I really like the number three.
Not in that obsessive way, but rather in that geometric and philosophical respect that seems to be overlooked all too often.
Why not the number two, you ask? We are, after all, a dichotomically inclined race of creatures. And we get our natural disposition towards two’s, or halves, or opposites, from a variety of things found in nature.
This post is something of an essay, so here’s some carefully chosen music for you to enjoy.
Dividing something in half is easy for our brains to understand; I remember a High School math teacher of mine (that terrifying old woman with arm hair like a gorilla and a small jar on her desk with a plaque reading “Ashes of the problem students”) once informing us that human brains are incapable of performing equations of more than two sets of numbers at a time.
Which, in fact, happens to be the very definition of an equation.
Our world consists of two very important celestial bodies: the Sun and the Moon. Our very race is composed of two biological genders (I’m not talking about the sexuality spectrum). And we see this translate into a lot of our thinking and impressions on the world — bicycles, binomial nomenclature, a binary computing system that will one day rule every aspect of life as we know it, a bipartisan government (in some places anyway) and of course the Yin Yang.
We have phrases like “On the other hand…”, “Two horns on the same goat,” and “…on the flip-side.” Two comes very naturally to us.
Even in Fast & Furious 7, the character Ramsey, in her monologue about why she trusts ‘the family’ inside a span of approximately seven seconds, explains that:
“Life is binary, zeros and ones. Only two things keep a group like this together, fear or loyalty. And I don’t see a drop of fear among you guys.”
Sounds cool, but I believe anyone who seriously thinks of life as “binary” needs to rethink the meaning of the word analog. I find programmers, and otherwise people I’ve met with a low E.Q., tend to think this way.
Therefore, as a philosophical argument, I posit that Three is a superior number, and not in that simple additive sort of way.
Rather, I speak more of the triangle, and it’s influences on my own philosophy of life, as well as for writing.
Triangles form the strongest geometrical shapes, and as such are used in a lot of architecture and design. Our visual spectrum is composed of three primary colors (and of course the three secondary colors). In English, we have phrases like “Two’s company, three’s a crowd,” or “Three strikes and you’re out,” and even Stephen King, a man I end up quoting often on this blog, said in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft —
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, shame on both of us.”
I didn’t become a big fan of the English Language until later in my life though, nor did I ever really care about baseball, or crowds, or architecture. My influences for the number three came from a few eclectic sources. Most from my youth, but shaped over the course of my life.
The first of which you might recognize if you have any passing familiarity with games.
- 1/3 The Legend of Zelda series
The Legend of Zelda is easily one of the most iconic Nintendo franchises, though I have admittedly played none of the games after Ocarina of Time. I have, however, been able to follow along many of the games thanks to such notable internet personalities as EgoRaptor (who provides an entertaining and interesting argument between which is the better Zelda game; Ocarina of Time and Link to the Past) and PeanutButterGamer, creator of Zelda Month. Those of us in nonGamer meatspace call it November.
By no means are these people self-described experts at the games. But they do love them and they’re often a joy to watch.
In any case, the notable theme of the Legend of Zelda, first introduced via an unskippable cutscene in Ocarina of Time, describes the creation of Hyrule through the efforts of three goddesses. As such, you see this theme, symbolized in the series throughout as a set of golden triangles, and it is a prominent motif in various structures, symbols, and clothing fashion throughout the mythos.
The three goddesses, their work in creation of the world completed, retired to the Sacred Realm, the Triforce being the mark of their departure. There are a number of recurring themes throughout the series, but I’m only going to linger on the prominence of triangles, and threes.
Perhaps most notable are the symbolic virtues bestowed upon the three primary protagonists of the games – Wisdom, Power and Courage.
The titular Princess Zelda reincarnates with the blessing of Wisdom.
The reincarnating antagonist, Ganondorf, returns with the blessing of Power.
And you, the recurring and reincarnating Hero of Time (canonically named Link, though you can of course name yourself whatever you want at the title screen), are always given the blessing of Courage.
Trivia: Something a lot of people don’t know is that the Triforce symbol is also the clan insignia of an ancient samurai clan known as the Hojo. Being a game of Japanese make, this should be no big surprise.
Zelda, with her wiseness, is often depicted as a clairvoyant, or at the very least, a seer, and if she isn’t a recurring damsel in distress (a theme that’s been diminishing in Fantasy for a while), she’s a source of guidance and direction to the player.
Ganon, a man always described as evil and ambitious, uses his power to bid for dominance of the world, with varying degrees of success. Like most cookie-cut villains, he hasn’t much to which we can relate, and without much effort he is quickly designated as the source of all problems in the world and must be eliminated.
Link, with his courageousness – cunningly exemplified through a thirst for adventure and curiosity to explore a fantasy realm on part of the Player – is stoically able to delve into dungeons and temples the likes of which most mortals simply have no business visiting.
Zelda, Link and Ganon are characters that always return in nearly every Zelda game incarnation. Just once, I’d like to see them switch it up a little – Ganondorf with wisdom, the Player Character as Zelda with courage, and Link (as an antagonist) corrupt with power.
In any case, everything in these games is centralized around this ‘Theme of Three” (along with a fair share of delightful geometric patterns in the clothing), and I find it satisfying on a number of levels.
For whatever reason, this influenced me at an early age to possess an interest and respect to the triangle.
- 2/3 The Dark Crystal
The Dark Crystal was another huge influence on my interest in the number three. Anyone who has seen this, especially at a tender, malleable age like I did, can imagine why.
The world of Thra, is a fantasy realm with three suns. As such I hesitate to refer to this place as an actual planet, as opposed to a plane, which certainly doesn’t have to follow the same rules as our world.
Anyway, one doesn’t actually see a prominence of Three, as a recurring theme, throughout that film, and being a stand-alone fantasy, there’s a fair amount of exposition but they don’t really get that deep. It’s pretty clear that the movie’s climax is all about it though – The Great Conjunction, when the triple suns become all conjuncticated.
I remember reading in a book called Jim Henson: The Works, a sort of “making of” for various Jim Henson productions – including but not limited to the Dark Crystal – they mentioned something about how the presence of three suns would shape every aspect of lifeforms in a world, including their culture and thought.
I wish I could find the original quote. But you get the idea; while we humans on Earth very often and easily think of things in sets of two, imagine an entire realm where thinking in trinary terms comes just as natural?
The events of the story are set forth by the last Great Conjunction (about one thousand years before the movie starts, as the next one is imminent), when a race of all-powerful creatures known as the Urskeks were divided into two separate other races, each race representing one half of their collective personality; the cruel Skeksis, and the gentle mystics. It’s not until the end of the film that (spoiler) the Dark Crystal is healed and the “two halves” are reunited to form the Urskek race once more.
This is arguably a powerful play on the Number Two (two halves of one race, after all, and the creators were no doubt into Taoism), but the triple-sun thing is a recurring event on that world, with every Great Conjunction every nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine, and one years, there is some kind of big event that always happens.
Prophecies and cycles are fun toys to play with in fantasy.
- 3/3 Something My Teacher Taught Me
I once had a teacher who I have long since forgotten. I believe it might have been Mr. Davis – 6th Grade, Phoenicia Elementary. He was not an English Teacher – in fact his area of expertise was Social Studies, if I recall. But he passed onto me one of the single most long-standing pieces of writing advice that I’ve ever heard in my formative years:
“To make a solid point, cite three reasons for whatever you’re talking about. Two sounds like you don’t know enough. Four is too many. Three is balanced and perfect. Also, never end things with ‘…and stuff.’ What it really means is ‘…and I don’t know what else.'”
For whatever reason I have never forgotten this and have adhered to it whenever possible, subconsciously or otherwise. If you’re the type of reader interested enough to actually look up my previous posts, you’ll see that’s how I often describe things: in sets of three.
In fact an observant reader may in fact notice that *gasp* I’ve listed three primary sources of my interest in Three.
- So What’s The Point?
Having spent a lot of time thinking about the number three, and the world we think we exist in, my personal philosophy and view of the universe has evolved. Here’s how I like to think of things currently, in the context of three.
People, the world, the universe, concepts and ideas, are not divided into the classic binary categories as we know them. For fundamentally opposite ideas like Good and Evil, Black and White, or Fire and Ice, it’s not really too hard to imagine. We have Neutral, Gray, Warm. Things that are pretty easy to grasp.
But what about more abstract things? Like Life and Death?
What would be the third balance of such a thing? Undeath? Unlife, maybe?
Sets of three to all things, a perfect balance, the pillars of geometry and thought. If there appears to be only two of something, only two polar opposites, perhaps it’s merely a matter of thinking outside the box (a dangerous phrase, as it often smacks of pseudoscience) to discover the third perspective. I’m not saying there always is one, but I offer that it is always worth investigating.
But, I also like to think that to all things there is an opposite. Balance comes in many forms.
This I shall extrapolate in another essay to come, which I entitle “The Three Borders.”