com)

Barzai and Atal travel to the peaks of Hatheg-Kla to observe the Earth Gods dance. Barzai must have had some very secretive information to be able to know when to go to Hatheg-Kla to see the Earth Gods since the eclipse was not predicted. Toward the end of the story when Barzai bears witness to the Other Gods this appears to occur during the eclipse. It is during the eclipse that Barzai falls up into the sky, probably being abducted by the Other Gods.

After the Other Gods take Barzai, the moon comes out of the eclipse and Atal is found on the lower snows of the mountain. Clouds are associated with the strange eclipse in this passage so it may have been caused by the cloud ships of the Earth Gods who visit the mountaintop to dance and observe the Other Gods themselves. However, I hypothesize that the eclipse was actually caused by the Other Gods themselves coming into our universe through an inter-dimensional portal. In fact, the strange, dark, unpredicted eclipse may have been how the Other Gods entered the Dreamlands Universe. While the Earth Gods stayed back and secure in their cloud ships, foolish Barzai the “Wise” actually made himself known to the Other Gods and paid the price.

2015-03-18-theothergods The Other Gods by Jason B. Thompson (www.mockman.com)

At the end of the story it is said that “…to this day the people of Ulthar and Nir and Hatheg fear eclipses, and pray by night when pale vapors hide the mountain-top on Hatheg-Kla…”, I think the fear is of unpredictable eclipses, not of all eclipses. Additionally, if an unpredictable eclipse does open a portal from one universe to another, it would be wise for the residents of the Dreamlands to stay away from the peaks of Hatheg-Kla.

TheOtherGods_JbLee The Other Gods by Jb Lee

Next time we will discuss Lovecraft’s understanding and misuse of the theory of evolution in his tale “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family.” Much of this information will be based on a presentation I gave on Lovecraft and evolution at the NecronomiCon in August 2017. Thank you – Fred.

Advertisements

H.P. Lovecraft and the Influence Eclipses Had on Him

solar-eclipse-www.nj.com               The 21st August 2017 solar eclipse (www.nj.com)T

Last month’s total solar eclipse occurred on the 21st of August 2017, one day after H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday.  The last total solar eclipse through the continental United States before this year was 26 February 1979; before that the last total solar eclipse was on 8 June 1918.  Surprisingly I could find no reference to it in Lovecraft’s essays on astronomy. However, by 1918 Lovecraft was shifting the majority of his writing from astronomical observations to fiction. Lovecraft did note partial or total solar eclipses in April 1903, June 1908, June 1909, January 1916 and January 1917. He also noted a solar eclipse that was observed as a partial one in the northeastern part of the United States on 21st August 1914 (Joshi, 2004), 103 years before the one we just observed last month.

The last time Lovecraft reported on upcoming eclipses in his astronomical articles was in the 1 December 1917 edition of the Evening News.  In the article Lovecraft states, “Two eclipses will occur this month, an annular eclipse of the sun and total eclipse of the moon. The solar eclipse, which occurs on the 14th, will be invisible at Providence, but visible in the Antarctic regions and the southern parts of the American and Australian continents. The lunar eclipse falls on the 28th and will be generally visible here, except for the final emergence of the moon from the earth’s penumbra, which will take place after our satellite has set in the morning” (Joshi, 2004).

51Y6gNu5CJL__SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

Just for clarification, a lunar eclipse is where the sun, Earth and moon are aligned with Earth in the middle. During a total lunar eclipse, direct sunlight is completely blocked by the Earth’s shadow so the only light observed is that refracted through Earth’s shadow. Lunar eclipses give the moon a reddish color, sometimes called a blood moon, due to the scattering of more blue light and more red light being received by our eyes.

Luna-roja A lunar eclipse

In contrast, a solar eclipse such as the one that occurred last month, is when the sun, Earth and moon are aligned with the moon between the sun and the Earth. For a solar eclipse, this conjunction of the three bodies can only occur during a new moon, which is the first phase of the moon where it and the sun have the same elliptical longitude.

Solar_lunar_eclipse_diagram

While Lovecraft did not appear to officially document any more eclipses in astronomical articles after the end of 1917, he did note a time when he traveled to Boston to spend time with W. Paul Cook in late August 1932. They then went to Newburyport to see a total solar eclipse.  Lovecraft noted “The landscape did not change in tone until the solar crescent was rather small, & then a kind of sunset vividness became apparent. When the crescent waned to extreme thinness, the scene grew strange & spectral – an almost deathlike quality inhering in the sickly yellowish light” (Joshi, 2014).

It should be noted a particular solar eclipse did contribute toward a major change in Lovecraft’s view of the Cosmos, specifically in reference to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Isaacs Newton and physicists since him have described gravity as a force – and this concept works well when describing the motions of planets and other “large” bodies. However, Einstein said gravity was the result of a distortion in space-time, created by the presence of mass (Farndon, 2007). Thus, the larger the mass of the object, the greater the distortion.

BLOG_www.solar-eclipse.earth_einstein_1140w483_300dpi-min_1Gravity being the result of distortions in space-time due to mass (www.solar-eclipse.earth) 

When Einstein initially proposed this idea most of the scientific community did not think much of the hypothesis. Like many of Einstein’s ideas, it was very strange and his calculations were difficult to follow. A key point to Einstein’s idea was that everything would be impacted by these distortions, even light. Einstein knew that no one would take his idea seriously if it could not be empirically tested and validated. In the spring of 1919, the astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington took photographs during a solar eclipse – which is the only time that stars can be seen during the day. His results confirmed that the light of a star did indeed shift or “bend” when it passed close to the Sun. This shift was almost exactly as Einstein predicted.

Negative_photo_of_the_1919_solar_eclipse_medium                                                                                          Negative photo of the 1919 solar eclipse, which confirmed Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity

The confirmation of the Theory of General Relativity through the collection of empirical data during a solar eclipse had a profound impact on Lovecraft’s philosophical view of the Cosmos. For example, in a letter to his friend James F. Morton, Lovecraft stated that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity throws our world and perception of reality into chaos, making the cosmos a jest or as he put it: “All the cosmos is a jest, and fit to be treated only as a jest, and one thing is as true as another” (S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providence:  The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft from Hippocampus Press, 2013).

Headlines

While initially Lovecraft actually appears a little distressed over the confirmation of the Theory of General Relativity, he did eventually come to terms with its concepts as demonstrated in his fiction. While some have been critical of Lovecraft’s use or distorted use of Einstein’s Theories in his fiction, it was still innovative story writing at the time – using cutting edge physics and science in horror fiction. Some of the most interesting “connections” recognized by Lovecraft and incorporated into this cosmic fiction included the importance of non-Euclidean geometry and math in a “curved space-time” Einsteinian universe. Thus, of all of the solar eclipses Lovecraft documented in his life, the one off the west coast of Africa on 29th of May 1919 probably had the largest impact on him as a writer.

alberteinstein_4657817773_66c50bc899_o

Next time we will discuss the one story of Lovecraft’s where an eclipse was an important component of the tale – The Other Gods. Thank you – Fred.