In preparation for the solar eclipse this morning I dusted off my copy of Enid Blyton’s “The Secret Mountain” and skipped to the climax of the novel where Prince Paul is about to be sacrificed to a sun god. As fate would have it, an eclipse was scheduled for the very day of his human sacrifice:
“Eclipse of the sun, 11.43 a.m.,” he read. “Is this this year’s diary? Yes!”
How very fortuitous for him.
Blyton brings things to a fever pitch of anxiety before Captain Arnold gambles Paul’s life on the moon turning up on time:
He snatched a knife from his belt and threw it high into the air at the sun!
Just then the eclipse begins:
A tiny piece seems suddenly to be bitten out of the sun! A small black shadow appeared at one side. The moon was beginning to pass in front of it and was hiding a very small piece.
The story then takes on a tone that sits uncomfortably on the modern ear.
A moan of fear came from the watching Mountain Folk. They did not understand how simple a thing an eclipse was and they really thought that their precious sun was being killed!
There are other bits similarly patronising to the Mountain Folk (who, had this been reality, would perhaps have a cool calendar with millennia of eclipses marked in):
There was a wee description which was quite like what happened today:
And now the earth began to look queer and unearthly. The sunlight dwindled and died. A queer half-light came over the whole countryside.
Because we were not in the direct path of the shadow, that’s as complete as it got. For Prince Paul, they had the full thing, being plunged into a starry darkness:
“Don’t be afraid,” Mrs Arnold said to the scared children who had not expected this. “The sun is gone now, lost behind the moon – so, of course, it is like night time and the stars shine out. You must remember that the stars are always in the sky, all through the day – but we don’t see them because the daylight is so bright.”
So, Prince Paul managed to escape being sacrificed to the sun god. Phew.
It wasn’t so dramatic for us. We watched a bit of Brian Cox and then went to the window, remembering not to look at the eclipse, while trying to look at the eclipse. I accidentally looked at the eclipse because I was looking for where the eclipse was. Anyway, it was like a wee bright fingernail. Quite an atmospheric sky.
Someone fairly near me geographically took this photo that I poached off the Facebook:
While I enjoyed the trip down memory lane re-reading the climax of “The Secret Mountain”, I, as usual, failed to get all that excited about physics on a grand scale, getting my sun and my moon in alignment. I figure it’s just about perception. It depends where you are and what you see as much as it is about the sun and the moon and the earth and where they are. The intense black shadow bit would be cool to be under, I’ll concede.
But to be there, you pretty much have to be an eclipse chaser willing to go wherever eclipses are, or you have to be a character in an Enid Blyton novel with an eclipse turning up as the deus ex machina.
Gradually, the sun became itself again as the moon passed right across it and the black shadow fled. The glorious daylight flooded the mountains, and the golden sun poured its rays down once more.