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"I received a nice letter the other day from the Dalai Lama. He had read 'The Nine Billion Names of God'. It is about a computer at a Tibetan monastery."
- Arthur C. Clarke

Moon Moth  
  A rather plain and timid mask.  

Everyone on the planet Sirene wears a mask; why should a person be forced to encounter the world with a visage he did not choose? Why shouldn't a person be able to choose a face consonant with his personal prestige, his repute, that he earned himself?

In the story, Edwer Thissell arrives on Sirene as the new ambassador. Used to being treated as an important person, he finds that he has little or no prestige on Sirene. It doesn't matter what your position is - it matters what kind of person you are. Your prestige, your strakh, is the only way you can buy anything; there is no medium of exchange, no money, on the planet. He is told that the Moon Moth is a suitable mask for him.

Thissell unenthusiastically inspected the mask. It was constructed of mouse-colored fur; there was a tuft of hair at each side of the mouth hole, a pair of featherlike antennae at the forehead. White lace flaps dangled beside the temples and under the eyes hung a series of red folds, creating an effect at once lugubrious and comic.

Thissell asked, "Does this mask signify any degree of prestige?"

"Not a great deal."

From The Moon Moth, by Jack Vance.
Published by Pocket Books in 1976
Additional resources -

The plot of the novel turns on the wearing of masks; it is quite a clever detective story.

Why do human beings wear masks? Children (and adults) do it for fun, but anthropologists use the term "liminality" to discuss the purpose of mask-wearing. Masks are used when people step outside the limits of ordinary behavior. For example, a person wearing a clown "mask" is allowed to do things that adults are ordinarily not permitted to do. Wearing a mask allows a shaman to become a spirit or a dangerous beast. In the Vance story, a person could change masks if they wished, but they had to have the strakh needed to pull off the new role.

See Lesson in the Social Purpose and Significance of Masks for a lesson plan on how to explore the purpose of masks.

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  More Ideas and Technology from The Moon Moth
  More Ideas and Technology by Jack Vance
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