Another superb pair of episodes. (I repeat myself, I know. What can I say? Make a really bad one — heck, even a mediocre one — and I'll be more original in how I open my comments, I promise.) I particularly liked Brandon's opening comment that this novella is harder than Book of the New Sun — because I think it's true. Not that the ultimate understanding of what's going on is harder in this case than that — it's really hard in BotNS! — but that BotNS gives you a lot of surface to hold on to, the adventure and the amazing world and the characters, etc. Here there is some of that, but there is, for me at least, less to hold on to (particularly in the first half; in the second half the mist clears a bit). It's one of his hardest works (in a good way, of course!)
Various thoughts, reactions, questions, quibbles & amens:
1. At the beginning of the episodes you say that the five shadow children Sandwalker meets might be the last shadow children; by the end you are assuming it, talking as if by killing those five they exterminate them (you use that word). Why do you think so? The plain evidence of the text is that there are others. For example:
“You talk to all of us when you talk to me,” the Old Wise One said. “Mostly to we five here; but also to all Shadow children. Though weak, their songs come from far away to help shape what I am.”
Obviously, they might still be the last—this is Wolfe, after all!—but you didn't make the case. Unless there's some reason to think otherwise, it seems to me the plain sense of the story is that there are more, just not nearby.
2. You said that when God sees that Adam & Eve are shamed he heals the shame, clothing them, and contrast this with Sandwalker, who thinks he would kill to end shame. But it's worth noting that God also kills them for feeling shame — not precisely, but for doing what they do that makes them feel shame. He doesn't kill them right away; but he sentences them, so to speak, to death — them and the world. I suspect that Wolfe, who knew that Christ was also a torturer, saw this.
3. You mentioned the famous Hamlet quote "nothing is good or bad except thinking makes it so". But you didn't distinguish the sense of the quote. I presume you both know this, but too often it is taken as the equivalent of the line from Milton's Satan, "The mind is its own place, and in itself/Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven." Milton is straightforward mind-over-matter. Shakespeare is a lot trickier and (dare I say) subtler (than Satan, if not than Milton): Hamlet is saying that to him Denmark is a prison—his thinking makes it so. It is not a declaration, as Milton's line is, of power, but of helplessness. (And further complicated by his ironic sparing with Rosencrantz, of course.)) The question is: is what the Shadow Children believe in a Miltonic mind-over-matter — or a Shakespearean matter-shaped-by-mind-however-it-will?
4. You rightly point out that the Shadow Child Wolf is a reference to Wolfe. But it's also a reference to the first novella. In particular, note that the Shadow Child starts as one of a group of five — the fifth head of a single beast (in some sense, since they all go to make up the Old Wise One). Then they become three (the normal heads of Cerberus) then one (the normal heads of a normal dog). I think there's some connection to the first novella here. (Also, the whole "group norm" thing is interesting to think of viz-a-viz cloning, and Marsch (the author of our story!)'s insistence that the GW clones are all one individual.
5. I have a tendency to hear Tolkien references more than is warranted, but given that Wolfe is a fan of Tolkien, and that you have argued that this is a version of high fantasy, it seems that this might be a Tolkien reference:
"...But we walked among you in power and majesty and might, hissing like a thousand serpents as we splashed down in your sea, stepping like conquerors when we strode ashore with burning lights in our fists, and flame".... “We are taller than you, and stronger,” said the Old Wise One. “And wrapped in terrible glory. It is true that we no longer have the things of flame and light, but our glance withers, and we sing death to our enemies.
These certainly sound like Tolkien's elves: tall, powerful, majesty and might and glory, associated with fire and song and light. But remember the fate of Tolkien's elves: those who do not cross the sea (the stars?) will dwindle, becoming small, diminished — becoming a lot like the smaller elves of later myth or, say, the Shadow Children.
6. I wonder if some of the names of the hill people are holdovers from when they were shape changers: after all, they might really at some point have been like ceder branches waving, or like many pink butterflies (if they can be like lava!). Not that those particular individuals were ever like these things, just that their strangely physical names might be a holdover from when they would be called by the name of the form they have taken.
7. You mentioned Ignatius Donnelly as the author of Atlantis. The book I associate him with—because I was assigned it in grad school—was his SF novel, Ceasar's Column. Also: Glenn said "that was back when you had crackpots in Congress." I question your use of the past perfect there, Glenn. I really do.
8. You also mentioned the word translated as Dominus/Adonai/Lord. In talking about a slave master, that is a translation of the word in the Hebrew. But in talking about the name of God, it's a translation of a euphemism; the name isn't Adonai, the name is the tetragramaton, which is pronounced (in prayer) adonai to avoid saying it. (I hadn't ever thought about the fact that it's the same word for a slave master. Disturbing thought!)
9. I liked your comparison of this to Greek tragedy. It caught the spirit well, I think.
10. I also loved the idea that the Shadow Children are drugged-out communists. Hilarious & right.
I'm looking forward to the wrap-up episodes! (I'm going to assume you're going to do more with Marsch's role as author in the wrap-up episodes? Since so far that hasn't gotten much attention.)