By Ricky O'Bannon
Something always bothered Brian Greene about the story of Icarus.
As the ancient Greek myth goes, Icarus and his father, the inventor Daedalus, are trying to escape Crete. Daedalus builds them each a set of wings from feathers and wax to fly to safety. However, Icarus ignores his father’s advice not to fly too close to the sun. The boy soars to great heights, and then he comes crashing back to earth as his wings melt from the sun’s heat.
The moral of the story was about hubris. Seek to soar too high when others warn you not to, and you might meet your end. For physicist and string theory expert Brian Greene, this moral never set well.
“It always disturbed me because it basically seemed to say that if you go against authority, if you’re courageous, you’re going to pay for it with your life,” he said. “And as a scientist, it became so clear to me that that’s not what discovery is about.”
Greene decided to re-imagine the old story in a way that reflected what he knew discovery to be about. Icarus at the Edge of time, which was written for the stage with music by Philip Glass and adopted into a children’s book, tells the space age story of a boy who goes against authority by flying too close to a black hole. He discovers a new reality, but unlike his Greek namesake, he doesn’t die. Instead, Greene said, he must acclimate to that new reality.
In the years since the piece was premiered, Greene said it’s been exciting to watch children and families be engaged by a story that has science at its core. He and Glass have since begun production on a new chapter in the space opera tale of Icarus.
“Hopefully this will just be part one of a more exciting tale that will bring the story full circle,” he said.