Our celestial bodies have been at the core of human existence and beliefs from the moment we emerged from the primordial soup. People write poetry and songs about them, worship them as Gods and just simply enjoy the beauty of their constant presence above us. So what is there you can take from such familiar objects that you can use in your fantasy fiction? Little things like constellations and falling stars might form part of folklore and superstitions, but suns and moons may form the very basis of your fantasy world’s beliefs and justify the actions of your characters.
- One lump or two? – One of my favourite images from the Star Wars films was of 2 immense moons of different colours setting over the horizon on Tatooine. So fantasy doesn’t need to keep to the every day. What would life be like with more than 1 sun or additional moons, or if we had neighbouring planets that were so close you could see their spots and rings? Well yes, there are the laws of physics to consider, but hey this is fantasy, leave that concern to the sci-fi crowd.
- Pictures in the sky – People have joined the dots to create their own pictures in the sky for thousands of years and given them fantastic names that have been used in astrology, astronomy, myths, fortune telling and navigation. Many of our constellations have been named after animals, but others have been named after mythical heroes/heroines, domestic items, weapons, etc. For that added little touch of the unusual in fantasy, create your own constellation names. Remember Shrek and Donkey discussing the constellations “Bloodnok the Flatulent” and “Throwback the ogre” as they gazed at the night sky? OK, maybe that’s not such a good example.
- Gods – Sun and moon gods abound in ancient religions, from the peoples of the Americas, through to pre-Christian Europe, Egypt, the middle-east and Asia (just to name a few). When such powerful objects are visible in the day and night, without fail, and they have such an impact on crops, tides, weather and even emotions, it’s only natural that people will base their beliefs on them. People will look to them for guidance and wish to please them when things go wrong (such as failed crops or eclipses). Peoples such as the Aztecs built massive pyramids to their sun gods and performed human sacrifices to please them. Stone Age europeans dragged stones for miles to build henges and tombs that aligned with either the sun or the moon’s movements. It’s all a part of trying to make sense of what we don’t understand, analysing it using what we do know and then interpreting how to use that information (whether it’s right or wrong). These are all things that can be blended into fantasy, where your characters may have specific beliefs about a moon, sun or star, and then follow the “rules” of their world to uphold/enforce those beliefs or even oppose them.
- Comets – If you’ve been lucky enough to see a comet, it is quite a surreal thing. The comet will appear in roughly the same position at night or twilight for a period of days or weeks, and then disappear for years or centuries. Some very bright comets have even been visible during the day in past history. Imagine what impact this would have on people who don’t understand it’s just an icy rock. It could be interpreted as a sign from the Gods, a portent of doom or even as a messenger from the heavens.
- Falling stars – Have you ever made a wish upon a falling star? It’s a nice thing to believe that a wish will come true. But there are also cultures that believe a falling star shows the gods “peeping” at you, is bad luck or indicates that someone you know will die. However, do you remember the videos in Russia in 2013 of that enormous meteorite that fell one morning and made the walls shake and windows implode? They also experienced an explosive boom and a strange smell of sulphur/gunpowder in the air all day. It must have had an incredibly unsettling affect on the people there, but consider what they might have thought if they hadn’t known what it was.
- Northern/southern lights – I know this isn’t a celestial body as such, but it has been the basis of folklore for thousands of years. Many peoples have believed the lights to be human spirits dancing in the sky. Others have believed they can carry you away if they come too close. There were also those who believed the lights possess magic and tried to harness it with special shamanic fires. Surely there’s a place for such entrancing beauty in a world of fantasy.
- Moon phases – The fact that the moon, although constant, changes its position each day and appears to grow and diminish is a significant part of many cultures and beliefs. Easter is held on a full moon. The Chinese have a lunar new year. Buddhists have high regard for full moons as they are associated with key moments in the life of Buddha. The moon’s phases are seen as a cycle of birth, growth, death and renewal. But the moon’s phases are also ripe for use in fantasy. Where would a werewolf be without a full moon?