This Week’s Prompt: 30. Strange visit to a place at night—moonlight—castle of great magnificence etc. Daylight shews either abandonment or unrecognisable ruins—perhaps of vast antiquity.
The Resulting Story: The Mansion of the Moon
The Moon. The Moon, majestic mighty Luna. That, my fellows, is what strikes me most from this prompt. The Moon is one of the greatest and largest forces in the heavens. As such, it’s form and meanings are vast and numerous. We will begin with a few folkloric examples (of multitudes), as well as a few mythic divinities, and of course some more popular recent examples.
The Moon has almost always belonged to the wild places. The moon is a shifting changing thing, and this change has been known for quite some time, particularly in contrast to the more constant rising sun. The pair are often persented as opposites in one regard or the other: in southern Mexico, the Moon is Mary to the Sun-Chirst. Diana and Apollo likewise stand as opposites, in gender and attitude (Diana being a huntress of the wild, Apollo the patron of arts and civilization).
The Moon has it’s animals as well. The rabbit of the moon is a vast cornucopia of forms, from China to the Aztec empire. The reason behind the rabbit changes, admittedly, but often involves some form of self sacrifice (failed or otherwise). The owl, with it’s circular white face and nightly habits, makes an important contrast with the eagle of the sun. In the Near East, the Bull comes forward as a lunar creature as well, tied to the necessary sacrifice to the gods.
This changing nature of the Moon also gives the moon a reputation for shifting nature and illusion, and by extension madness. Among gods, we can see a number of sorcerer gods associated with the Moon. Thoth of Egypt, Kalfu, and Huitica as examples. The Tarot Card of the Moon reflects this uncertainty and changing state. On either side are twin towers, a wolf and a domestic dog, and across from the moon is an amphibious crab crossing from sea to land. The moon violates and warps divisions, it transcends and works between them.
Several of theses, such as Thoth and Chang’e, are further associated with the transformative powers of alchemy. While the Sun plays a more obvious role in Alchemy symbolism, the moon plays an equal role. The synergy between silver and gold in the philospher stone, the combinging of the fundamental masculine and feminine is key for ‘true’ divinity.
The association with madness, however, runs deeper. In English we maintain the notions of insanity tied to the moon with words like lunacy or moonstruck. The full moon is a time between things, an imitation of the sun in a strange way. The wolves howl at the moon then, and in Europe some trade shapes with men. The moon, as delightful as it can be in it’s blurring of borders, can also dangerous. Some borders exist for a reason. Confusion and chaos inspire dread when taken to far. After all, when dreams and reality become blurred, nightmares come to life again.
This is the heart of the solar-lunar conflict, it seems. The Moon blurs what the sun would define. Here, in the prompt, this is a clear under current. The moon shows a vision of a glorious past that is no longer, the sun forcibly reasserting reality. And that conflict, between reality as objective moving phenomon vs reality as a shifting moment, swinging back and forth, perceived and understood differently through many minds, is a rich one. I would recommend looking into Moon Hunters, a game that deals with these themes and others in interesting ways.
After all, the famous opening of the Call of Cthulhu warns us about the boundaries of objective knowledge: “The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. “ We cannot deny that there is discomfort in uncertainty, that contradiction (especially as large as a castle) of what seems apparent has a hint of madness and horror about it.
The nature of this dichotomy informs the story we must weave, however. As tempting as it is to invoke the moonbeast or the temple of the moon in the Dreamlands, these are unnecessary and may weigh down the plot. Besides, we had plenty of monsters in our last few works. No, this one will flirt with unreality and uncertainty. This we will have almost certainly no non-human characters (except the moon and castle themselves).
Proceeding from that, the first thing that I can think of with the prompt is obsession. An obsession with finding a lost paradise is a common trope, and one that I think can work well here. The nature of moonlight and madness would add to this. I wonder now, is the castle inhabited? Or is this mystical castle by itself enough to lure someone in?
Who, further, would be enticed by the castle? Someone, no doubt, who wishes to escape. A romantic, probably. The sort that are prone to being moonstruck and caught up in memories of the past. Of course, that sort of obvious choice is a good reason to avoid it. Making a man who is normally scientific, normally a futurist, normally despising the preciousness of nostalgia fall into such a trap would be all the more enticing. Cognitive dissonance is a strong motivator, after all.
I think a romantic uninterested would make a good counterpoint. The unenchanted seeker and the disillusioned fool is a pairing I’m unfamiliar with. The interactions before and after seeing the ruins would be the dynamo of the story.
I’ll start there then. What story have you found among the ruins and the dead?