I had a chance to listen to your podcast on Trip, Trap - once again, nice voices, interesting points. There are a few very important things in this story that I think are essential to Wolfe's later fiction, and one of them is the creation of an objective reality which transcends the subjective viewpoints of the characters, which WE have access to. In this case, the frame source, 3 Billy Goats Gruff, informs who killed the Traki. Doctor Finch and Garth enter a spiritual space that IS MORE REAL than reality, and in it their subjective differences vanish and they become the third billy goat gestalt together, with none of the weaknesses they have apart. The warrior is subject to the influence of the Traki, but the scholar doesn't have the gumption to do what is necessary - so together they do. There is no liar here: they enter an objective spiritual communion that supercedes the subjective chasm that separates them and put aside the trap which is the I of ego. The evidence for this is the lack of stab wounds on the Traki's body: it is sliced, not pierced, because the sword lost its edge in the spirit world but not the "real" world - the spiritual is real, and objectivity found in communal resolve and action rather than in subjective misunderstanding. This is so intrinsic to Wolfe as an artist that I can't stress it enough, and is the reason I always classify Wolfe as distinctly not quite postmodern: he subverts the relative points of view over and over. They are always present but never final. I look forward to listening to more and hope to catch up soon. This story is key to that Catholic engineer's aesthetic: the objective is lurking behind everything, like a platonic (or neoplatonic) ideal, and the variations of subjectivity may temporarily separate beings from communion, but they are not ultimately true and valid. I think this is true of almost all of Wolfe's fiction. The Traki was vastly powerful in its psychic power, but it died as a lonely, pathetic troll under the bridge.
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It is nice to see that Wolfe hit the ground running when he started his writing career, this is an incredibly story and I love how even at the very start you can see where he will go with his later writing years later.
I got Storeys From The Old Hotel for my name day recently (fun fact: I share a name with an important biblical figure, which is how you know that I am actually a character from the Book of the New Sun) and I had to start with this story. Reading the 2 perspectives was really funny and interesting, especially about Finch trying to project himself as fierce while Garth says he was rather timid.
Between the discussions that have already taken place I do not feel like I have a lot to add, just 1 thing perhaps. You guys say something along the lines that Wolfe is sympathetic to the good doctor's stance on nonviolence, and while I do not disagree with that necessarily I also think that is a bit too simple of a reading for my liking.
I think that it is used to demonstrate the ignorance of Finch. He might come from a science fiction setting where war has been solved, but Garth is from a feudal fantasy setting where violence is never far away (he is coming home from a 3-year war and is directly sent into a new conflict with the implication that he might have to extort the tributes by force) so is it really fair to judge them for that? As mentioned in The Hero As Werewolfe discussion maybe his sympathies lie with the Wolves?
There are a lot of reasons to read Wolfe, the puzzles, the catholic allusions, etc. but I think that it is important to realize that Wolfe is a very empathetic writer with his characters. The troll in this story was in my opinion not depicted as some unfathomable evil, but more as something to be pitied (this guy has lost everyone in his species, maybe his insanity is a good retreat for him). Characters are not really depicted as evil even when they are vile, they have an internal mechanism and can be understood if you put the effort in.
This detail that is featured in one of the first stories in his writing career obviously comes back later. A lot of attention is drawn on the fact that Severian is an unreliable narrator, but when is he lying to make himself look good and when is he lying to himself because something happened that he cannot process? Same with the Soldier series, even if you remain as confused about the events as Latro as long as you manage to connect with him you got something out of the story (which is why I like Soldier of the Mist > 5th Head, there is something about being completely absorbed in Latro's perspective that is just wonderful).
Anyways, great discussion you guys I am also happy to see how far you have come! Congrats on the 100 episodes and the AMA it was really fun!
Thank you so much for the kind words, and we're excited to have you reading along with us. When you get there, we'd love to hear your thoughts about "The HORARS of War" and "The Blue Mouse," and specifically which of them you prefer.
I recently came across my tattered Terry Goodkind mass-markets purchased at the Fort Huachuca PX. They're in terrible shape and I can't read the small print anymore, but I couldn't bring myself to get rid of them.
Just a note to say I recently found your podcast, and as a long-time Gene Wolfe fan, I am delighted and working my way through the podcasts to date (and rereading some stories I haven't read in a long time). Your scholarship on things Wolfeian is wonderfully balanced by the obvious pleasure you take in his writing.
Odd that you both first read Gene in the Army - so did I, finding the just-released paperback of Shadow of the Torturer one afternoon at a PX in Fort Bragg and diving in...
Thank you for these awesome observations. Your question about women is fascinating, but I suspect that it is simply that Wolfe (or the two narrators) simply isn't interested in women or domesticity (save for the kitchen staff) in this story. We might point to The Hobbit as a similar case of a fantasy tale in which women are only mentioned in the past and never appear in the present narrative. Speaking of Tolkien, I read the Traki and its cave as a riff on Shelob and her cave -- in part because of the shared mention of bellies (bloated in Shelob's case). I don't think it's out of the question that the Traki is a female -- or even that Traki gender is completely alien from mammalian gender.
I'm really excited by your invocation of Tressan. I work on fifth and sixth century hagiography for my day job as an early medieval and late antique historian. Tressan was connected with Remigius, a figure important in my work for his relationship with the Frankish rex Clovis. When I was determining the scope and parameters of my investigation, I looked at the edited and printed text of Tressan's vita in one of the Bollandist volumes. To my ear, at least, the text itself was from the tenth or eleventh century, so I discarded it -- but it's a fun tale. I had no idea that his story had circulated in an English-language collection in the seventeenth century. There is also another Tressan from medieval literature: the giant Tressan whom Wolfdietrich fights in the Heldenbuch. This story is retold in Illustrations of Northern Antiquities, which has Sir Walter Scott's name (among others) attached to it. I can't find it in WorldCat, but my local library had an illustrated kids version of this book back in the late 80s that I read more times than is probably healthy. The original is now online here.
"Trip, Trap" remains one of my favorite stories we've covered so far, and I'm glad for the opportunity to revisit it this morning!
A few things I noticed that I don't think you mentioned or were mentioned in the Urth newsgroup.
Traki is the Latvian word for crazy.
The two heroes who are said to have defeated trolls are Gerhelt and Tressan his son. Ger = Spear and helt = hero, so Gerhelt = Spearhero. Hrothgar's tribe are called Spear-Danes and were unable to defeat Grendel. Seems like the father, Gerhelt, may not have defeated a troll and his son Tressan had to go beyond mere cunning and strength to revenge his father, which is what Garth and Finch must do.
St. Tressan was an illiterate Irishman who, in the 6th century, went to France and became a swinehered. He was pious and would peak into the church during services to try to learn. God rewarded him with the gift of literacy. After he became a priest,
"he sat down on the side of a dry hill, from which water had never flowed. Fixing his staff in the ground, the wearied saint fell asleep; but, on awaking, he found the staff had grown into a tree, which was covered with a bark and green leaves. At the same time, a fountain of most delicious water ran from the root of this tree, to the very foot of the mount. When the holy priest, Tressan, witnessed this, he drank from the well, and he asked of the Almighty, that no injustice or t urpitude should there occur." http://omniumsanctorumhiberniae.blogspot.com/2013/02/saint-tressan-of-mareuil-february-7.html
Garth mentions swineherds on the way to the bridge. Finch can not read the language on the bridge, but sets about learning it. In the spirit world, Garth's sword is transformed into a sapling, which is the inverse of what happens to Tressan in the physical world.
Grendel's mother is the one who pulls Beowulf into her underwater den; traki is called a he, but is naked and there is no mention of genitals, but his “swag belly” is mentioned (Is traki a pregnant she?*), Beowulf's sword can not penetrate her so he uses a magical sword he finds in the den to slay her, by severing her spine; Garth's sword tip breaks and he has to magically merge with Finch to slay the traki, with slashes only. The sword Beowulf uses is one that had never been used by a “mere” man; the sapling/sword is unlike any other and the Garth/Finch union is no mere man. Then "even as from heaven comes the shining light / of God's candle"; Garth finds Finch's illuminator, which he does not believe is Finch's, just as traki did not. Beowulf decapitates Grendel's mother and brings back her head as a trophy; Garth takes the diadem as a trophy.
*Women on Carson III. All characters are men, no matter how minor. The only mentions of women are the following.
When setting out from the city, Finch writes to Beatty, “but I fear it also bore a certain resemblance to the Gardenia Day festival at dear old Edgemont—all it lacked was a few semiprofessional undergraduate beauties on floats.”
Garth's only mention of women is in the spirit world: “memories that were not mine came rushing into my mind, and I seemed to see naked men and women and children rent to pieces as if by thunderbolts.” Also in the spirit world, when he finds the piece of red glass, “yet before I could reflect on what I did I had snatched it up and thrust it among other such litter in a bag of knotted grass I had slung about my shoulders. I cannot tell why I did so foolish a thing or why I felt so vain about it, like a country wench with a new ribbon.” The grass bag is not his, so is the memory of a country wench his?
Are women only in the past? Were the traki a single-gendered species?
Thanks, Michael -- we're glad you enjoyed "Trip, Trap" as much as we did! Wolfe is a great writer in almost any mode, but I do think that he shines the most when he is writing with that subtle and wry humor.
Hi, I don't have much to add, just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the podcast. I especially like the theory that the troll is a type of artificial intelligence, and now I can only think of it that way. One of the fun things about this story is that I actually felt I (more or less) knew what was going on, which is somewhat rare for a Wolfe piece. Also, I felt there was a fairly strong humorous vein running through most of it. Lots of fun hearing you guys dissect the story!
Hi nrosalino! Thanks for sharing those passages. They definitely help shed some light on what Wolfe is working on in Trip Trap.
These passages are fantastic, nrosalino. These are cut from the same cloth as "Trip, Trap," and definitely clarify what is happening in the traki's cave.
We're going to get to Fifth Head in the spring, and we're so excited for it!
I'm a little late to the party, but just to underline Marc's point - and to add some context from other stories - I wanted to mention these two beautiful little passages from Fifth Head:
> In my dreams that night I saw the little boy scampering from one activity to another, his personality in some way confused with my own and my father’s so that I was at once observer, observed, and a third presence observing both. (p. 16 of the SF Masterworks edition of 5HC)
> The drug my father had given me did not, as I had imagined it would, lessen its hold on me as the hours passed. Instead it seemed to carry me progressively further from reality and the mode of consciousness best suited to preserving the individuality of thought. The peeling leather of the examination table vanished under me, and was now the deck of a ship, now the wing of a dove beating far above the world; and whether the voice I heard reciting was my own or my father’s I no longer cared. It was pitched sometimes higher, sometimes lower, but then I felt myself at times to be speaking from the depths of a chest larger than my own, and his voice, identified as such by the soft rustling of the pages of his notebook, might seem the high, treble cries of the racing children in the streets as I heard them in summer when I thrust my head through the windows at the base of the library dome. (p. 24/25)
I'll second all of that!
I couldn't agree more that digging into the Catholic sub-text is crucial to understanding Wolfe. For the record, I've never been put off by your typically excellent criticism of Wolfe. I'm excited to dig into some of the extra-textual references once we get to Seven American Nights.
Thanks! I think one of the potentially off-putting aspects of my approach to Wolfe is the insistence that there is almost always a Truth (tm) that explains the primary mysteries of the text and almost every small detail. As far as extra-textuality, I start with what the text tells me, religious and Catholic references, and then see if it actually makes other direct references to external literature or history. For example, every Persian character in "Seven American Nights" save Gholam Gassem is named after characters in *The Adventures of Haji Baba* - a CLEAR extra-textual reference intended by Wolfe, and one I use in my reading to make sense of an otherwise difficult field of subjective screens. "In Looking Glass Castle" mentions a plethora of texts, and in what is the most unfair thing Wolfe has ever done, he mentions Guy de Maupassant without mentioning THE story he is defintely riffing on, almost reproducing entire scenes. Wolfe usually plays fair with references, but not always. The Catholic subtext is in my opinion almost always the most important.
Yes, Marc. Thanks! I think you hit on something that is pretty difficult to discuss when discussing Wolfe. It's easy to focus on the subjective reality that he presents to his readers, but he is always pointing at something objective that is taking place as well - something that a third party observer could describe to someone who is not involved in the events taking place. Indeed trying to negotiate between the subjective and objective in Wolfe is one of my favorite things. Your points about this going on in Trip, Trap are well received. I like that you draw on the allusions and source material for the text in order to make your conclusions. I can often get lost in the text itself when doing criticism. I've been burned in the past, though, relying too heavily upon allusions to glean meaning from some of Wolfe's texts. That said, I love what your reading brings to light in this story. It really allows for us to know the story beyond the story that Wolfe is telling. I really look forward to hearing your thoughts on some of these other stories.
Marc, thank you for these awesome insights! Your Platonic reading of the text hadn't occurred to me at all, but it works beautifully. Indeed, I've not been thinking about Plato at all while reading Wolfe, and even last night during our recording of "The Packerhaus Method" we invoked Aquinas and through him Aristotle. I'll be on the lookout for neo-Platonism from now on.
*I meant the sword lost its point in the spirit world -