A.M.'s Myth and Folklore Blog

Myth and Folklore ML-3043-996

Category: Project

Storybook Plan

Story sources and the three possible stories can be found in my Storybook Research post.

Structurally, I want to use a frame story of “astronomers in the office” — each story from myth and folklore will be told by someone on the scientific or technical staff after being reminded of it by some technical question or conversation. I think the resulting juxtaposition will be interesting, and I think that filtering some of these ancient myths through the diction and style of modern scientific culture could yield some interesting results.

I’m also planning to outline an underlying theme of scientific uncertainty, especially at its frontiers. To some extent this is unfair: astronomy has a much better track record than some other fields that I’m (metaphorically) taking aim at and much smaller consequences for their mistakes. Astronomy is also not my field, nor one with which I am very familiar, so apologies to it — the wealth of ancient stories about the night sky just made it perfect for this concept. (It is also true that the types of fallacies and mistakes have meaningful overlap between scientific fields, so the whole does still work as a metaphor.)

Stylistically, I also want to make much of the contrast between the technical language and the mythological language and tropes of the stories; that part, I think, will practically write itself.

Storybook Topic Research: Celestial Objects Stories

I’m choosing to focus my storybook research on my “observatory” concept from the topic brainstorming assignment.

An entrance to the Arecibo Observatory. (Image from their site, at the link.)

My vision for this involves a frame story where a young, new, fresh-from-university scientist arrives at the Arecibo Observatory. Their dogmatic and assertive personality, combined with their excessive confidence in scientific orthodoxy, rubs the old hands the wrong way. Frustrated by the new member’s narrow-mindedness, one of the long time senior scientists decides to irritate them — and, as it becomes clear, teach an important lesson — by telling ancient mythological stories about the natures and origins of all the celestial objects they observe.

Possible stories:

  • “The Moon in the Well”: in this source story a group of monkeys are looking at the moon when it is covered up by clouds. Panicking, the monkeys search wildly for the missing moon. Then, one of them sees a reflection of the moon in the water at the bottom of a well. The monkeys then hurry to save the moon from where they think it has fallen, chaining together and hanging from a tree limb. But the tree breaks, and the monkeys fall and are trapped in the well.

    Some object will disappear from observations; there is debate about whether it’s a real result or an artifact of technological issues. This story gets told during the argument.
  • “Why the Sun is Brighter than the Moon” — essentially, two sisters, one kindhearted and one jealous and petty, are chosen for divine gifts, but upon seeing the second sister’s personality, the gift of a diamond that can light the whole universe is given to the first sister but nothing is given to the second. The second is jealous and goes to heaven to steel a jewel, but her crime makes her jewel burn dimly by comparison. Eventually their jewels are both thrown into the sky where the brighter becomes the sun and the duller the moon.

    A debate about stellar composition prompts a lighthearted recollection of a folk story around the coffee machine.
  • ‘The Origin of the Pleiades” — in this story a young man falls in love with one of seven beautiful sisters who live in the sky. To marry her, he must go there with them. He does, marries her, and that explains why one of the seven sisters is fainter in the night sky: she is staying back with her husband instead of joining fully in their celestial dance.

    A simplified chemical model predicts that a certain variance in emission spectra between two stars can be attributed to a certain difference in composition; another scientist disputes the validity of the model and, as a counterexample, tells this story.

Project Topic Brainstorm

(I’m not so sure how I feel about these, but it’s a starting point.)

  • Greek Gods Workplace Drama: (This is a terrible, no good, way-too-cheesy idea, but…) I’m imagining something along the lines of the workplace mockumentary of The Office or Parks and Rec, but with the fraught relationships and responsibilities of the Greek (or Roman) pantheon. I have a fairly general sense of the Greco-Roman gods and their roles, so I wouldn’t be going into this blind.

    I’m not sure exactly how one writes in the style of Parks and Rec, but I do think it could be done. By offsetting character’s commentary typographically from the “action,” possibly in a two-column format, I think a similar effect could be achieved. It could even be styled as “comments” on the main text by the characters, though that starts to look more like social media than I’d like it to. (Has anyone else noticed that satisfying stories, even those written today, almost universally do not include cell phones, social media, or the social internet?)

    A seemingly helpful summary on their familiar relationships can be found here.
  • Origin Stories of the Moon/Constellations/Planets: A young, rather dogmatic, and recently educated physicist or engineer is hired by an astronomy lab (or telescope, imagine Arecibo). They make some pretentious comments/display a great deal of unjustified and dogmatic certainty, and a (possibly strange and quirky) senior scientist decides to tell a bunch of fantastic and mythic stories about the cosmos to disabuse the youngin’ of their hubris.

    Possible sources include (from the UnTextbook): The Folklore of Laos (origin of lightning), a Jataka tale about the disappearance of the moon, a Laos folktake on the origin of the moon, Filipino Popular Tales (why the sun is brighter than the moon), a Bengali folktale about Saturn, and so on.
The Arecibo Radio Telescope’s reflector dish. (Image from Wikipedia.)
  • Animals Tell Their Own Stories: In a similar vein, a field biologist, frustrated, idly wonders out loud to an animal where it came from. To their great surprise, the animal gets up and tells the story in perfect human speech (sourced from someone or other’s myths). Another option is that the biologist has a series of surreal dreams…

    Possible sources: Filipino Popular Tales (why the mosquito hums), etc.
  • Height: David, Goliath, and other Tall and Short Friends and Foes: I find something entertaining in the idea of various short and large mythical and traditional figures commiserating about the hardships of being 4’1″ or 9’2″. Possibly coming in pairs, if I could find enough pairings, otherwise just the contrast and some kind of frame story about who has it harder.

    Possible sources: the story of David and Goliath (see heading “David and the Giant”).