25 December 2016

I Hear the Tentacles Singing: Once More "A Wrinkle in Time" and "Babylon Five"

A Pak'ma'ra from Babylon 5


In chapter 11 of A Wrinkle in Time I came across what might be another link to Babylon 5. Having arrived on a new planet, Meg sees creatures like none she has ever seen before approaching her, her father, and Calvin:
They were the same dull gray color as the flowers. If they hadn't walked upright they would have seemed like animals. They moved directly toward the three human beings. They had four arms and far more than five fingers to each hand, and the fingers were not fingers, but long waving tentacles. They had heads, and they had faces. But where the faces of the creatures on Uriel had seemed far more than human faces, these seemed far less. Where the features would normally be there were several indentations, and in place of ears and hair were more tentacles. They were tall, Meg realized as they came closer, far taller than any man. They had no eyes. Just soft indentations. 
After Meg is healed by these beings, she quickly becomes quite attached to one whom she calls Aunt Beast:
"Please sing to me, Aunt Beast," said Meg. 
If it was impossible to describe sight to Aunt Beast, it would be even more impossible to describe the singing of Aunt Beast to a human being. It was a music even more glorious than the music of the singing creatures on Uriel. It was a music more tangible than form or sight. It had essence and structure. It supported Meg more firmly than the arms of Aunt Beast It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning. and only this melody was real. 
The first passage made me think at first of the Ood from Doctor Who, and of course nothing prevents L'Engle's description from having an influence on Doctor Who, but I was also reminded of the Pak'ma'ra from Babylon 5. Both of these species have tentacles on their heads in front of their mouths. Now, admittedly this doesn't match the description of the unnamed beings in A Wrinkle in Time, creatures who also have tentacles instead of fingers. It is unclear to me whether their voice comes from the waving 'finger' tentacles or from the tentacles on their heads. 

But it was the astonishing and uplifting beauty of their singing that struck me, and made me think more of Babylon 5, in the last episode of which the main characters are conversing over a meal:
"You know, Londo never liked the Pak'ma'ra. I mean, they're stubborn, lazy, obnoxious, greedy--" said Vir.
"They kinda look like an octopus that got run over by a truck," said Garibaldi. 
"That too, but .. one day Londo and I were walking past their quarters .. and we heard them .. singing."  
"Singing? They can sing?" asked Sheridan. 
"There's nothing about that in the literature,"said Dr Franklin. 
"Apparently," Vir continued, "it's something they only do certain times of the year as part of their religious ceremonies. You may not believe this, but .. it was the most beautiful sound I've ever heard. I couldn't make out the words, but I knew it was full of sadness and .. hope and wonder and .. terrible .. sense of loss. I looked at Londo and -- this is the amazing part -- there was a .. tear running down his face. I said: 'Londo, we should leave.' And 'This is upsetting you.' He just stood there and .. listened. And when it was over he turned to me and he said: 'There are 49 gods in our pantheon, Vir. To tell you the truth I never believed in any of them. But if only one of them exists, .. then god sings with that voice.' "
The additional detail of the sadness and the terrible sense of loss with which the Pak'ma'ra sing may also point to the influence of Tolkien and the third theme of the Music of the Ainur, whose beauty comes from its sorrow. 

But it's not every day you can point to tentacles and singing in support of an argument. This may be axiomatic.

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