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Friday, April 28, 2017

What is the meaning of the title "A Darkling Plain" from Mortal Engines?

'a darkling plain' book cover by Philip Reeves

The meaning of A Darkling Plain comes from a poem called 'Dover Beach'


I'll admit that when I'd first learned of the title, A Darkling Plain, I had no idea what it meant. It actually reminded me of something out of The Dark Crystal movie or some kind of evil spirit. But of course, that's not what author Philip Reeve meant it the title.

Just as Reeve borrowed a quote from Shakespeare's Othello play for Mortal Engines, the title of A Darkling Plain is borrowed from Matthew Arnold's famous poem Dover Beach.

Here's the excerpt from the poem:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

This part of the poem is reasoned to be referring to the Peloponnesian War.

This relates to the novel in several ways. The characters are indeed swept about, often against their will, by the "ignorant armies" of the Green Storm and Tractionists, on the "darkling plain" of the Great Hunting Ground. But just as the key result of the Peloponnesian War, a unified city if Athens was born, so too many clashes are resolved one way or another in A Darkling Plain.

Reeve references his choice of title himself towards the end of the book when the character Nimrod Pennyroyal writes a book within a book titled Ignorant Armies.

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