“Second to the right, and straight on till morning” is the way to Neverland, according to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Multiple stage and cinema versions of Neverland and Peter Pan punctuate the celestial: “second star to the right and straight on till morning.” My favorite incarnation is the scene near the end of the movie Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” where Captain James T. Kirk utters the line.
These few words conjure an image that evokes curiosity, wanderlust, and freedom but also discipline and a dash of hope. Just pick a star, a course to steer. Wherever it takes us, through the night. Steady the helm, there will be the morning light.
But wait! The stars are not fixed, at least not to those of us bound to Earth are they? The azimuth of our “second star” will change, as the stars appear to move during the night. Getting where we’re trying to go means moving along the right azimuth, or direction. Guiding toward a random “second star” will neither take you in a constant direction nor to your desired destination.
Unless your chosen star is a pole star, like Polaris, the North Star, about which the others appear to rotate. Aim toward Polaris and you will always go north. Is that where you want to go?
Where would this elegantly written navigational advice take us?
Moreover, which star is the second? It’s often difficult to pick out familiar constellations from the multitude of stars visible far from city lights, let alone a specific “star to the right.” To the right of what?
True, the stars can help us navigate. Knowing what direction is north is useful. Using a sextant to measure the angle of the North Star above the horizon can tell you latitude, your angular distance from the equator. By itself, however, a single star will not get you to your target destination.
Steering toward the “second star” is a fitting metaphor for finding our way in life and the world, or for a meandering space program to find its way again.
Maybe that’s the point. These ten words appeal to fans of Neverlandish fantasy, nerdy Trekkers, traditional science fiction fans, and others alike. They capture our need to find out “what’s out there,” and our hope and optimism it will be better than where we are.
Second star to the right and straight on till morning.