Books Where Eclipses Loom Large

Here are the novels whose narratives are set in motion, in part, due to the power of an eclipse.

Long ago, inexplicable astronomic events like eclipses were thought to be bad omens — hey, imagine how unsettling it would be to see the moon or sun suddenly disappear from view, with no warning or understanding of how it happened. Today, an eclipse causes more joy than worry: Eclipse chasers swear they feel a spiritual reaction that goes way beyond a merely overwhelming sense of awe … perhaps because eclipses remind us that no matter how much we now understand about the universe, our knowledge is not yet enough to overshadow mystery; mystery continues to flare out from the edges of what we know, inviting wild, mythlike narratives.

So long as we continue to create and enjoy these narratives, we are connected to our ancient selves, our most possible selves. Perhaps, an eclipse suggests, we do not yet know how the story will go. How our story, as a species, will go.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

On 9/19, Nick Offerman comes back to perform Mark Twain's beloved, wryly funny novel about a regular Joe from — you know, Connecticut — who, after some blunt force trauma, suddenly finds himself in King Arthur's sixth-century England. When he's sentenced to burn at the stake, he threatens to blot out the sun, knowing that, quite luckily, a solar eclipse is due. We all kind of fantasize about something like this, right? At any rate, Offerman doing several different British voices makes rediscovering this classic a complete and total delight. (Available for pre-order now.)

The Strain

The Academy Award-winning director of Pan's Labyrinth and a Hammett Award-winning author collaborate on the epic novel behind the hit FX show. A vampiric virus that has infected New York during an eclipse begins to spill out into the streets. A motley crew of fighters must now find a way to stop the contagion and save the city. We don't know what's better: this nail-biter plot or the fact that Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy, Hellboy) performs it.

Every Soul a Star

For young eclipse fans: Winner of the ALA Schneider Family Book Award, Wendy Mass has had her fiction for young readers honored with a Junior Library Guild Selection and a Book Sense Children's Pick. Every Soul a Star is the tale of an extra­ordinary occurrence related through three very different perspectives. Unlike the thousands converging at Moon Shadow to witness a total solar eclipse, Ally calls the isolated campground home. Bree shields herself in a cloak of good looks and popularity, but there is something within her no one suspects. And Jack, overweight and socially inept, finds himself on the verge of a startling possibility.

Dolores Claiborne

This may be the first time in fiction an eclipse is an accomplice to murder: Maine curmudgeon Dolores Claiborne is suspected of killing Vera Donovan, her wealthy employer, and when the police question her, she tells the story of her life, harkening back to her disintegrating marriage and the suspicious death of her violent husband 30 years earlier. (Without giving it away, we'll just say the eclipse figures into that in a totally Kingish, borderline-supernatural way.) Dolores also tells of Vera's physical and mental decline and how she became emotionally demanding in recent years. Character actress/total "I know her!" person Frances Sternhagen (Sex and the City) performs.

Gerald's Game

Didja know ... Gerald's Game was, along with Dolores Claiborne, originally part of a bigger project called In the Path of the Eclipse? Jessie is tied to a bed in a cabin, trapped after some playful sex with her oppressive husband, Gerald, went wrong. While she's bound and hallucinating from thirst, the trauma of her childhood comes back to torment her — a trauma that occurred during the eclipse described in Dolores Claiborne. This is the kind of enthrallingly uncomfortable elixir only Stephen King can concoct.

Eclipse

Acclaimed author John Banville evokes that ancient idea of eclipse as bad omen. Alexander Cleave, actor, has left his career and his family behind and banished himself to his childhood home. He wants to retire from life, but finds this impossible in a house brimming with presences, some ghostly, some undeniably human. This humane and beautifully written story tells the tragic tale of a man, intelligent, preposterous, and vulnerable, who in attempting to bring the performance to a close, finds himself traveling inevitably toward a devastating denouement. Much like a ... total eclipse?

Jade Dragon Mountain

On the mountainous border of China and Tibet in 1708, travelers, soldiers, and merchants have gathered to witness an eclipse of the sun commanded by the emperor himself. Exiled Imperial librarian Li Du is passing through on his way to the Tibetan border, when a Jesuit astronomer is found murdered in the home of the local magistrate. Blame is hastily placed on Tibetan bandits, but Li Du suspects this was no random killing. Beyond the sloping roofs and festival banners, Li Du can see the mountain pass that will take him out of China forever. He must choose whether to leave and embrace his exile, or to stay and investigate a murder that the town seems all too willing to forget.

Illegal Alien

A somewhat recent, actual eclipse gets a cameo appearance in this sci-fi mystery by Canadian novelist Robert J. Sawyer. When a disabled spaceship enters Earth's atmosphere, seven members of the advanced Tosok race are welcomed by the world. They are even treated to a world tour in which they are impressed by the August 11, 1999 total eclipse of the sun. (Who wouldn't be?) Then a popular scientist is murdered, and all evidence points to one of the Tosoks. Now, an alien is tried in a court of law — and there may be far more at stake than accounting for one human life.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

On 9/19, Nick Offerman comes back to perform Mark Twain's beloved, wryly funny novel about a regular Joe from — you know, Connecticut — who, after some blunt force trauma, suddenly finds himself in King Arthur's sixth-century England. When he's sentenced to burn at the stake, he threatens to blot out the sun, knowing that, quite luckily, a solar eclipse is due. We all kind of fantasize about something like this, right? At any rate, Offerman doing several different British voices makes rediscovering this classic a complete and total delight. (Available for pre-order now.)

The Strain

The Academy Award-winning director of Pan's Labyrinth and a Hammett Award-winning author collaborate on the epic novel behind the hit FX show. A vampiric virus that has infected New York during an eclipse begins to spill out into the streets. A motley crew of fighters must now find a way to stop the contagion and save the city. We don't know what's better: this nail-biter plot or the fact that Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy, Hellboy) performs it.

Every Soul a Star

For young eclipse fans: Winner of the ALA Schneider Family Book Award, Wendy Mass has had her fiction for young readers honored with a Junior Library Guild Selection and a Book Sense Children's Pick. Every Soul a Star is the tale of an extra­ordinary occurrence related through three very different perspectives. Unlike the thousands converging at Moon Shadow to witness a total solar eclipse, Ally calls the isolated campground home. Bree shields herself in a cloak of good looks and popularity, but there is something within her no one suspects. And Jack, overweight and socially inept, finds himself on the verge of a startling possibility.

Dolores Claiborne

This may be the first time in fiction an eclipse is an accomplice to murder: Maine curmudgeon Dolores Claiborne is suspected of killing Vera Donovan, her wealthy employer, and when the police question her, she tells the story of her life, harkening back to her disintegrating marriage and the suspicious death of her violent husband 30 years earlier. (Without giving it away, we'll just say the eclipse figures into that in a totally Kingish, borderline-supernatural way.) Dolores also tells of Vera's physical and mental decline and how she became emotionally demanding in recent years. Character actress/total "I know her!" person Frances Sternhagen (Sex and the City) performs.

Gerald's Game

Didja know ... Gerald's Game was, along with Dolores Claiborne, originally part of a bigger project called In the Path of the Eclipse? Jessie is tied to a bed in a cabin, trapped after some playful sex with her oppressive husband, Gerald, went wrong. While she's bound and hallucinating from thirst, the trauma of her childhood comes back to torment her — a trauma that occurred during the eclipse described in Dolores Claiborne. This is the kind of enthrallingly uncomfortable elixir only Stephen King can concoct.

Eclipse

Acclaimed author John Banville evokes that ancient idea of eclipse as bad omen. Alexander Cleave, actor, has left his career and his family behind and banished himself to his childhood home. He wants to retire from life, but finds this impossible in a house brimming with presences, some ghostly, some undeniably human. This humane and beautifully written story tells the tragic tale of a man, intelligent, preposterous, and vulnerable, who in attempting to bring the performance to a close, finds himself traveling inevitably toward a devastating denouement. Much like a ... total eclipse?

Jade Dragon Mountain

On the mountainous border of China and Tibet in 1708, travelers, soldiers, and merchants have gathered to witness an eclipse of the sun commanded by the emperor himself. Exiled Imperial librarian Li Du is passing through on his way to the Tibetan border, when a Jesuit astronomer is found murdered in the home of the local magistrate. Blame is hastily placed on Tibetan bandits, but Li Du suspects this was no random killing. Beyond the sloping roofs and festival banners, Li Du can see the mountain pass that will take him out of China forever. He must choose whether to leave and embrace his exile, or to stay and investigate a murder that the town seems all too willing to forget.

Illegal Alien

A somewhat recent, actual eclipse gets a cameo appearance in this sci-fi mystery by Canadian novelist Robert J. Sawyer. When a disabled spaceship enters Earth's atmosphere, seven members of the advanced Tosok race are welcomed by the world. They are even treated to a world tour in which they are impressed by the August 11, 1999 total eclipse of the sun. (Who wouldn't be?) Then a popular scientist is murdered, and all evidence points to one of the Tosoks. Now, an alien is tried in a court of law — and there may be far more at stake than accounting for one human life.

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Recent non-fiction about our obsession with eclipses

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