The Inevitable Cycle

This summer, I had a wonderful opportunity to visit Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s famous as the site where Percival Lowell observed Mars for many years, recording his observations of the canals he—and most mainstream scientists of the day—believed they saw. Lowell-Crypt It’s also the observatory where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto. Of course, in mythology, Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld and a figure closely associated with the spirits of the dead. As I’ve mentioned in a couple of other blog posts here at The Scarlet Order, it’s also the site of Percival Lowell’s Crypt. In the photo, you see my daughters and I visiting the tomb.

If you look carefully at the tomb, there are two epigraphs, one on each side of the door. The one on the right reads, in part, “Everything around this Earth we see is subject to one inevitable cycle of birth, growth, decay … nothing begins but comes at last to an end … though our own lives are too busy to mark the slow nearing to that eventual goal …” The words on this astronomer’s crypt go a long way to explaining what draws me to horror. Birth, growth, and decay are not only inevitable, but all can be frightening. Horror provides a mechanism for taking a look at the things that frighten us and getting a handle on them.

The epigraph continues: “Today what we already know is helping to comprehension of another world. In a not distant future we shall be repaid with interest and what that other world shall have taught us will redound to a better knowledge of our own and of the cosmos of which the two form a part.” The quote comes from Percival Lowell’s book, The Evolution of Worlds. Horror might be scary, but it reminds me that humans can overcome even the worst terrors to accomplish great things. In fiction that can be defeating a villain or a monster. In real life, we might conquer our fears to expand the borders of human understanding.

Lowell-telescope

Right next to Lowell’s crypt is the telescope where he observed Mars for many years. This visit was my first opportunity to go in, see the telescope and even look through it. We didn’t look at Mars, but the view of Saturn was unreal. We could see resolution in the clouds and the rings were sharp and beautiful. If the ghost of Percival Lowell wanders the observatory grounds, I suspect he’s proud of the job the people there do of giving the public a glimpse at the universe, which can be at once scary and beautiful.

I certainly hope to scare you when The Astronomer’s Crypt comes out, but I also hope you’ll see how people overcome fear and accomplish great things. Even though I hope to show you scary things in that novel, I also hope to show you some of the beauty that this universe and the people who inhabit it possess.

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2 thoughts on “The Inevitable Cycle

  1. Gary Davis says:

    David,

    Hi. Thanks for the interesting comments on the meaning of horror. In my own research, I find that the beliefs and culture of peoples living in the distant past, before the era of modern science, can provide a scary additional dimension to the meaning of horror. Thankfully, many ancient beliefs, like the need for human sacrifice, are well removed from people of today. Modern day horrors are plenty enough!

    Also, your pictures this weekend of your family with the six-sided poker table and the Lowell Crypt are very nice. Would there have actually been hexagonal, felt-covered poker tables back in the old West of the 1800s?

    Have a great trip.

    Gary

    • Thanks, Gary. I agree, utilizing the culture and beliefs of people in different lands and times can certainly add an extra dimension to terror. Glad you enjoyed the photo of the girls at the poker table in Calico. To be honest, I’m not really sure how far back six-sided felt-covered poker tables go back in time, but there’s little reason they couldn’t have existed in the old west. Poker was played, felt was a common cloth, and as long as someone had access to the materials, the tables may have been made. That said, I commented to my wife on the day that a faro table would probably have been more correct for the setting. Faro games generally favor the house better than poker, so it was a more common game for saloon keepers to host.

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