What a treat it is to host Anne Nesbet! Anne and I are cyber friends only at this point but I know we’d be best buds if our paths were to cross. How can you not love someone who writes about people with a passion for maps? Chart our path for today’s conversation, please, Anne!
The Wrinkled Crown and our Mental Stereoscopes
I stumbled on something wonderful on a recent school visit (to the wonderful Eva G. Simmons Elementary School in North Las Vegas): I discovered a surprising sort of depth hidden in plain view in my new children’s book, The Wrinkled Crown. This novel is set in a world divided between the people who live magic-filled, unmappable wrinkled hills and the science-oriented, map-making residents of the Plain. Young Linny breaks an ancient ban on girls having anything to do with musical instruments, gets her best friend into terrible trouble as a result, and then must go to the ends of her world to try to set things right. In her travels she discovers how deep the divisions have grown, between the wrinkled hills and the Plain. She will need to do more than save her friend: she needs to find some way to keep this fractured land from falling apart.
I put a picture into my presentation that I thought would be fun for the students to see: two versions of the central image on the cover, with a few very slight differences for sharp eyes to discover. (Can you spot the differences?)
As I was staring at this picture, a funny thing happened. My eyes crossed (or slightly uncrossed), and suddenly the picture popped into 3D! I was surprised and tickled, and when I looked more closely at the two pictures, I noticed that, indeed, the artist had shifted the trees in the background just a little tiny bit, such that if you popped these pictures into an old-fashioned stereoscope, you would indeed see a three-dimensional image.
How do stereoscopes work? In everyday life, if we have two eyes working well together, each eye sees a slightly different version of the world. Those two sets of information are then combined in our brain, which interprets the very-slightly-different images as “three-dimensional.” Centuries ago people discovered that you could trick the brain into seeing two (flat) photographic images as three-dimensional, if you made sure the differences between the two images were about like the differences between what a typical “right eye” and “left eye” might see. The stereoscope is a device with simple lenses that help each eye to focus on a different image. In the nineteenth century, stereoscopes were all the rage, and of course the twentieth century carried on the tradition with toys like the “Viewmaster”–and all the 3D movies now in the theaters.
So the two versions of the cover for The Wrinkled Crown turned out to be images perfectly suited for a stereoscope! I found some very inexpensive stereoscopes online, and I’m delighted to be able to share this bit of visual magic with kids.
I’m especially delighted because the story itself has a crucial stereoscopic moment (when Linny needs to figure out how to get through two different doors at once), AND it’s all about a world where two different ways of seeing everything–two different perspectives–have almost led to Civil War. Part of the challenge for that world, and for Linny in particular, is to find a way to hold two different views in mind at once: to think stereoscopically. To think in 3D! As a writer, I’m always thinking of things from one perspective and then from another, but as I think about the story told in The Wrinkled Crown, I see that there are all sorts of ways to understand that tricky business of seeing two very different images with our one brain, and it seems to me a miracle of both magic and science that the cover images are ready, in several different senses, for our mental stereoscopes.
Anne Nesbet is the author of THE CABINET OF EARTHS and A BOX OF GARGOYLES, and she lives near San Francisco with her husband, three daughters, and one irrepressible dog.