Friday, December 4, 2020

The Odd Sea

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How the Stars Reflex in The Odd Sea

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In The Odd Sea by Frederick Reiken symbolism is often used to portray a sense of something beyond this universe. Many of the symbols add to the mysticism and magic of the piece. This seems especially pertinent in the case of the star imagery and symbolism. The stars in The Odd Sea show significance because they seem to represent another dimension into which Ethan may have disappeared. This dimension is viewed by Ethan's mother, Philip, Halley and himself, but it seems that while Ethan desires to be a part of it his family is simply left to wonder about it. The stars come to represent something different to each member of the family. They are a comfort to some and a curse to others.

Ethan's mother is the first to view the cosmos with a sense questioning. Shortly after Ethan vanishes she becomes an insomniac, "spend[ing] hours […] out with the stars" (The Odd Sea 5). She seems to do this in an attempt to release her emotions. At night she would read books and bake or "Instead she'd stand out with the stars. She said on clear nights the sky could draw the sadness from her heart" (The Odd Sea 10). The mother's feeling of sadness is not a tangible one. As a result, for something to draw the emotion from her heart it must be intangible, yet also spiritually significant. In this way the stars represent to the mother release to some transcendent state. This brings no consolation to the mother, but it does bring some to a couple of her remaining children.

Philip and Halley view the stars with a mystical yet tangible aspect, allowing them to cope with their brother's loss better. As Philip describes the first time they looked at the stars, he refers to them respect

Sometimes we'd stand back-to-back, tilting our heads to gaze up at that starry ocean. We sort of treated the stars like God. We'd ask the stars to send back Ethan. We'd also ask them to help mom sleep. We sometimes told the stars our secrets, though we suspected they knew everything. (The Odd Sea 11)

In this passage the stars take on the role of a supernatural being. They "sort of treated the stars like God" allowing them to put a tangible face on their faith. The stars are all-knowing and can control all aspects of life. Philip and Halley see the stars, in this instance, not as place where Ethan might be, but instead as some sort of omnipotent creature. Also by telling "the stars [their] secrets" Philip and Halley were able to release some of their fears and emotions. This allowed them to live without the pressure of secrets. By making the stars life-like it allows what would ordinarily be supernatural to become tangible. Ethan also views the stars as being tangible.

To Ethan the stars represent something that beckons to him, something he is grasping for in the beyond. As Ethan captures in his journal on a visit to Astro Cabin, the stars draw him in

The skylight makes all the stars seem closer since it frames them. From the first time I went in here, I've always thought this is as close as I'll ever get to any stars. (The Odd Sea )

The stars appear closer to Ethan, while for others in the family the stars are always viewed from a great distance. This is significant because it seems to foreshadow Ethan's disappearance, a disappearance that is often connected to the cosmos. Ethan is reaching out for the stars because they represent artistry to him. They remind him of van Gogh's Starry, Starry Night and his desire to pursue his artistry in Arles, France following in van Gogh's steps.

While the star imagery is often viewed as tangible it is also seen artistically through van Gogh. Ethan's connection to van Gogh was more than that of just admiration. Ethan mentions that van Gogh wanted to become what he painted. In this aspect Ethan also seems to want to become a part of something larger, more cosmic. He also tells of a time when van Gogh swallowed some paint and how he had "wanted to be the paint" (1). This builds up to Starry, Starry, Night and how van Gogh wanted to become the stars. Ethan genuinely admired van Gogh so the conclusion can be drawn that like van Gogh Ethan wanted to become a part of the stars. This is done by bringing the supernatural within reach, by painting and music, by making the stars tangible.

Making the stars more tangible also made it more possible for Philip and Halley to deal with the loss of their brother. By placing Ethan in the same dimension as the stars they were able to have some control. They did this by learning about the night sky

Halley and I would sometimes stand out with the stars. That was the summer we decided we would learn the constellations. For six dollars we bought a star chart at a toy store in Northampton, and pretty soon we could find Cygnus the Swan and Aquila the Eagle. (The Odd Sea 56)

In knowing the constellations order was made out of what may have before seemed like chaos. This also allowed them to transfer that order to the chaos of their brother's disappearance. This is only to some extent, though. Because they bought the star chart at a toy store, it gives the impression that no matter how they try to explain things they can never do it completely, just like a child cannot understand the enormity of the stars. Also the constellations mentioned are those of birds. In many ways Ethan seemed to simply fly away like an eagle or swan, never to be seen again. So, while Philip and Halley attempt to decipher the meaning of the stars and Ethan's disappearance it remains beyond their grasp.

While the stars evade Philip and Halley reminding them of a beyond, they also call to them. At one point Philip and Halley are driving out of town Reiken describes the stars

There is a boundary where the city light of Pittsfield ends, where suddenly night is deep and dark and stars twinkle beckoning you to rise, which you do. (The Odd Sea 6)

As the stars beckoned to Ethan, now they call to Philip and Halley. The stars draw them in "beckoning [them] to rise." This wonderful use of imagery, allows the stars to once again take on the role of that omnipotent creature. It calls them and they obey. Philip and Halley rise with the stars, learning some of their secrets. Once again this closeness and tangibility of the stars allows the two siblings to cope with the loss of their brother. They place him among the stars and then hold the stars close.

Reiken writes the star imagery and symbolism, but the family lives it. Ethan, Philip, Halley and their mother view the stars with awe. They are part of another dimension a dimension that Ethan yearns to be included in and a dimension that his siblings and mother are left wondering about. Through The Odd Sea the stars stand as a beacon for all of them, as what to come and what has been. The stars reach down and are tangible for some of them, allowing Philip and Halley to cope with the loss of their brother into the cosmos. For the mother, the stars will always be out of reach, leaving her with nothing but loss and confusion. In the end, though, all the stars were in the same league as Ethan. Their existence is almost too good to be true and their disappearance is a mystery.

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