CONNECTING IDEAS -- by Jane Kelley

My husband and I just finished watching the final season of HIS DARK MATERIALS based on the trilogy by Philip Pullman. I loved the books and was eager to see how they could be dramatized. Mainly I wanted to see what the alethiometer looked like.

Alethiometer comes from two Greek words. Aletheia means truth. Meter means to measure. The device resembles a compass or a clock face with 36 symbols around its circumference. It has four hands. Pullman's characters use the alethiometer to guide them. To ask a question, they point three of the hands at different symbols. The fourth hand spins until it points to another symbol. That answers the question. 

Some are better at reading than others. People who think they already know the answer have a harder time. What's best is to hold the question in one's mind while letting the rest of one's mind drift toward discovery.

That is how I try to write. I concentrate on symbols and let my mind roam around all the possibilities of what those images suggest. And what they might possibly mean.

I've used this as a writing prompt. Cut out many photos from magazines. Pick a few. Make a story by connecting the disparate ideas. 

Creating order out of chaos is a fundamental human trait. That is so important to making a satisfying story. But the stories I can't get out of my mind are the stories with that 4th element. The spinning hand I haven't set. The idea that comes to me unbidden. The unanswered question. The what if . . .

Oh -- this is a photo of the actual alethiometers used in the adaptation of HIS DARK MATERIALS. Were you imagining something different? I was!

Jane Kelley is the author of many middle grade novels in which she connects such things as birds and cemetery angels, dogs and helicopters, pet mice and haunted closets.


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