The Day Boy and the Night Girl
The Day Boy and Night Girl, also referred to as The Romance of Photogen and Nycteris, is an 1882 fairy tale novel by George MacDonald. A version of this story appeared in Harper's Young People as a series beginning on 2 December 1879 and completing on 6 January 1880.
The Day Boy and the Night Girl begins by telling of a witch named Watho who, in her pursuit of complete knowledge, undertook an experiment to mold two people from birth by strictly controlling their environments.
Watho convinced two expectant mothers to visit her castle. Lady Aurora (whose ambassador husband was away on business) was given spacious, sunlit rooms to stay in; she gave birth to a boy. The witch promptly whisked him away, sending his mother back to her home burdened with the lie that her son had died shortly after birth. The other woman (who had recently been widowed and become blind) Watho settled in windowless, tomblike chambers elsewhere in the castle. Vesper died in childbirth, leaving her daughter to the witch’s keeping.
Watho did everything in her power to ensure that the boy Photogen grew up strong, able, and fearless. However, her foremost concern regarding the boy was that he should never see the night. Watho desired the opposite for the girl Nycteris, who knew no other world than the stony chambers she had been born in and no other light than that provided by the single dim lamp.
It came about that Nycteris, in her sixteenth year, found her way out of these chambers into a night lit by a full-moon. Nycteris was filled with wonder at this glorious new light and the rest of nature; she returned to her rooms before daybreak, desiring to see the outdoors again and not wanting to spoil her chance by arousing Watho’s suspicions. Around the same time, Photogen (who spent his days hunting) one morning spied a big cat of some sort slinking off to the forest and took it in his mind to hunt this skilled hunter. As the sun went down, Photogen left to hunt the nocturnal beast, violating the witch’s constraint. Once darkness fell, Photogen was beset with terror. He came across Nycteris in one of her outings, and gathered some measure of comfort from the strange girl’s calm. She agreed to watch over him while he slept, and so it was that she was for the first time yet outdoors when the sun rose. Photogen regained his courage immediately; assuring Nycteris that there was now nothing to fear, he went on his way, despite her terrified pleas that he stay and protect her from the blinding light.
Photogen (wishing to prove his courage) stayed up for another night, only to experience similar results. Photogen and Nycteris eventually learned to use their strengths to bear the other up through their weakness. In this way they were able to defeat the witch Watho. Photogen and Nycteris married; they continued to rely on and rejoice in each other’s strengths, to the point that Photogen came to prefer the night and Nycteris the day.
Etymology of Character Names
Photogen (from Ancient Greek φῶς (photo-), meaning "light", and -γενής (-genēs), meaning "producer of")
Nycteris (from Ancient Greek νύχτα (nýchta), meaning "night")
Aurora (from Latin aurōra, meaning "dawn, dawn goddess")
Vesper (from Latin vesperī, meaning "evening")
Elsewhere in his writings, MacDonald used the more orthodox symbols of light representing goodness and darkness standing for ignorance and evil. In The Day Boy and the Night Girl such a distinction is not clearly set forward, although night and day are vividly polarized. MacDonald may seem to be leaning towards Manichaeism by allowing as much credit to the night as he does in The Day Boy and the Night Girl, but he avoids this by linking evil not with darkness, but rather with self-love. In this way, evil is not portrayed as a force striving against good (which suggests a power equal but opposite to good) but is seen rather as a gaze misdirected inwards towards the self. Photogen and Nycteris are both less than whole beings until they learn to care for each other in spite of their differences and opposing weaknesses.
The three main characters each seek progress, but through different channels. Watho attempts to gather and subjugate, Photogen tries to conquer through ability, and Nycteris uses her imagination to further her understanding and knowledge of the world to better see how she fits in it. The Day Boy and the Night Girl is essentially a tale which depicts MacDonald’s belief in the imagination’s ability to take the focus off of self, thereby opening the imaginer to a world of companionships which can lead to true wholeness.
- Project Gutenberg
- Marshall, Cynthia. "Allegory, Orthodoxy, Ambivalence: MacDonald's 'The Day Boy and the Night Girl'." Children's Literature 16 (1988): 57-75. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Linda Pavlovski and Scott T. Darga. Vol. 113. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.
- "Dearborn, Kerry. "Bridge Over the River Why"".