There is something about huge objects that is very intimidating. Even if they are totally dead, or even inorganic, the bulk of a thing has a weight in the mind. Why is that?
Part of the effect could stem from the understandable desire to be able to look at “the whole thing” all at once. When you walk up a hill you lose sight of the whole. That, and it doesn’t feel like there will be interessting close up. The windowless, monolithic, blank concrete side of a warehouse advertises few enticements, even if there are lichen and lizards in the cracks.
I think this is worse when it’s something that used to be alive. The startling chance of sudden revival is always in the back of your mind. Smoothness and impermeability increases this effect. A huge smooth dead whale on a beach seems almost sacred and unapproachable. It also creates a large space of stink in the air, so perhaps caution is justified. Even mountains and hills seem divided and distant. An entrance or path helps a lot to diffuse this feeling. It’s okay if someone else has already been there.
My wife and I once visited a windmill in the middle of a neighborhood. It was sitting on a hill, spinning lazily, indifferent to its surroundings. I thought, “I’ll bet we could walk right up to it!” and behind my thoughts was the whispered addendum, “and it wouldn’t even notice us.” The tower was probably two hundred feet tall, which is easy to say, but it keeps getting bigger as you get closer. We had to drive around for a bit before we found the entrance, at the back of a school parking lot. That was the courtyard, the secular zone, the place we belonged; Not part of the windmill’s world. I blithely unpacked the baby out of the car and we started walking up the slight slope.
There was a thick hedge of full grown trees (dwarfed by the whirling white windmill) between the parking lot and desolate Windmillsburg. Set in the hedge was a gap, narrow, thin. We approached along the asphalt. The gap was plenty wide for a car, but it seemed inadequate compared to the smooth thrumming tower. The neighborhood sounds begin to fade as we pass the trees.
The black asphalt gives way to coarse white gravel. A plain stretches out on all sides, suburbia banished to the horizon. In the center of its realm, Windmill dares us to come nearer. A sighing song goes whistling by, the lilt of the windmill’s blades. The inhuman lament of a lonely wizard’s tower siphoning power from the air. We slowly walk across the desolate waste, nearly up to the plane of the blades, and stop.
I can barely think of advancing, but having come so far it would look foolish to retreat. The thing is just too massive! Unbroken white and gleaming, thrumming, ringing through the sky. I look down, and see the sigil of safety… a door. Not an inviting door, for it is clearly locked. Not a welcoming door, for it is plastered with warnings and studded with thick bolts. Not, in fact, any kind of encouraging door. But men have made it, a tower of human sorcery, and intend to return one day.
After crossing the blade path, with the insistent trembling “shuooush, shuooush, shuooush” overhead, I felt within the embrace of the tower. I had arrived, as it were, and further exploration was somehow no more intrusive. The foundation was about as large around as my house, and probably thrice as deep, itself bristling with bolts as thick as my forearm. Hunched nearby was a humming box, probably a transformer. A house was peeking over the back fence, and the spell was broken. We had defeated the windmil, and it was time to go home. As we walked away the sighing of the blades subsided, and I sensed the windmill watching me retreat. I looked back a couple of times… just to make sure it wasn’t following.
I think the ocean (or any deep body of water) is the worst (best?) in creating this effect. The Depths, obvious but unseen, hide huge mysteries, offering a clutching drowning death and a slime encrusted grave. The sea is dead, but strangely alive; It is featureless and smooth, but oddly intriguing; It has no entrance to be seen, no paths, no invitations; Every approach is a virgin encounter. To top it all off, the ocean often contains large featureless objects. Buoys, boats, sunken boulders, Leviathan, floating globs of kelp. I find the Depths send a shiver down my spine. The sea is vaster than comprehension, and feels to me as sacred as the grave.
How often is the world like this? Have we not all sensed our smallness, the sacred space surrounding mountains or telephone poles? Even novelty has this space, a mental aura of fear that warns me from approach. Buying from a new store, or getting to the bottom of an API, sometimes I glimpse a door, made for a Man, in the world and its laws. It is a closed door, but courageous; It grants hope to those who dare to approach that which is vaster than themselves; that which appears impermeable. It is locked; I suspect the One who made it intends to remain ’til He returns.