On Monday, August 21, as you might have heard, the U.S. will experience a total solar eclipse for the first time since 1979. At least those in the ominous-sounding Path of Totality will. The rest of us will experience a partial eclipse. Nevertheless, it’s been 99 years since a total eclipse crossed the whole country, so it’s a big deal.
Back in the day, historically speaking, eclipses were often seen as omens. At HPB, we see it as a chance to highlight some books, movies and even music where eclipses play a role.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
In Twain’s 1899 novel, an American named Hank is transported back in time and across the pond to the court of King Arthur, where he uses his knowledge of modern science and technology to fool the people there. He’s scheduled to be burned at the stake on the exact date of an eclipse that he knows about since he’s from the future and all, so he cleverly gets out of the jam by making people think he caused the eclipse to happen.
Nightfall by Isaac Asimov
Asimov was only 21-years-old when he wrote this short science fiction story, published in 1941. It concerns the fictional planet Lagash, which is lit by six suns and therefore experiences daylight at all times. When scientists start predicting a very rare eclipse of all six suns, hysteria ensues. Nightfall was once voted the best science fiction short story ever written. Asimov worked with Robert Silverberg to expand it into a novel in 1990.
Dolores Claiborne and Gerald’s Game by Stephen King
The real-life solar eclipse of July 20, 1963, plays a role in these two loosely connected Stephen King novels, both released in 1992. The books were originally conceived by King as part of a longer work called In the Path of the Eclipse. By the way, this very same historical eclipse was featured in an episode of Mad Men (“Seven Twenty Three”) and was mentioned in the John Updike novel, Couples.
The Eclipse, or the Courtship of the Sun and Moon
French film pioneer Georges Méliès made this silent short movie in 1907. In this odd little nine-minute work, an astronomer and his students witness a solar eclipse where an anthropomorphized sun and moon sort of, well, have a relationship in the sky.
In making this religious epic from 1961, director Richard Fleischer arranged the production schedule so that the scene where Christ is crucified could be shot on February 15, 1961—during an actual solar eclipse. Anthony Quinn stars in the title role.
Little Shop of Horrors
Skid Row flower shop employee Seymour, played by Rick Moranis, buys an exotic plant from a Chinese merchant during an unexpected total solar eclipse. The plant, which he names Audrey II, turns out to be an alien being who survives on human blood. Frank Oz directed this 1986 film adaptation of the off-Broadway musical with catchy songs and a campy vibe.
Hate to leave music out of this, so consider this: Carly Simon’s 1972 song “You’re So Vain” includes this lyric: “Then you flew your Lear Jet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun.” This is evidently a reference to an actual solar eclipse that happened on March 7, 1970. Who the song is about remains a subject of much conjecture.
There’s also the Pink Floyd song “Eclipse,” which is the last track on 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon. It closes out the album with the words: “everything under the sun is in tune, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.” There’s also this astronomically questionable spoken snippet: “There is no dark side of the moon, really. Matter of fact it’s all dark.”
And then there’s this song, which needs no comment and seems like a good way to end this post.
Happy eclipsing, everybody.
Mark is Art Director at Half Price Books Corporate.