Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On Moonchildren

If you're like me, The Neverending Story figured prominently into your early life, and you know that the one of the central plot points of the film involves the protagonist, Bastian, having to rename the Childlike Empress. He does so, even flinging open the window of the attic he's hanging out it — weird, attic-dwelling kid, this Bastian — and shouting the name to the world. Unfortunately, the actor playing Bastian did not excel at enunciating while yelling, and it's really hard to hear what the hell he's saying.

Listen for yourself:

I actually never knew what he was saying — Moochidna was my best guess — and no one ever refers to the Childlike Empress by this new name throughout the rest of the movie, which raises the question of why the hell she was all up on Bastian about picking a name in the first place. It wasn't until I bought the book years later that I learned the name. (BTW, the actual, physical Neverending Story is less than 500 pages long, so far from infinite, but the ink does change color depending on who is narrating, and that is a neat.) In the book, this line of dialogue isn't represented by "[unintelligible yelled syllables]" but instead by what the author apparently thought was a name: Moonchild. In fact, Bastian picks that name because he thinks it belonged to his mother, who is dead, probably because as a result of embarrassment at having been named Moonchild. In the book's native Germany, the name would have been Mondenkind, which I have never heard of before but for all I know is, like, the Julie of Germany. Regardless, by American standards, even in a movie about cannibalistic rocks and racing snails, the name seems weird.

All of this came back to me this week when my friend Thoon sent me this video of a terrible concept album celebrating the signs of the zodiac. Go on, give it a look. Laugh at it, if you must, but ask yourself if this project turned out all that much worse than the album you recorded about astrology. Did it?

Weirdly, the track that follows Gemini is titled "Moonchild/Cancer."

Apparently, the moon in Moonchild comes from the fact that ruling planet of the sign Cancer is the moon, which is a planet, perhaps, some people believe. And it looks like people started using Moonchild as a stand-in for Cancer between 1965 and 1970, around the time people were putting flowers in the hair and the only song people listened to was Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love." I haven't found out why this word may have come into fashion, even if only briefly, but I can guess that it might have stemmed from some effort to spare people born under this sign from association with a horrible disease. ("I'm not a Cancer. I'm a Moonchild," said that one aunt of yours as she twirled all the way to Canada in a cloud of pot smoke and patchouli.) But regardless of the reason, it apparently didn't take, because just twenty years later, my only frame of reference for the term was the Childlike Empress. Was Moonchild too 1960s to have staying power? Or can you just not make a dent in thousands of years of tradition, even in the face of the overwhelming ick of cancer? Could it have something to do with mooncalves? Can we start a movement to rebrand my sign, Gemini, as Twinsies?

And, finally, I'm curious to know: Can anyone who was alive back when Moonchild might have been in fashion tell me how widespread its use was?

An unrelated epilogue on a subject I know better: I think the Childlike Empress should have implored Bastian to pick a new name for himself, since Bastian sounds like his parents — you know, pops and ol' Moonchild — split the difference between Sebastian and bastard. But that's just me.

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