How many moons above your world?

I’m writing a fantasy novel and using it as an opportunity to think about the genre in general.  There seem to be three types, which surprises me as I thought such an open form would have far, far more.  Maybe I’m missing something.


  1. An idealised mythical setting.  Examples would include Lord of the Rings, Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age.  (Although, how you can have an age ‘undreamed of’ when you are making it up?)  These are, I suppose, the historical world as it should have been with dragons and magic and whatever.
  2. Something fantastic in our world.  I’d count near history in today, so a werewolf in Tudor times.  Dracula is our world into which is introduced a vampire.
  3. Another world.  Narnia for example.  It often has someone from our world going there.  I wonder about John Carter of Mars as that might be defined as SF.  The film certainly was, whereas in the books he just dozed off.


Which leads to the question of how many moons?  One option would be not to mention one at all and then the reader can populate the night sky with whatever they want.  Most have one moon.  Middle Earth has a sun and a moon, but then it is our world without the top and bottom.

Gaie Sebold’s Babylon Steel has two moons, the story pivoting around an alignment known as ‘Twomoon’.  The novel has Tarot cards, including ‘The Moon’, which I thought was a misstep, but there are portals there to other worlds with any variety of moon numbers.  It’s strictly fantasy, whereas the two moons of Barsoom (Mars) in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ work is a step towards reality.  He knew at the time what he thought Phobos and Deimos, neither having leather goddesses I suspect.  I think if you start adding planetary objects, you end up discussing orbits, and then you are moving towards science fiction.  A perfectly good fantasy world can weaken and crumble before the might of logic; once you’ve added enough midichlorians, then any forceful magic slips away through your fingers.

I suppose this is the flipside of my usual obsession with scientific rigour in your science and pseudo-science.

I’ve ended up adding a moon (the moon?) because my characters wouldn’t be able to see a damn thing during a night scene.


4 thoughts on “How many moons above your world?

  1. Yes, there would be two and they’d go in and out of phase. (Unless the moons were tidally locked, in which case it’d reduce to little tide and big tide.) Not sure I’ve read any world builders who have mentioned it.

  2. Ooh, good one.
    First off, your planetary moon, in order to light the night sky, must appear during the darkness.
    – If its orbit were different, you’d only see it during the day, like when we see a new moon.
    – If its orbit were from pole to pole, how would that affect the way planetary dwellers see it?
    – Is your moon in geostationary orbit, in which case it wouldn’t have phases and would never be visible from some places and always visible from others?
    If your creatures evolved on a planet where there never was a full moon in the night, wouldn’t they have developed the sort of eyes that can see in the dark? Or shunned nocturnal activity entirely?
    And I can’t forget the other PLANET orbiting in Bob Shaw’s “Ragged Astronauts” – awesome.

  3. In geo-stationary orbit, it would have phases,it’s the arrangement of the sun, earth and moon that causes them. But it would just stay in the same spot as the light moved around it. It is the arrangement of Pluto and Charon, and Land and Overland in Bob Shaw’s books.

    I wonder what difference non-tidally locked moon would have. You’d see it rotate, so it wouldn’t be a dish. Maybe evidence of a non-flat Earth.

    If your world was the moon of a gas giant, that would be truly impressive. Imagine the whole sky filled with swirling clouds, nights as bright as the day, then in the shadow days and nights that are pitch black.

    it’s all science fiction rather than fantasy though.

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