FHC is one of my very favorite Wolfe works. I mean that in both senses: the novel is, I think, one of his best (rivaled, in my experience, only by the various books in the Sun cycle — although I haven't read Peace, which I am expecting to be that good, nor read all of the Latro books). And my favorite part of the novel (as I insist on calling it, contrary to your practice)* is the first, separable, section, the Orbit novella of the same name. I've read the entire novel twice before, and the novella more often than that — and the opening pages still more often, since I love them. (Wolfe has never been better, simply as a prose craftsman, than he is in this novella; and never better in the novella than its opening.) I just reread it (the whole novella; too hard to stop after just a bit!) so it'd be fresh,
Given all that, you both saw so much that I didn't see. In particular, your explication of the various literary allusions was brilliant. I had never thought much about the fact that the epigraph comes from Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, never thought much about the fact that it is the Polyphemus episode David is reading, and had always taken the Proustian echo to be little more than a stylistic homage. Wow, did you prove me wrong. Excellent, excellent stuff.
I will say that it is always hard in this sort of thing — at least for me — to see where the actual, intended echoes end and where reading into the story begins. This has (ironically) an echo with a theme in the story which you brought out: Number 5 (not yet called that)'s archeology of his past, like the archeology of the abos, is always fundamentally unreliable: it is hard to know where reading what is there stops and reading what is there begins. Well, this is true for literary allusions too! — But it would be, I think, absurd to therefore claim that Wolfe was making a deliberate parallel between the archeologies of self and society, on the one hand, and that of our reading of his literary allusions, on the other. (Which is not to say that the complexity of the story's interpretation is unrelated to the complexity of the self & society's, just that making the tie to allusions specifically is a bridge too far.) For that to be the case he would have had to walk several mental steps that I just happened to go (following your footsteps, mostly); and it seems to be to consider too curiously to consider so. — So I am not yet convinced, despite the narrator's lupine nature, that he is specifically alluding to all his own stories. I see the parallels you have pointed out; but perhaps they are simply because the same author wrote all the texts involved, and all authors have recurring themes, images, interests. I'm open to the idea; not yet convinced. Similarly, while some of your allusion-tracing seems to be clearly meant, you follow it out so far — using the specifics of a parallel you articulated in a particular fashion to make a point, which would have required Wolfe to use the same terms in his thought about it — well, I don't know how far to be convinced. But, of course, modern literary theory would say the author is dead (killed by his own clone, no doubt), so it doesn't matter; and it may be right. The parallels are brilliant, in any event.
I will admit to a slight disappointment regarding your decision to read the story as if for the first time. Wolfe is so enriched by rereadings that it seems a pity to cram all the revisiting insights into a single wrap-up episode. Also, you do, therefore, follow some garden paths that a simple acknowledgement of (or reading ahead into) the rest of the book would put to rest. (For instance: you contrasted Mr. Million's general kindness with his interest in the slave markets; reading the whole work would make the latter pretty clearly an example of, rather than a counterpoint to, the former.) I see the reason for it; I can't deny that for the most part it's working; I wish, in many ways, that you had chosen otherwise (or taken up my earlier suggestion, and rather than dividing the two parts as recap/discussion, divided them as first readers/rereaders). Just throwing this in, less to criticize this time through, but to encourage you to revisit the issue when planning your future discussions, particularly of Peace (which I plan, dv, to read in its entirety at least once before listening to your first episode on it) and the various New Sun books.
A word on the library & names. You don't say this explicitly, but you bury how subtle Wolfe is in the names. He never actually says that he's in the W section. He refers (obliquely in two cases) to two authors whose names begin with W, but you have to look it up. He almost says it re: Vernor Vinge, but he never actually says W. It makes it just that much harder to pick up. And an analysis of the history of the story's reception suggests that it was much harder to pick up than it seems it ought to have been (given how obvious it is once it's explained). Kim Stanley Robinson, in his introduction to the UK edition of the Best of Gene Wolfe, says that he mentioned the narrator's true name to Wolfe a few years after the fact, and Wolfe mentioned that KSR was the first one to notice, or at least the first one to tell him. John Clute talks about a class he held in, IMS, the early 80s, where they came to the conclusion only slowly & tentatively (when Wolfe visited for a day, he said "of course" when asked if Nubmer 5's real name was ——). It seems now so obvious, and you are reading slowly enough to make it seem so, but it's worth remembering how subtle that was.
Still on the name issue: you more-or-less say, based on the library scene and the Maison du Chien, what Number 5's last name is. You don't speak as if it's clear what his first name is. I presume this is deliberate coyness; and if it's not, I presume you've long since found it out; but on the off chance anyone reading this doesn't know, here, in rot-13 to prevent accidental spoilers, is the name & evidence: Jr xabj, svefg bs nyy, gung Ahzore 5 unf gjb anzrf (ur fnlf, yngre ba, gung uvf anzr pbafvfgf bs gjb jbeqf); jr xabj gung vg vf gur fnzr nf uvf sngure, jub pybarq uvz. Gur vzcyvpngvba vf gung uvf nhag vf n srznyr pybar (inevbhf pyhrf — fur ybbxf yvxr uvz, rgp); cerfhznoyl fur, gbb, vf tvira gur fnzr anzr, bayl va n srzvavmrq irefvba. Jryy, ure anzr vf Wrnavar: tvira gung Ahzore 5'f ynfg anzr vf Jbysr, uvf svefg anzr vf cerggl pyrneyl Trar. Nyfb, juvyr jbyirf ner gurzngvp va guvf grkg (nf va znal bs Jbysr'f grkgf), vg fubhyq or abgrq gung trarf, gbb, ner n erpheevat vagrerfg bs uvf, naq ner cnegvphyneyl ncg va n abiryyn nobhg pybavat. (Go to rot13.com, paste this in, and read.)
(A few footnotes, still on that same scene: when this story was published, Vernor Vinge hadn't yet published a short story collection; he apparently arranged (I've not seen the book, only heard it) to have the spine read "V Vinge" and have the kerning slightly off, to fit that imagined misprision. You note that Wilhelm was the wife of Damon Knight, Wolfe's friend & mentor & the dedicatee of FHC, but don't note (explicitly) that he was also the editor by whom this story was first published — presumably, the first editor to see it. Rather than imagining that as a joke the three of them cooked up, I suspect it was a private joke Wolfe stuck in for his friend & editor.)
One extremely minor point: you say that Wolfe uses the word "primitive" because it echoes the Odyssey parallel. (Does Homer use the Greek equivalent of "primitive"? If so this point would be — slightly — more persuasive.) But this explains something which, I think, doesn't need explaining. Viewing some peoples as "primitive" and others as developed was, still, common practice in 1972 — probably not in the academy by that point, or at least it was already being heavily questioned; but in the public at large. I suspect that Wolfe used the word, as it were, innocently. — Although, of course, I would be interested to hear argument otherwise! But in making such an argument, bear in mind that our attention to the problems of teleology inherent in the term, to say nothing of its general rudeness and sense of being condescending, are historical developments, one that were, at best, just beginning in 1972. I am not sure the choice would have raised eyebrows, back then.
Finally, a word about structural similarities between FHC and BotNS. Both began as novellas for Orbit: FHC was published as such, BotNS was begun as such (as Wolfe says in The Castle of the Otter). In both cases he prolonged them into longer form. But too, in both cases he went still further at an editor's suggestion: here, an editor suggested he make it book length; for BotNS he added Urth of the New Sun because his editor, David Hartwell (זצ״ל) wanted clarification. These parallels suggest two points to me: first, that most of Wolfe's finest work came out of novellas in Orbit (both "Forlesen" and "Seven American Nights", two other of his finest works, were first published there, as were many of his best stories, e.g. "Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories" (which, come to think of it, is another work that began in orbit and then sprawled)). But secondly and more importantly, it makes me wonder to what extent the relationship between BotNS and Urth parallels that between FHC the novella and FHC the novel. Reading Urth, one can see hints of its developments in BotNS — but only hints; if Wolfe expected them to be discovered, it goes to show, to quote the title of Michael Andre-Druisi's essay on the topic "what Wolfe expects of his readers". How much of the developments of novel FHC can be seen, however dimly, in the novella? How much did Wolfe actually expect people to get?
Although here, of course, I urge, in question form, a return to the format which above I questioned as leading, possibly, to readings-in rather than readings-of. So perhaps this is a good place to end.
I look forward to Part 2, and beyond.
* We have already discussed, in an earlier comment, whether this is properly called a novella or a novel. I won't relitigate it, except to point out that your own treatment of it belies your discussion of it as a collection — novels you do automatically; collections you put to a vote of your readers. If you really felt this was a collection, you would have asked your patrons, and accepted it if, say, "Fifth Head" and "V.R.T." were voted up, but "'A Story' by John V. Marsch" was not. — But I will correct you on one factual matter: you said, in one of these two episodes, that it is always referred to as a novel, not a collection of novellas. It was originally clearly published as a collection. I have the 1976 Ace edition, which is labeled "three novellas" — and an afterward by Pamela Sargent which suggests that that labelling made it receive less attention than calling it a novel would have, contrasting it with Asimov's The Gods Themselves, which is similarly structured in a lot of ways, but which was marketed as a novel — and won the Hugo and Nebula. This difference, Sargent argues, was not only due to "Asimov's personal charm and popularity as an author, but also because it was treated as a novel rather than as three novellas, thus encouraging readers to see the work as a whole. Perhaps more readers read the work, at least in part, because it was called a novel." Later editions, I take it, have taken Sargent's criticism to heart? I certainly grant that achieving larger readership is hardly dispositive; that people ought, in utopia, to be as willing to read novella collections as novels; and that in any event truth in labeling ought to trump any concerns for good advertising. That said, it is worth bearing in mind — especially if one thinks, as I do, that it is accurate to call it a novel. (C.f. Michael Swanwick's essay "A Nettlesome Term That Has Long Outlived Its Welcome", online here: https://anettlesometermthathaslongoutliveditswelcome.wordpress.com/)