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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories Discusses

Them Stones, Them Stones...

J. J. Roth’s “Legacy of the Fallen Stars” began in issue 566 and continues.

[Gary Inbinder] The circle of bluestones is believed to be from the Preseli Hills in South Wales, which means they were transported from their place of origin to what is now Wiltshire.

[Don Webb] Quite so... The ancients and the Stone Agers did not lack for engineering geniuses. A current theory has it that the bluestones were transported by water — on rafts — for most of the trip. That makes a lot of sense; transporting them by land would have been a horrendous job.

Some latter-day engineers have calculated, with experiments, that the Stone Agers would not even have needed logs for transport overland. They might have laid down a kind of primitive railroad of wooden tracks with embedded rollers. The idea is fun, but it seems doubtful; logs would distribute the weight of the stones more evenly and be less likely to break.

[G. I.] This might explain some of the Welsh names of characters in the story, such as Olwen and Gryffyn.

[D. W.] The author may as well make the characters Welsh, since the bluestones evidently came from Wales. But the bluestones were probably not souvenirs of an abandoned homeland. The feat of transporting the stones would defy even the most ardent nostalgia. It would beg the question “Why didn’t we just stay there?”

Rather, recent experiments indicate that the bluestones may have had a resonant quality that other stones lacked. In short, Stonehenge may have been not only a cathedral-size echo chamber, it could have been a giant musical instrument, perhaps an enormous xylophone.

Were the Stone Agers Welsh? Or Britons? Surely not as we know them. They didn’t just spring up out of the ground; they came from somewhere at the end of the Ice Age and antedated the Celts. Druidic ceremonies at Stonehenge are a latter-day fantasy; the original rites may have been even weirder, but they must have made sense at the time.

Nonetheless, DNA testing has shown that Ötzi, the Alpine “ice man,” has latter-day relatives in the Tyrol. There are very likely descendants of the early bluestone-movers in Britain today. And why not? Go back far enough, and everybody is descended from the whole population, whatever it was.

[J. J. Roth] Interesting to see the discussion!

Yes, the Welsh names are a convention I used, because the bluestones are believed to come from Wales, as the commentator mentioned.

In researching the period, I couldn’t find any Welsh names of the prehistoric period -- not surprising since those people didn’t leave written records -- so I used ancient but not necessarily prehistoric Welsh names for the characters who came from the “Bluestone Hills.”

Those who are of Avebury have a similar naming convention: ancient British names. And later in the story there are other such conventions from Ireland, Greece and Macedonia.

[D. W.] Thank you, J. J. As I always say, one can never be too careful in choosing names, and your “naming conventions” seem quite prudent!

The trick is, in stories such as “Legacy of the Fallen Stars,” to give the characters names that readers can pronounce, even if the names may seem a little “foreign.” And, of course, the character names in your story will be readily familiar to those who live in the present-day locales.

Two- or three-syllable names may be the safest bet for a science fiction writer. The Austrian name for the ice man, “Ötzi,” seems about right. “Cave man” names like “Glugg” or “Foop” may be perceived as condescending. Readers may suspect the writer lacks imagination or is making a joke at the expense of our distant ancestors. My apologies in advance, of course, to anyone actually named “Glugg” or “Foop”; I do not mean to imply you’re a cave man!

Freight-train names are worse. Readers will simply assign long names an initial and skip over them in some annoyance. Russian readers are not really an exception; they’re used to long names in literature. And they have no trouble because they can readily sort out the names’ grammatical components.

In any event, who knows who the builders were in the Mesolithic or early Bronze Age? Stonehenge was almost as old to the continental Celts as the early Celts are to us. About two millennia before Stonehenge, the melting of the Laurentide Ice Sheet and the release of Lake Agassiz — the “Noah’s Ark flood” — had made Britain an island once and for all. But not isolated: seas are superhighways to those who have boats.

As a side note, I also used Stonehenge as a locale in a story of my own. But the monument itself is incidental. Rather, a time-traveling historian says his main interest is in children’s stories:

“I’m not very interested in what the adults say to each other. [...] Adults will omit what’s common knowledge for them. I want to know what the parents tell their children. If Stonehenge was a kind of Neolithic cathedral, the stories that were passed down from one generation to another will explain their motives, and the rest will fall into place.” — in “Taking Notice

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