Sep 16, 2018

The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Part 2: Spoiler-laden postscript

13 comments

 

Continuing a thought from the other post, but putting it here to hide a spoiler...

 

Number 5's aunt also "veils" her identity, by writing under a different name rather than her own. And why does she act as if she doesn't believe in Veil's hypothesis when she speaks with #5? Does she actually not believe it, only using this as a pose for writing an academic fancy? Or is she pretending with #5 for some reason — like, perhaps, Mr. Million, who remember is himself also the aunt, asking the boys to argue both sides of various quetions: is she doing that herself in arguing against her own theory (playing #5's role), or is she getting #5 to do it (playing Mr Million's), or, since she is both, doing both at once?

 

Does Aunt Jeannine invent Veil's Hypothesis as part of a memory, or rather say a tradition, that remembers the purge, being descended (or rather cloned) from the one human being to survive the murder of the humans? Or just one of the humans to do so?

Sep 19, 2018Edited: Sep 21, 2018

"Does Aunt Jeannine invent Veil's Hypothesis as part of a memory, or rather say a tradition, that remembers the purge, being descended (or rather cloned) from the one human being to survive the murder of the humans? Or just one of the humans to do so?"

 

VERY interesting idea, Stephen.

 

Still working my way through the Cerberus prodcasts. A couple of additional thoughts that the podcasts jogged loose:

 

1) I agree that Wolfe seems to be making a comment on how language is used to conceal the true nature of a thing, in this case the use of ornate language to describe the victims of sex-slavery - "demimondaine," "queens", "nymphs" etc., a la Nabokov - the same thing goes on nowadays, when terms like "sex-worker" are used to normalize an abhorrent practice - it's hard to rationalize someone as a "worker" instead of a "slave," whether they are forced to work from hunger, drug addiction, or fear of a beating from a pimp. There's an interesting passage in the story near the beginning after the brothers return home from the library with Mr. Million, where the white-haired customers of the brothel are described bringing their sons and nephews, "very young men and boys," to be introduced to prostitution. Not only does this passage tell us much about how women are treated and commodified within this decadent culture, but it also speaks to the cycle of repeating the same mistakes, over and over with each generation - within the culture, as well as the Maitre's stated quest to learn why each generation of clones repeats the same cycle of life. 2) The Maitre says that the purpose of the experiments on Number 5 was to try to learn the reason for this continuing cycle, but of course, we have to wonder if he is a reliable narrator. It's just as likely that the Maitre, an archetypal "Mad Scientist," has been doing the archetypal Mad Scientist experiment - trying to transpose his own brain into the body of another, in this case, his clone - Number 5. In much the same way that his grandfather, Mr. Million, had his consciousness transposed into the body of a robot (destroying his own organic brain in the process), the Maitre may be recreating his own consciousness, through narcohypnosis, suggestion, and other methods, behaviorally rather than through a physical transposition, into Number 5 to perpetuate his own existence. And indeed, by the end of the novel Number 5 has essentially become his own clone-father. As a side-note, this creates the philosophical problem of whether an exact duplicate of a person, whose physical body is indistinguishable from the source by any experimental means, and who has been primed to respond and act and have the same memories as the source, can be said to "be" the source - if Number 5 has the clonal genetic structure of Maitre and the same memories and cognitive structure, can he be said to be a discrete entity from Maitre? The same question is raised in the story about Mr. Million - does he have the consciousness of his human source? If we can't show any difference through empirical testing, do we have to accept that he is the same person as the source and possesses qualia?

 

In other stories, Wolfe seems to hold the belief that, as we can never look into another's consciousness, if a robot seems to show the qualities and characteristics of a human being, even if we d0n't know if they are just a simulation of independent consciousness, the same dignity and human rights should attach to him. Essentially, Wolfe's standpoint is that if a robot can pass a Turing Test, we should take them at their word and assume that they have qualia, and perhaps even a soul. If Number 5 is morally and physically indistinguishable from his clonal father, he seems able to pass his own Turing Tes, will become indistinguishable from the Maitre, and loses his own sense of personal identity, becoming like the "philosophical zombies," or "p-zombies" of philosophical thought experiments (like those of David Chalmers, who used p-zombies to argue against Physicalism.) The scene where the drugged Number 5 on the lab table hears his own voice responding, as if from elsewhere in the room, reinforces this sense that his true identity is being separated or split, with his natural identity beginning to expire, to be replaced by Maitre's consciousness. Number 5's body becomes just a tool to be used for the satisfaction of Maitre's desire of self-perpetuation, (or at best, his experiments to discover self-knowledge), just as the women of the brothel and the slaves of the fighting rings are mere tools used to satisfy the desires of other powerful men.

 

Does Maitre want to end the cycle of genetic stagnation as he implies, or is he consciously perpetuating it through his cloning experiments and brainwashing of Number 5? 2) The question of whether the Abos transformed themselves into the inhabitants of the planet reminded me a little of Ray Bradbury's 1948 short story "Mars is Heaven!", (adapted into The Martian Chronicles as "The Third Expedition", wherein the Martians respond to an expedition from Earth by transforming themselves into the inhabitants of a 1920s midwest town, then slaughtering the earthmen after they are lulled into a state of trust. One could see the Abos doing something similar, then taking the earth ship over to St Croix. But I think the idea that the Abos may have transformed themselves (maybe through a form of protective camouflage, such as some animal species possess) is really part of the stream of consciousness layering of literary and historical and religious allusions that create an overall literary effect in this story, as you describe - I _really_ like that way of looking at Wolfe's technique. The notion of the Abos becoming the settlers reminds me, as you said, of Howard and Machen's view of the defeated ethnic groups of Europe, like the Picts, who may survive as some kind of racial memory of the faerie folk. As a Neanderthal-American (I treated myself to one of those 23-and-Me home genetic tests for my birthday, and was delighted to find I have a higher-than-average level of Neanderthal genetic structure than the norm for those of European descent), it also seems to me that the same could be said for the absorption of Neanderthals into the Cro-Magnon genetic line - they disappear, but continue to be a part of us. It also brings up memories of our own aboriginal peoples, the Native Americans who were forced to change into an alien culture, adopting their language, style of dress, government, religion, and so forth, causing serious rifts in their own cultural identity. If we accept Veil's Hypothesis, it could help explain the decadent, stagnant nature of the society and maybe also Number 5's bloodline. The use of scarlet and red in Maitre's wardrobe can be seen as a reference to the clonal family's bloodline, which is another way of referring to one's genetic line.

 

This story shares a lot of interesting features with Wolfe's later novel "Pirate Freedom", in which the protagonist Chris seems to be the clone of his mafioso father - with time traveling added to the genetic mix. 3) I would be very surprised if the fading family photo described is not one in the possession of our Gene Wolfe, and if the baby in the photo is not Gene.

 

As you said the the podcast, the photo is almost certainly an artifact from Earth. The scene reminds me of the scene from Book of the Long Sun when the framed picture of Apollo 11 is seen. Wolfe has provided his ethnic background as follows: "My father was of Dutch and Swiss descent, my mother Scottish and Welsh." (http://pages.swcp.com/~christfn/oli-gw.html). Number 5, when shown the photo, initially guesses the mother's ancestry as Gypsy, then says his second guess, almost a certainty, was Celtic - Welsh, or Scottish, or Irish, he says - yet another clue to Number 5's real name.

 

This comment causes one of the Demimondaines to giggle, for reasons that are unclear - do they know Number 5 is a clone?

If the fertilized egg would need a human surrogate to carry the clone during the gestation period, the women of the brothel would be available to the Maitre. (It might be, in addition to the revenue, the reason he runs a brothel - there have been numerous failed experiments brought to term, so the women would presumably all be aware of the experiments and have likely been egg donors for the cloning experiments and surrogate mothers, carrying the clone to term in the womb. This would explain the girl's knowledge that Number 5 was a clone.)

Sep 21, 2018Edited: Sep 21, 2018

I was curious about the meaning of the street name "Saltimbanque" and did a little further research. It is sometimes translated as simply "acrobat", but the meaning is more in the sense of "street performer", and is used derogatorily in French as a synonym for "mountebank" or charlatan, like the sort of street performer who rips off onlookers with con games like 3 card monte.

 

It is a French borrowing from an Italian cognate. Wiktionary defines it as "Borrowed from Italian saltimbanco. Used thus in English because of the association with street performers, seen by the settled population in English-speaking culture as not to be trusted. A more usual and more accurate English word, derived from similar sources, is mountebank." The Italian saltimbanco derives from "saltare in banco (“leap (or somersault) on the bench”), with the bench being the raised platform on which street performers do their acts.

 

The English cognate is saltimbanco (plural saltimbancos)

  1. A quack doctor, a fraud.Synonyms: mountebank, quack

This could also relate to the several references to Gypsies within the story, who are often associated in folklore with untrustworthy, itinerant people.

 

This could be intended as a comment on the dubious scientific studies of the Maitre, and/or could simply be part of the generally unsavory nature of the street names in the neighborhood - like "the Street of Maggots", Number 5 lives on "The Street of Charlatans".

 

I'd suggest another, possibly related allusion - to the 1905 painting by Pablo Picasso, "Saltimbanques", sometimes referred to as "The Family of Saltimbanques".

 

It's a very striking, moody painting from Picasso's Rose Period, executed on the largest canvas on which Picasso ever worked. It depicts a family of street performers on a desolate landscape which may represent Picasso's native Andalusia, apparently departing a gig (based on the baggage they are carrying). Various members of Picasso's family and friends are depicted as members of the family; Picasso himself is Harlequin, the young girl whose hand he is holding is apparently his beloved sister, Conchita, who died at age 7. The paunchy jester is believed to be the Symbolist, Apollinaire. The two boy acrobats could be identified with the poets Max Jacob and/or Andre Salmon. The young woman sitting apart from the main body of the family is probably Picasso's lover at the time, Fernande.

 

Although the figures in the painting are probably based on real people, not all of whom were related, there seems (to my eyes, at least) a family resemblance between them, as the clonal family in the story does; it is possible that Wolfe suggested an identification of the Harlequin figure with the Maitre; the older Jester as Mr. Million; the older dark-haired boy in trunks as #5, who more closely resembles Harlequin than the younger boy does; and the younger light-haired boy as David; with perhaps the young woman as Aunt Jeanine. I'm not sure who the youngest girl would be identified as, unless she (Picasso's sister) is Aunt Jeanine and the woman separated from the group is one of the "demimondaines", or Phaedria, or even Nerissa. She could also be the bio-mother seen in the photo in the story, Both boys are looking at her but she is ignored by the other three figures in the painting, who are clustered together. I have no idea if the painting suggested the name of the street to Wolfe, of course. But reading Gene Wolfe sure is educational!

Sep 22, 2018

I got real excited about this painting. I was hoping it would turn out to be in the Art Institute of Chicago so I could envision Wolfe and Rosemary spending a well-deserved day off there in 1969. But alas it's in Washington D.C.

Sep 22, 2018Edited: Sep 22, 2018

@Glenn - The painting actually WAS in the Art Institute of Chicago, on loan from the Chester Dale collection, but during a period before I think Gene would have had a chance to see it - from 1943 to 1952, as he was either in Texas or Korea. It went to the National Gallery in WDC after 1952.

 

A print Picasso executed of the two boys from the painting (to my mind suggesting David and Number 5) is in the Art Institute of Chicago, although not currently on display, according to their website. It's titled "The Two Saltimbanques" from 1905. Again, just a guess as to a possible allusion or inspiration.

 

 

 

Sep 22, 2018

Mickjeco: certainly wolfe might be alluding to other art or literature, but I prefer the simplest explanations for these references, not truly as allusions but as plain descriptions. Streets inhabited by actors, frauds, and maggots. Mimizon as a close cognate for mimicry rather than an Edison reference etc. I think I’ve gotten some mileage out of literal application of certain terms - occasionally Wolfe sends me on goose chases for allusions but I think the meaning of the street names and city, built as it is on the design of a hand (Abos have useless hands, eh) is probably easier to apply thematically.

Oct 24, 2018

Speaking of allusions, while reading The Fifth Head of Cerberus I kept getting hazy glimpses of Dicken's Great Expectations. Two examples:

- the girl and her nanny reminded me of Miss Havisham and Estella.

- Five's aloof father with unsavory businesses and Pip's unknown benefactor, the convict, who made his fortune traveling to another world (Australia.)

 

Oct 24, 2018

And a constant imagery of stagnation and rot permeates both stories, as well.

Oct 24, 2018

@Glenn Yes! I was looking for words to describe that feeling I had about Five's world. Stagnation and rot nails it- just like Haversham's wedding dress..

Mar 20Edited: Mar 20

Something else I noticed for the first time about the first novella, and I don't know if anyone else has commented on this. I just read Kim Stanley Robinson's essay on Wolfe that was published in the New York Review of Science Fiction (https://www.nyrsf.com/2013/09/a-story-kim-stanley-robinson.html). Robinson points pout that Wolfe plays with time in a story in a variety of styles, speeding up and slowing down and pausing viewpoint: "Wolfe shifts his pacing everywhere in his stories very freely, creating wonderful, rhythmic effects in the flow of the telling, the slingshot effect among others. He can be stately or pell-mell, classical or jazzy. It’s one of many ways I am often surprised by him in my reading. Just as there is no knowing what the content of the next sentence is going to be, there is also no telling if it will cover a second or a year or stand outside time entirely. What joy, after the too many volumes written entirely at the same pace, either plodding or frenetic but in any case ever so predictable and painful to one’s urge to flow or bop. In this, one falls on Wolfe’s pages as on music after a metronome." One of the startling effects utilizing this, and one of the most disorienting things in "Fifth Head", is that while many narratives in stories may stop and reappear in another point in time - an hour later, a week later, etc. for dramatic effect and to speed the narrative along - in "Fifth Head," #5's first person narrative often literally drops out of his own knowledge of the events, losing days and weeks and even whole sections of the year, emphasizing his increasingly fractured consciousness to mirror conventional literary technique . It's a bizarre and fascinating effect.

This is a great observation, and one wonders what the story would look like from David's perspective (or Mr. Million's!).

 

I'd read this interview a few years ago, but had forgotten about it. But I just finished reading Robinson's novel The Memory of Whiteness, which is all about the philosophy of time. I was envisioning Wolfe and Robinson hanging out together at some con and talking about this.

@Glenn

 

A couple of items about Kim Stanley Robinson;

 

- Recently, the podcast The Antifada has an extended interview with Robinson <https://podtail.com/en/podcast/the-antifada/antifada-ft-will-menaker-fully-automated-luxury-ga/>. It is well worth a listen. It has birds, wind chimes and power tools!

 

- Gene Wolfe taught at Clarion in 1975 when Robinson attended.

 

- In 2013 there was a University of Illinois symposium on science fiction that featured Robinson as the keynote speaker. Apparently, Wolfe met up with Robinson afterwards and they spent hours talking in the bar until the wee hours of the morning. About what, we will never know, but it would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall!

What I hear you suggesting is that we should secretly bug our favorite writers? Cool -- we're on it!

 

I do love what a champion of Wolfe that Robinson is and I wish the Venn diagram of their readers overlapped a bit more. Last weekend we recorded our episodes about Hour of Trust (marathon sessions!) and it struck me as being concerned with many of Robinson's own themes in The Mars Trilogy. Maybe we should try to get KSR to come on the show?

Load more replies
New Posts
  • Damn that was a good story. I last read it in the 1970’s before I went to medical school (I am now an internist and geriatrician). It didn’t make much of an impression on me then, but it sure does now! I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but am looking forward to doing so. I will share my thoughts about the medical aspects of the story. There are some spoilers, so read the story first. Medical schools are adding close reading of literature and patient narratives to their curricula. (1) This would be an excellent source for that. I’ll show how that might be done. Page numbers are from the 1st Orb edition of The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories. Page 80 - ‘a stubble of brown hair threatened to erase the marks of the sutures; with dilated eyes…he paused’ The boy has had head trauma and/or brain surgery. A drug or toxin is likely responsible for both eyes being dilated. A unilateral dilated eye would indicate acute brain damage. Page 86 - ‘his head swaying from side to side as he walked, like the sensor of a mine detector.’ He probably has a visual field defect, possibly related to the brain surgery/trauma. Page 86 - “I set fires to things.” Could the surgery have been a lobotomy to control his behavior? Page 88 - “and cut all the way through my corpus callosum.” Nick’s brain surgery was a corpus callosotomy. (2) This surgery is usually done in patients with difficult to control seizures. The main side effect is problems with speech and alien hand syndrome—control of the non-dominant hand. (3) Nowadays, newer medications and other neurosurgical procedures have mostly supplanted callosotomy. Page 88 - “I only see what is on the right of what I’m looking at, and the other side…only the left.” This is known as a hemianopsia (4) and is a result of the callosotomy. The ‘I’ is the speaking half of Nick—the left side of his brain -or- “left-brain Nick.” Page 89 - “He had uncontrollable seizures.” “Did you?” the girl asked. “I had visions.” We find out the reason for Nick’s callosotomy. He had visual auras before the seizures when he would “see things.” Nick seemed to enjoy these auras and was probably upset when they ended. Page 91 - “there’s something you ought to know about Diane, she gets confused sometimes, we’ve had her to doctors, she’s been in the hospital…try not to get her excited.” Diane has some major Issues. The most likely conditions to cause a 19 year old to be hospitalized would be major depression, a debilitating anxiety disorder like OCD, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Although Diane is skinny, anorexia nervosa is unlikely because the treatment certainly wouldn’t be stranding her on an island with no food! Page 92 - Diane said, “I feel better when it rains.” “That should help you to understand yourself.” Is Dr. Island using cognitive behavioral therapy? (5) Although this is a rather expensive way of doing it! Page 94-95 - “Sickness is…relative” “Diane was not functioning…you were not functioning either.” This is a major motif of the story; illness, specifically mental illness, is defined by society. In our society, a schizophrenic person may take a night job at the post office working alone, then go home to their one bedroom apartment and pull the shades to keep out the world. They would watch TV, eat dinner, go to sleep. They are content and even happy with this routine. They are contributing to society. Are they mentally ill? Page 96 - “We have treatment for disturbed persons…but we have no treatment for disturbing persons.” “Disturbing persons” - people with personality disorders? The best you can do is place limits on people with personality disorders and teach their families/friends how to cope with them. If they become unmanageable, societies tend to place them in prison. Could Dr. Island be a prison? Page 97 - ‘He noticed…that she was looking at him oddly, then realized that his left hand had risen to touch her right breast.’ Alien Hand Syndrome! (3) “Right-brain Nick” is acting inappropriately. Page 98 - “They kept me locked up because I kept burning stuff…I bite people.” Again, “right-brain Nick” is causing all these problems. Page 98 - “Then they stuck me full of Tranquil-C.” That is why Nick’s eyes were dilated. Page 98 - “I still think you’re angry somewhere, deep down.” Taking away Nick’s auras (visions) could be the root of his anger. Perhaps the visions occurred in “right-brain Nick” and that’s why he burns things? Or is "right-brain Nick" just frustrated at his lack of control? Page 101 - “My knees are rough…when I came here they were still smooth…I used to put a certain lotion on them. Because my Dad would feel them…Mum wouldn’t say anything but she would be cross after.” I don’t know Diane’s diagnosis yet, but we have a good idea what may have caused her decompensation. Page 104 - ‘There was no reply. The girl sat staring at the ground in front of her…she did not move when he touched her. “She’s catatonic isn’t she,” he said. “Catatonic schizophrenia.” We now know Diane’s problem; she has schizophrenia. Catatonia is no longer consider a subtype of schizophrenia and is more a part of the symptomatology. (6) Schizophrenia affects young adults and is a chronic condition. Some do well, but many others have major disabilities and suffer from problems with functioning and socializing. It seems that Diane is quite disabled and has a poor prognosis. It is possible that her decompensation was caused by an abusive father. Page 104 - ‘The doctor had been a therapy robot, but a human doctor gave more status. Robots’ patients sat in doorless booths…and talked to something that appeared to be a small, friendly, food freezer.’ I have never heard of Amana being involved in cognitive behavioral therapy. Page 104 - “What is the cause? I mean for her?” “I don’t know.” “And what’s the treatment?” “You are seeing it.” “Will it help her?” “Probably not.” With all their space bending technology, it seems that the prognosis for schizophrenia hasn’t changed much in the Wolfe-ian future. Page 113 - “Your record shows no auditory hallucinations, but haven’t you ever known someone who had them?” “I knew a girl once…she twisted noises.” Auditory hallucinations are very common in schizophrenia. Ambient background noises are screened out by the normal brain. People with schizophrenia are unable to ignore them and experience the noise as voices saying bad things to/about them. The voices could also be internally produced by the brain.(7) Page 115 - “Let Ignacio tell you a story…” After unpacking Ignacio’s tale, it seems that he is a feral child. Unlike other feral children, he was taught language and self-care skills. His only lack was human contact and learning how to interact with others. Feral children have a lot of problems becoming socialized and integrating back into society. They usually aren’t homicidal. (8) Perhaps being a “high-tech” feral made him violent to others. Page 119 - “Did I tell you about the bird, Nicholas?” She had been not-listening again. “What bird?” “I have a bird. Inside…She sits in here. She has tangled a nest in my entrails, where she sits and tears at my breath with her beak. I look healthy to you, don’t I? But inside I’m hollow and rotten and turning brown, dirt and old feathers, oozing away. Her beak will break through soon.” Okaaay, as Nick would say. This dispels any doubts that Diane has schizophrenia. She has a somatic delusion, which, while not as common as paranoid delusions, are frequent in schizophrenia. “Usually the false belief is that the body is somehow diseased, abnormal or changed.” (9) Page 119 - “I have been trying to drink water to drown (the bird.) I think I have swallowed so much, I couldn’t stand up if I tried…” Diane has psychogenic polydipsia, which is common in schizophrenia. They can drink gallons every day—so much so that they disrupt their electrolyte balance and develop very low serum sodium levels. (10) Page 125 - “About 100 years ago, Dr. Harlow experimented with monkey’s who had been raised in complete isolation.” Harry Harlow is a real person who did indeed perform these experiments as Dr. Island has carefully outlined. Harlow was a Professor of Psychology at University of Wisconsin-Madison. (11) Many of those experiments are now considered an unethical treatment of animals. I suspect that the inspiration for The Island of Dr. Death came about when Wolfe read about Harlow’s research. You might consider Dr. Death to be a 2150 version of Harlow. ================Major Spoilers================== Page 129 - “Nicholas, you are upset now because Diane is dead—” “But you could have saved her!” “—but by dying she made someone else—someone very important—well. Her prognosis was bad; she really only wanted death, and this is the death I chose for her.” This is the death I chose for her. Those words are the core of the story; did Dr. Island have the right to sacrifice an individual for the greater good? In medical ethics, this encapsulates the conflict and tension between the ethical models of deontology and utilitarianism. (12) It seems that Dr. Island is a firm believer in the later. This is why The Death of Dr. Island would be a great source for a close reading of literature. It is a natural jumping-off-point for a spirited discussion of medical ethics. Page 130 - “Nicholas, who was the right side of your body, the left side of your brain, I have forced into catatonia.” Dr Island has essentially killed “left-brain Nick,” the person who has been our view point for the entire story. This is the death Dr. Island has chosen for Nick. Did he have the right to do so? REFERENCES 1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4721945/ 2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corpus_callosotomy 3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_hand_syndrome 4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemianopsia 5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_behavioral_therapy 6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schizophrenia 7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auditory_hallucination 8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feral_child 9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delusion 10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primary_polydipsia 11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Harlow 12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4778182/
  • My wife and I listened to this episode on the long drive back from a music festival this weekend. The podcast caused great discussion in the car, making the miles go that much faster. Jessica thinks that Wolfe didn't have the new messiah being born to one of Zozz's people because it would have overly complicated and lengthened the story. I agree. It got me to thinking about what Wolfe's inspiration might have been. Then I remembered that National Lampoon had an infamous cover of an alien crucifixion done by Frank Frazetta. The question is, when did it appear? A little research showed that it it was probably on the streets in May 1972. La Befana appeared in the January 1973 issue of Galaxy; probably too soon after the Nat Lamp issue for it to have been an inspiration--unless Frazetta let Wolfe see it before publication. Nah. Here is the National Lampoon cover.
  • Hello, from indecisively sunny Tasmania! This is my first post, so I'd just like to say first and foremost that I am really enjoying the Wolfe podcast, which I started listening to after The Fifth Head of Cerberus enraptured me (It's quickly become one of my favourite books), and which I'm now darting in and out of as I read his Book of Days . Anywho, I can't fully recall the episodes on 'A Story by John V. Marsch', so forgive me if you mentioned it and this is a redundant post. But I was just paging through Jack Vance's Dying Earth , which is a known inspiration for BotNS, and noticed that in the chapter on 'Mazirian the Magician' the title character spends some time trifling with 'Thrang the Ghoul-Bear', and it struck me as intensely likely that this inspired the creature in the aforementioned novella, not just for the name but a particular sentence within the passage he appears. The passage reads thusly, though of course this spoils the Ghoul-Bear in that story, not that he plays a large role: "Thrang's lair was an alcove in the rock, where a fetid pile of grass and skins served him for a couch. He had built a rude pen to cage three women, these wearing many bruises on their bodies and the effects of much horror on their faces. Thrang had taken them from the tribe that dwelt in silk-hung barges along the lake-shore . Now they watched as he struggled to subdue the woman he had just captured. His round gray man's face was contorted and he tore away her jerkin with his human hands. But she held away the great sweating body with an amazing dexterity. Mazirian's eyes narrowed. Magic, Magic! So he stood watching, considering how to destroy Thrang with no harm to the woman. But she spied him over Thrang's shoulder. "See," she panted, "Mazirian as come to kill you." Thrang twisted about. He saw Marizian and came charging on all fours, venting roars of wild passion. Mazirian later wondered if the ghoul had cast some sort of spell, for a strange paralysis strove to bind his brain. Perhaps the spell lay in the sight of Thrang's raging gray-white face, the great arms thrust out to grasp. Mazirian shook off the spell, if such it were, and uttered a spell of his own, and all the valley was lit by streaming darts of fire, lashing in from all directions to split Thrang's blundering body in a thousand places. This was the Excellent Prismatic Spray-many-colored stabbing lines. Thrang was dead almost at once, purple blood flowing from countless holes where the radiant rain had pierced him." I personally think Thrang comfortably shares the same attributes as Wolfe's Ghoul-Bear: huge, thick-limbed, and stinking (sweat rarely smells pleasant). Maybe I'm reading too deeply, but a tribe that dwells in silk-hung barges along a lake shore sounds at least superficially similar to the Marshmen. Further, the specific lake they dwell next to is called 'Sanra Water, the Lake of Dreams', which you could perhaps posit has something in common with the plan to kill Sandwalker and have his soul flow into the sea and out to the stars. I'm no literary buff, but I think there's enough textual evidence to cite a clear connection between the two, especially as Jack Vance so influenced Wolfe's later work. In any event it made me feel very big-brained.

Claytemple Media is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.