Fire in the Mind
A few days ago, while reading, I hit a sentence that arrested me.
The sentence was this: “Now let’s go dig for stars.”
I was reading George MacDonald’s, At the Back of the North Wind–a fantasy story about a young boy named Diamond who goes on adventures with a mysterious being, the Lady North Wind.
At this point in the story, Diamond was dreaming he was standing on a hill, and several angelic creatures approached him, one of which spoke the line that caught my attention. Out of context, the line could mean a million things. Even in context the possibilities were legion. Was it just a way of saying they were going to dig up lustrous gems? Or maybe in this dream-world stars fell from the sky and burrowed into the earth’s loam. Or maybe the hill Diamond was standing on wasn’t on the earth at all–instead, perhaps it was on the exterior of a cosmic-sized shell surrounding the entire universe, where a person could crack through and take the stars fixed to the inside curvature of the shell.
Or maybe they wanted to exhume a bunch of dead actors from a Hollywood cemetery. Unlikely, but still…
I stopped reading there. Throughout the rest of that day I couldn’t keep the phrase from echoing on in my mind, suggesting new interpretations and realities. It reminded me of the way fireworks sometimes have chain reactions, where one burst of light spawns a new burst which in turn spawns another, and so on. You could write a dozen different stories from this one concept .
George Macdonald himself may have been inspired to write this book in a similar fashion. The idea of being “at the back of the north wind” comes from ancient Greek sources, like Herodotus, who believed that if you traveled far enough into the freezing north, you would eventually go behind the source of the North Wind (Boreas) into a land sunny and bright.
And that is one of the most wonderful things about speculative fiction–to go somewhere you’ve never been before. Which can sometimes be the same thing as escaping, but isn’t necessarily so. Sometimes it is a vital and thrilling exploration.