Solar Eclipse

















The Sun-Eating Dragon Continued

This theme of science-versus-superstition even appears in the world-renowned comic-book adventures of Tintin, the boy reporter created by Hergé. In Prisoners of the Sun, Tintin and his companions have been taken prisoner by a tribe of Incas. For their crime of accidentally entering the Temple of the Sun, Tintin and Captain Haddock are to be burned alive, their pyre lit by a huge magnifying glass focusing the rays of the sun. The only dispensation the Incas give them is that they may choose the day and hour of their death. Tintin finds a scrap of newspaper in his pocket, and notices that a total Image: 1842 Sketcheclipse is predicted a few days hence. Choosing that day and time for their execution, Tintin then is able to halt the ceremony, shouting to the leader of the Incas "Stay, Husker! . . . The Sun God will not hear your prayers! O magnificent Sun, if it is thy will that we should live, give us now a sign!" And the sun, appearing to obey Tintin's will, begins to disappear behind the eclipse. The Incas are terrified, and rush about in chaos. The Inca leader frees Tintin and his friends, and they are accorded places of honor.

There May Be More to the Story

All of these literary examples imply that it is foolish to be afraid of an eclipse. Their authors would agree with Bryan Brewer, who, in his book Eclipse, put the idea this way: "With advance notice of the event and a higher level of scientific understanding among people, there is no need for anyone to be frightened by what should be a marvelous experience of the beauty of nature."

Image: Medieval Eclipse

But is it really superstitious to react to an eclipse with fear and wonder? Do scientists really feel no awe or amazement when the sun disappears behind the moon? Often science is portrayed as a struggle in which the discovery of facts liberates us from the tyranny of emotional reaction to experience. But a look at some other literary reactions to eclipses, and a look at the feelings of modern scientists themselves, reveals a different picture. Perhaps these people would agree with Thomas Carlyle that "The man who cannot wonder is but a pair of spectacles behind which there is no eye."

Solar Eclipses Back