Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Syncs: At the Back of the North Wind

As documented in my May 13 post "Syncs: The World Beneath," I recently ran across the James Gurney book Dinotopia: The World Beneath, and I did eventually manage to read the whole thing. Of all the dinos and other prehistoric creatures in the story, only one of them has an invented name: skybax, a fictional species of Quetzalcoatlus. I asked Mr. Gurney if the second element of that name meant anything in particular, but he said he could no longer remember; he had invented it because he thought Quetzalcoatlus was too much of a mouthful.

I thought skybax sounded like sky-back, which made me think of the Flammarion engraving, in which a man pokes his head through the firmament and can see what is in back of the sky. An email correspondent was reminded of skybox, a method used in video-game graphics to create the illusion of an infinitely distant sky. This "sky" actually consists of the inner surfaces of a finite cube, though; Wikipedia notes that a similar device, the skydome, works on a similar principle but uses a sphere or hemisphere instead of a cube. So two quite different free-association etymologies for skybax each leads to the Flammarion concept.

In addition to Q. skybax, the (non-fictional) type species, Q. northropi, also appears in The World Beneath, but the "northies" are only mentioned on one page: p. 150, next to a picture captioned "Casting away the ruby sunstone."

As I had already connected skybax with the idea of "the back of the sky," the juxtaposition with northies made me think of a book I had bought over a year ago but had not yet read: At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald. It was actually sitting right there on my desk, since I had been rearranging some of my books and had not yet found a suitable place for it in any of my bookcases. I picked it up, glanced at the table of contents, and saw that one of the chapter titles is "Ruby."

Then, remembering that I had used the Flammarion engraving a few times on my blog, I looked up those old posts and discovered that one of them, "Break on through to the other side" (July 2022) features an epigram from none other than George MacDonald.

That was enough to make me start reading At the Back of the North Wind, and as I write this post I'm about halfway through it. The main character is a boy named Diamond, and the reason he has such an unusual name is that he was named after his father's favorite horse. As he explains to the title character when they first meet, "Diamond is a great and good horse; . . . he's big Diamond and I'm little Diamond; and I don't know which of us my father likes best."

This talk of big and little diamonds is another link to the sunstones of The World Beneath:

As I mentioned, I have been rearranging some of the books in my rather large library, and last night I ran across my copy of Shelley's Poetry and Prose (Norton), which I had forgotten I owned. Since Shelley's poem about the sensitive plant was in the sync-stream a while back, I took it down and looked up that poem. Lines 106-07 caught my eye:

And a northern whirlwind, wandering about
Like a wolf that had smelt a dead child out

The North Wind of MacDonald's story typically takes the form of a beautiful long-haired woman who is sometimes extremely large and other times "just about the height a dragon-fly would be, if it stood on end." (Dragonflies again!) At one point, though, she takes on rather different appearance:

At the foot of the stair North Wind stood still, and Diamond, hearing a great growl, started in terror, and there, instead of North Wind, was a huge wolf by his side. He let go of his hold in dismay, and the wolf bounded up the stair. The windows of the house rattled and shook as if guns were firing, and the sound of a great fall came from above. Diamond stood with white face staring up at the landing.

"Surely," he thought, "North Wind can't be eating one of the children!"

Incidentally, I started At the Back of the North Wind just after finishing The Uninscribed by Stephanie South (which is just about the new-agiest thing I've encountered in my puff, and I say this as someone who has read Pleiadian Perspectives on Human Evolution by Amorah Quan Yin) -- from South to North. South calls herself the Red Queen -- a reference to the nickname of an unidentified Mayan woman, but also a Lewis Carroll character who, since Carroll made it clear she is a different person from the Queen of Hearts, could only be the Queen of Diamonds. Here's the opening paragraph of The Uninscribed:

As a child, I had recurring visions of underground time tunnels in the earth. The tunnels were connected to a transport system with openings that led into past, present, and future. Through these tunnels, I witnessed world wars, a time of dinosaurs and giants, as well as possible futures.

Underground tunnels and dinosaurs are another link to The World Beneath, but also note that the very first sentence mentions time tunnels -- as in my February 24 post "Green Lantern pterosaur time-tunnel story here!" (That was a gematria-inspired title, by the way. In S:E:G:, Green Lantern = pterosaur = time tunnel = story here = 133.)

Today I gave some of my very young English students a test. It was an old test I had made for a different group of students two years ago, well before the pterosaur or dragonfly syncs started. It's testing extremely basic English grammar -- the use of is and are, and giving short answers to yes/no questions. There's a picture and a question of the form "Is it . . .?" or "Are they . . .?" and they have to complete and answer the question. If the correct answer is "No," of course, almost any picture will do, so just for kicks I had thrown in a few random prehistoric creatures. For example:

This is the one that really got my attention today, though:

Not only is it a pterosaur, I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be a Quetzalcoatlus northropi. I may have chosen it as a sort of pun (pterosaurs are called "winged dragons" in Chinese), or maybe it was just totally random, like the hamster titanotheres. Either way, it was a strange coincidence running into it again now.

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