Following the Pre-GCSE Inspire talk delivered by Sammy Wright on ‘Why poems are like spells’, we’re delighted to announce the winners of the ‘Magic Number’ competition!
This challenge was all about numbers in literature. If you look closely, there are certain numbers – such as two, three, seven, nine – which you will find recurring again and again throughout literature, from ‘binary’ oppositions between good and evil, to the proverbial ‘nine lives’ that cats are traditionally said to have. We received some really interesting and insightful entries, and we enjoyed reading all of them. Below you can read some of our favourites!
Congratulations to all winners and finalists this week:
Competition 15: The Magic Number
In the video class ‘Why are poems like spells?’ one of the topics that Sammy explores is the occurrence, over and over again, of ‘magic’ numbers two and three in storytelling and literature – for instance, the binary opposition between good and evil (such as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the Star Wars films), or the need to choose between three different options (such as the three bowls of porridge that Goldilocks encounters in the fairy tale of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’).
Pick a story or text that you are familiar with, ideally one that you are studying in your English lessons at school. It could be a play, poem, short story, novel, film – anything! Can you find any examples or occurrences of these ‘magic’ numbers in this story or text? Or maybe there are other prominent numbers (hint: seven and nine are also very common ‘magic numbers’ in literature – think of seven Horcruxes in the Harry Potter books, or the proverbial ‘nine lives’ that cats are traditionally said to have). You might find them in anything from the overarching themes of the plot, as in the Star Wars and Goldilocks examples, right down to a single line of a poem, as in “Double, double toil and trouble” from Macbeth.
Thinking about the story or text you have chosen, write up to 300 words describing how ‘magic’ number(s) are used in your example, and why you think the author or storyteller has decided to use this device.
First place: Kessia, Ealing
I am currently studying the poem ‘Eden Rock’ by Charles Causley; an ambiguous composition of five stanzas that may be alluding to the prospect of Causley joining his parents in the afterlife or based on a verbatim childhood memory. Key themes in this poem include family, death and the afterlife, and religion.
In the fourth stanza Causley writes “The sky whitens as if lit up by three suns.” Here all three of these significant concepts are addressed, though not explicitly. Initially this can be interpreted to mirror the family unit of mother, father and son or as an allusion to the fundamental belief of the Trinity in Christianity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), where the “three suns” can be seen as a comforting sign, evoking the promise of an afterlife.
However, I believe there is a greater significance in Charles Causley specifying the number three, an intentional implementation of magic numbers. Unlike in Goldilocks, here the magic number three does not present the goldilocks rule of choice as opposed to binary opposition, but rather, it is the representation of divinity, completeness and perfection. A principle captured neatly in the Latin phrase ‘Omne trium perfectum’: everything that comes in threes is perfect, or every set of three is complete.
Charles Causley may have chosen this literary device to show how in leaving earth and advancing to the afterlife portrayed, his family would become complete and perfect to an extent. Yet in today’s society, perfection is seen as an unrealistic, unattainable and shallow desire, therefore by using “three”, Causley may be hinting on a subliminal thought of never being able to truly connect with his parents again even if he were to encounter them. The true connection he so greatly yearns for may be merely a shallow desire.
Second place: Basmala, Ealing
It’s just a number isn’t it?
For me and you it might be just another number from the infinite list of combinations that we can create using these symbols, but it’s actually more than that. Even well-known Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras believed that there is a deeper meaning behind the number – that it holds profound connotations.
The Latin phrase “Omne trium perfectum” means that everything that comes in threes are perfect, complete. Three represents harmony and balance, as the number one is too solitary. The number two holds companionship, but is usually associated with things being binary. However, the number three holds just enough stability so that it isn’t too congested, hence it is the impeccable number.
Did you know that the triangle is the strongest out of all the shapes? There is a whole theory behind this but it’s, in the simplest term, because each of the three sides have to rely on one another. They’re co-dependant for their existence and structure.
The repetition or presence of three this is almost rhythmic. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘third time’s the charm’s’ suggesting that, the first comes, and next the second and then the third. This is the natural occurrence in life. The number three also has many references like, in time (the past, present and future), in the 3 fates of Greek mythology (birth, life and death) and even in narrative structures (beginning- equilibrium, middle- disequilibrium and end- new equilibrium).
There are more associations with the numbers that can be found in Macbeth (the Three Witches), The Three Blind Mice, The brothers in the Greek Gods (Zeus – sky, Poseidon – sea, Hades – Underworld) and the Three Musketeers.
Three is known to be the number of the divine. It is inevitable. As they say, “Good things come in threes”.