Themes and Characters
Identity is a major theme of The Nargun and the Stars. It is primarily an issue for Simon, but it relates in some way to all the characters in the story. At the beginning, Simon is "a stranger even to himself." His sense of personal identity was lost along with his home and family when his parents died in a car crash. Edie and Charlie Waters, a sister and brother who are his distant cousins, volunteer to be his guardians. Simon, who does not care where he lives, leaves the orphanage and goes to their ranch, Wongadilla. At first he cannot bring himself to call them by name, and he is startled and displeased when they call him "Simey." When he meets the Potkoorok, a mischievous spirit that lives in the swamp, Simon asks, "Is that your own name? Or is it what you are?" "That is my name that I am . . . You are Boy. I am Potkoorok." Later, the Potkoorok calls Simon "Frog Boy" because he carefully returns the body of a dead frog to the swamp.
Simon is besieged by questions, not just of who and what he is, but of who and what the new characters in his life are. When he is frightened by the Nargun, he calls for help from Charlie, using his name for the first time. After that he calls Edie by name also, and accepts their use of "Simey." His acceptance of a nickname that matches their names symbolizes Simon's acceptance of them as family.
The Potkoorok calls Simon "Frog Boy" partly to distinguish him from "Boat Boy," which was the name the Potkoorok gave to Charlie when he played in the swamp as a boy. Simon realizes that a boy like him is inside the grown-up Charlie, and that a grown-up Simon is slowly emerging out of his own boy-self. He sees that it is possible to have many names, all of them true.
The most haunting transference of Simon's identity is when he scratches "Simon" into a lichen growing on the surface of a great rock. He does not realize that the rock is a living thing, the Nargun. But after that, when he sees the Nargun, his own name speaks silently to him from the Nargun's back. This symbolizes a close identification between Simon and the Nargun. At the beginning of the novel Simon has been driven by grief and loss back behind a stony wall inside himself. Psychologically, Simon has turned to stone. Both Simon and the Nargun project a terrible hunger and loneliness; both are strangers at Wongadilla. But as Simon becomes part of the Waters family and joins Charlie and Edie against the Nargun, he ceases to be a stranger and becomes a defender of Wongadilla, while the Nargun remains an outsider. When the Nargun is imprisoned under the mountain, the lichen dies and Simon's name fades from its back, a symbol that Simon is no longer a stone figure.
It had a queer crouching shape that looked as if it were pressing itself against the side of the gully, hiding its face.
A related theme is mankind's relationship to nature, which is effectively represented by the "old things," the spirits of the natural world. The Nargun is one of the oldest and most powerful of these, dating from the creation of the world and made of living rock. "Fire is its dreaming," says the Potkoorok, and this means both that it loves fire and dreams of it, and that fire is its origin; it was heaved up out of the primal fires at the beginning of time. But with the passage of time, humans developed technologies which can torture and rend even rock. The rumble and vibration of machines tearing at the earth have awakened the Nargun, and its journey to escape the sounds of man's machinery has brought it to Wongadilla.
The Potkoorok is younger than the Nargun, but ancient nonetheless. It is nearly as old as water, and its relationship to humanity is basically benign. It likes to play practical jokes on humans, and it hates destructive machines; It hides the road grader under the waters of the swamp because the machine is "wrong." But it also helps to defeat the Nargun because the great and dangerous power of the Nargun is uncomfortable for lesser powers to live near. In...
(The entire section is 2,544 words.)