The podcast is my favorite explication for one of my favorite stories. I reread the story, listened to the podcast, and came here to see what else was posted before laying out my own thoughts..only to find this was one of the mysteriously disappearing posts. Hope you don't mind me starting one up again. I can't add much of substance to your comments or the the broad range of scholarship that has already been applied to this story by others, but some minor thoughts that popped up while listening to the podcast: 1) The pulp novel pastiche is wonderful, of course. I was thinking particularly not only of the obvious source of Dr. Moreau (although I had cleanly missed noticing that "Dr. Moreau" means "Dr. Black", but also Edgar Rice Burroughs (with his tales of lost cities in the jungles and mightily-thewed heroes), Doc Savage (whose exploits were being reprinted at the time this was written and whose cover art, by James Bama, always depicted Doc in conflict in a torn shirt, as the cover is described in the story), Sax Rohmer and Ian Fleming's Dr. No, and even Lovecraft - the stones in Ransom's confinement cell are described as "cyclopean", a word I have only ever seen used by H.P. Lovecraft and his acolytes, and of course the links to Lemuria. The phrase you mention as being a pastiche of Robert E. Howard ("like a thunderbolt of purpose") is dead on.
2) I love how Dr. Death progresses from being an evil character to being a helpful and even protective figure (perhaps even fatherly) by the end of the story. I like your comments that this represents how we use archetypal figures from fiction to understand the darkness within "real" life.
3) In Bruno, Wolfe shows a frequent motif of dogs (and cats) and other animals that have been genetically advanced (?) to human shape = the dog/policemen of "The Hero as Werwolf", "Sonya, Wessleman and Kitteh" of course, and the talking donkey and ox of "No Planet Fall". Wolfe's love of dogs often comes out in his stories. (My favorite photo of Gene is in Patti Peret's collection of photos "Faces of Fantasy", displaying a grin as wide as the horizon while a Marmaduke-sized dog luxuriates across his lap.)
4) The Freudianism is as prominent in this story as "House of Ancestors". The florid description of Dr. Death injecting "a fluid which by its very color suggested the vile perversion of medical technique" into her body seems to suggest the dawning awareness (in Tackman's case, probably prematurely accelerated by the sights to which he has been exposed in the house) that his mother is a sexual object to other men.
5) Tackman's literal dance of joy and anticipation at continuing the story is wonderful.
6) Really good catch on Jason's costume being that of a Nazi SS officer. I missed that completely.
7) Tackman recognizes the couple "making love" at the party, suggesting this is not the first time the child has been prematurely exposed to sexual situations.
8) I also like the suggestion in the podcast that Tackman seems to benefit from his relationships with both Ransom and Dr. Death - Dr. Death is his ability to recognize the darkness and dangers in the world, and Ransom in the model of courage to do something about it - I imagine him running out of the house like "a thunderbolt of purpose" to seek help for his mother.
This one :http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/nonfiction/intgw.htm. Also, the James Jordan one which makes a big deal about the flood and wherein Wolfe emphasizes that the Urth cycle, to avoid breaking the covenant, is set in a previous iteration. Literally every pre-Urth of the New Sun in text bit of evidence suggests it is the future, from the story of the monitor and the merrimac and the minotaur to that of Theseus and direct quotes from Lewis Carroll to the jungle missionaries who quote the bible and the story of Eschatology and Genesis wherein Nod is told he has arrived far too late to meet Adam and Eve - Isangoma even says that Severian and Agia are the results of the decisions that his contemporaries make. So ... we have a reality with a Lewis Carroll, Marcus Aurelius, Christian missionaries, a Catholic church in South America copied by Scylla, and no Christ? Makes zero sense. But everyone gloms onto that like scripture, just like the segment in the linked interview in which the interviewers try to entrap Gene. Luckily, it can't really be done.
his interviews corroborate the second level of his work but never the deepest. It’s kind of annoying, honestly. I always get way more out of his books than his interviews.
Wolfe cant be trusted in interviews. Here’s one from an interview by Lawrence PERson which corroborates my reading in regards to shadow children: "'A Story,' by John V. Marsch, yes, which is not actually written by John V. Marsch, but by the shadowchild who has replaced John V. Marsch. (laughs) That's New Wave. But belonging to a literary movement doesn't consist so much in using a certain set of techniques, as it consists in running with a certain set of people, and only to a very small degree did I run with that set of people. So as I said, I would be very peripheral as a New Wave writer.
for this reason and others I really don’t like relying on interviews even though I believe in intent.
Wolfe so rarely comments on the meanings of his stories (and can be very gnomic when he does) that I always look for any comments he does make in interviews. I thought this was an interesting comment about "Dr. Death", in his 1988 interview with Larry McCaffery in the Science Fiction Review (https://www.depauw.edu/sfs/interviews/wolfe46interview.htm): Wolfe: And I was particularly interested in the way that multiplicity points out the potential lying within everyone for good and evil. Whether we like it or not, that potential is part of what makes us people. We tend to look at somebody like the death camp guards in Nazi Germany and think to ourselves, "Thank God I'm not like that! Those guys weren't people—they were fiends in human form." But those guards weren't "fiends." They were human beings who became pulled into a certain game whose rules said it was okay to be a death camp guard in Nazi Germany. Later on we came along and changed the rules on them. It was important for me to be able to show the way evil expresses itself in people because I think it's essential that we recognize the existence of this potential within us all. This recognition is the only way we can safeguard ourselves from this sort of thing. As long as we go around saying, "I'm not capable of doing anything ugly, I'm the guy in the white hat," then we're capable of doing just about any damn ugly thing. If you're watching a man on his way to the scaffold and you can't realize "this could be me," then you've got no right to hang him. I dealt with a similar idea in "The Island of Dr. Death," where at the end of the story I had Dr. Death tell Tackie that if he starts the book again then (as he puts it), "We'll all be back." If you don't have Dr. Death, then you can't have Captain Ransom. You can't have a knight unless you have the dragon, a positive charge without a negative charge.
I have a black Pom that follows me everywhere and loves me best, though he Listens to my wife far more. When he goes outside sometimes he will just pretend to be smelling and sit down and smile at me, then he won’t budge until I pick him up. My wife says, “he just likes F-ing with you.” That’s what I feel like Wolfe does to us when we ask direct questions about his work, And why his interviews really really need to be Taken with a metric ton of salt. I’m sure he loves his readers, but he sure likes F-ing with us.
Michael Frasca: fabulous anecdote. Thanks for sharing that. That sure sounds like Wolfe was already the Wolfe we know through fiction...
Today I found out where "The House of 31 February" came from and it is not what you would have expected.
Gene and I went out to lunch today and somehow the discussion worked around to teachers we had in college. gene related a story about his mathematics professor at Texas A & M assigning a project to calculate the statistical chance of encountering someone with the same birthday as one's self.
rather than doing the statistical analysis, one student decided to poll all the people in Gene's dorm as to when their birthday was. gene heard this fellow working his way down the dorm hallway and finally getting to gene's room.
"when is your birthday?" the student asked.
"February 31" Gene answered.
The student, his head buried in his data , solemnly nodded and entered the information.
I suddenly made the connection. "Gene! Is that where The House of 31 February in The Island of Dr. Death and other stories came from?"
Gene thought for a bit and then said "I suppose it did!"
(Gene said it was OK to share this story)
Yes! Dr. Death definitely seems to possess knowledge that Tackman doesn't, but if these interactions are just Tackman's imagination at work, I wonder if this "knowledge" is really just that Tackman has inferred that there is danger based on subconscious observations.
A couple of later thoughts on the story that occurred to me:
12) On the question of whether the characters in the story are "real" or not, the strongest evidence I can find is that Dr. Death directs the boy to his mother's room, where Dr. Black is preparing to inject her with something (just as Dr. Death did earlier in the story to Talar). While Tackman might have wandered there on his own during the party, it does point towards Dr. Death possessing some information (the imminent danger to Tackman's mother) that Tackman himself did not possess. 13) Like the reference to Tackman finding his paperback adventure novel on a spinning wire rack in a drugstore, a disparaging comment about the book made by Jason ("That's camp. Did you know that?") also points to this story happening in the 1960s/1970s time frame, which would also discredit the idea that Tackman is some sort of advanced futuristic entertainment program. "Camp" as used in that era most commonly referred to something that was so hokey and exaggerated that it was enjoyable as a satire of a genre, like Adam West's "Batman" series or the "Barbarella" movie; that usage still occurs, but it seems to have faded, and "camp" as used nowadays more commonly refers to forms of gay culture.
Mick, thanks for these suggestions. These will fill up my office hours for the rest of the month. I did also pick up some Pieper, but have only gotten a short way into it. I'm looking forward to jumping into these worlds you've opened up for me.
Stephen, I'm going to add some more Grant Morrison to my list, too.