Forum Comments

The Repairer of Reputations
In Elder Sign
Gwindon von Dimpleheimer
Sep 29, 2019
I read this story a few years ago and the following take on it did not occur to me, but it seemed very obvious this time (but in another few years, I might think this was the most ludicrous reading ever). I guess reading a lot of Gene Wolfe has trained me to look for all the missing pieces (whether they are there or not) in the off-hand mentioned details. So... Hildred says of the author of The King in Yellow, “I pray God will curse the writer, as the writer has cursed the world with this beautiful, stupendous creation, terrible in its simplicity, irresistible in its truth.” I can see an artist who had achieved such a thing as believing it impossible to ever top it and so deciding to kill themselves. After he had written The King in Yellow, attempted suicide, failed, and spent four years recovering, Hildred wrote the long future alternate history introduction. His version of reality is distorted (as all of our views are to one extent or another) and includes the suicide booths and social and government acceptance of suicide because his suicide attempt is what lead to him being labeled “insane.” The author of the King in Yellow shot himself, but Hildred says he survived. “Someone” shot Hildred's “horse” in the head and Hildred had pains in the back of his head and neck for years. Hildred didn't fall from a horse, but that is what he purports had happened. Everyone knows the truth though. Hawberk responds to Hildred mentioning his fall with, “Ah, yes, your fall,” and looks away. I could almost hear his eyes rolling. Governor's speech says lethal chambers are for “that class of human creatures from whose desponding ranks new victims of self-destruction fall daily.” Hildred is not in love or obsessed with Constance. He is obsessed with the sound of metal on metal, which is probably meant to evoke the sound of the click of the hammer of the pistol that he shot himself with. He cares not for Hawberk and Constance at all, except in that Constance might marry his cousin and produce an heir. It is the threat to his own future legitimacy as King that he is concerned with. Hildred's version of 1895-1920 shows that 1) he is creative enough to have been a writer before his failed suicide and 2) that he has thought through some political issues enough that he believes he can bring about world prosperity as King. Reading the story as a love triangle does not do justice to Hildred's grandiose nature. And keep in mind that Hildred's version of 1895-1920 was written by a man who wrote a play which drives others mad and then shot himself in the head and is now but a shadow of his former self.
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Toy Theater
In Gene Wolfe
Gwindon von Dimpleheimer
Jul 27, 2018
I am enjoying your podcast and forum. Just before I read this story, I read “The Rubber Bend,” which has that bit at the end with a letter for Wolfe on Wide's desk. So I wondered if ALL of the characters in this story are puppets and the only puppet master is Wolfe. Or course, this is literally true, but I mean are we meant to think of it? The joruri stuff works with Wolfe as the puppet master–we know we are reading a work of fiction, but forget we are reading fiction. Wolfe keeps bringing it to our attention and we push it aside to get back to the story. The planet Sarg is the toy theater of the title. That is why it is lifeless, until Wolfe populates it with Earth flora. Like he is minimally decorating the stage for a play with things we know are fake. A planet of just blue spruce, roses, and fir trees? Lili mentions grass and flowers, but we don't see them and it sounds like another stage that Wolfe could move the action to if he wanted to move the story in that direction. The control box the narrator shows Antonio is like the master's, which, minus the dials, could be Wolfe's typewriter. Stromboli says he can control five puppets at a time, but he demonstrates only three at a time. It gets to five if we add the other two people in the scene, Stromboli and the narrator. At the end, there at least six people in the spaceport, but only three are characters. The others are just “people” or “crowd,” like Wolfe is giving one last shot at doing six, but isn't good enough yet to succeed. At the very end, Zanni says, “He expresses the hope you know with whom you are keeping the faith. He further expresses the hope that he himself does not know.” As if asking the readers if we have figured out that Wolfe is the puppet master. Stromboli as the master hopes that he is wrong in his realization that he is a fictional character.
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Sonya, Crane Wesselman and Kittee
In Gene Wolfe
Gwindon von Dimpleheimer
Jul 25, 2018
Here is my take: James Boswell met Rousseau on his Grand Tour. A quote of Rousseau's is, “When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich.” I'm confidant that Sonya is going to feast on Crane, then call the police and blame Kittee. About number 6. Animals don't need toilet paper, but humans do. Kittee can not talk or open the fridge, so I doubt she can use toilet paper. The backwards apron is to hide this fact and fits in with Crane's general slovenliness. “There was an odor Sonya attributed to Kittee,”... “and plates dried with smears still on them, put aside and forgotten.” And the one of the things the handbill she passed around when younger complained about was, “the excretory function.” If there is a point that the narrator is trying to make to the “you” of the story, it is that passive acceptance of immorality is immoral. Same point as in “How the Whip Came Back.” (The type of slavery being voted on in that story is, in real life, still legal, commonplace, and widely considered morally acceptable. Check the 13th Amendment.) This is not the immorality Wolfe is talking about, but Crane is gay. His partner is mentioned twice, not business partner. After his partner leaves for Bermuda, he falls into a depression and doesn't even call Sonya for 4 months. Julie Newmar and Debbie Reynolds are gay icons. Reynolds “admitted in 2014 that 'everyone' she dated during her Hollywood heyday was gay, and that she would fake relationships with closeted leading men to hide their sexuality from the press.” https://attitude.co.uk/article/hollywood-legend-and-gay-icon-debbie-reynolds-dies-age-84/13250/. Kittee is Crane's beard. Why else advertize to passers-by on the street that you have a sex slave? When Crane shows her the first male “friend”, during dinner, like he couldn't wait til afterwards, Sonya notices “how the fine lines had spread across his face and the way his hands shook. The second time he shows her a male friend, “he looked at her in a most significant way.” Next time she visits, he shows her a selfie of “himself with Kittee sitting beside him very primly.” He believes Sonya is wealthy. He wants Sonya to buy a male “friend” so she can bring him to visit him, but can't ask her directly, likely because the society they live in is OK with humans having sex with cat-shaped humans, but not humans of the same sex. They are both using each other solely as means to an end. She wants marriage and a better life, but only gets some drinks and meals once a week, and a feast after he dies, and he wants a male “friend” available to him, but only gets an old lady. Everyone is always hungry in this future, in some way. And human life is messy, even if we don't like it or pretend it is not.
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The Changeling (Episode 4)
In Gene Wolfe
Gwindon von Dimpleheimer
Jul 21, 2018
I would not have spent the time thinking about this story if it were not for your podcast. I don't think that “The Changeling” is a science fiction or fantasy story. I think the title is misdirection by Wolfe, since a story with a title from folklore written by a writer known for SFF is going to predispose the reader to look for a literal changeling. My reading of “The Changeling” is that Peter Palmieri had killed some boys just before fifth grade began. To avoid the law, Papa Palmieri flees with Peter to to Buffalo, NY, and changed their last name to Palmer and began calling his son Pete. Mama Palmieri allowed Papa Palmieri to flee with Peter because “she regarded him as infallible in every crisis.” (This was in 1944 or 1945, when moving even one state away and dropping a vowel from your name would probably be good enough to start over.) Peter learned to run away from things, which is what he continues to do throughout the story. Pete's dad had “hard, brown cheeks” and the coffin “crowded his working shoulders.” That sounds like someone who could have worked at a brick works, as Papa Palmieri did. Pete's dad died between Pete being notified and being able to get back to NY. The life expectancy for extensive small call carcinoma (a type of lung cancer) today is only 8-13 months and I imagine it was much lower in the 1960s. Papa Palmieri chainsmokes cigars when talking to Pete. If that is true, then it follows that the Papa Palmieri Pete talks to when he returns to Cassonville is either a ghost or a figment of his imagination. Evidence for this is that no one except for Pete sees, hears, or acknowledges Papa in any way. When Pete, Paul, and Papa sit outside and have some beer, Papa does not speak until Paul leaves. When they talk, they, “pitch their voices lower than usual,” as if to hide the fact that Pete is talking to himself. Papa Palmieri goes back and forth between present and past tenses when talking to Pete. He only has a “trace of an Italian accent,” so it can't be that his English is poor. It is as if Papa is confused, because he is talking to Pete about Peter and knows on some level they are the same person. (Or, really, that Pete is talking to himself about himself as Peter and hasn't worked it all out yet.) Everything Papa tells Pete makes sense if there was not a Pete Palmer at the time, but only a Peter Palmieri. “Mama Palmieri surprised me by recognizing me at once and smothering me with kisses.” That seems much more like Mama greeting a long-lost son than Mrs. Palmieri greeting a friend of her children's she hasn't seen since he was in fourth grade. Pete was a violent boy, killing frogs. We know adult Peter still has a temper because of his interaction with the nuns at his old school. We also know that Army Peter was put on trial and convicted and we know that none of the real American defectors were tried. I think everyone assumes he was tried for desertion. Peter only says, “I was also one of the ones who had to stand trial; let's just say that some of the men who had been in the prison camp with me remembered things differently. You don't have to like it.” I believe he killed a fellow American prisoner, but tried to justify it somehow. The other Americans who saw it contradicted his account and they were believed, not Pete. He is convicted of manslaughter or murder. The killings. Peter killed at least two boys on the island before fifth grade. When he returns to the island with Paul, the wooden swords are already stuck into the ground like crucifixes yes, but like gravestones. None of the boys except young Peter speak, and young Peter is a figment of adult Pete's imagination. And they are “Sulky, angry at having their game interrupted.” The game of life. They are ghosts that Peter imagines. The only one of the four boys who could be real is the one who rowed the skiff over to them. But I think he was there to make us think of Charon and the River Styx. Pete is looking for mentions of Pete Palmer in the local newspaper's “morgue,” when it was Peter Palmieri who “died” when they left for NY. Any mentions of Pete Palmer staying in China in local papers would be in the Buffalo papers, not in Cassonville. More running away done by Pete. He initially stays in China to avoid a court-martial. For some unknown reason, he leaves China. I don't think it unreasonable to imagine he got into some trouble there. When at Cassonville Tourist Lodge (his family's current home), he flees to a cabin instead of staying in Maria's room. It is not yet dark when he sits on the porch with Paul, but he stays out there alone (with imaginary Papa) instead of going inside to be with his family he hasn't seen in 20 years. He flees into town on Sunday morning instead of going in with his family. He flees from the nun after their confrontation, “I don't know what I said to Sister Leona, or how I got out of the convent. I only remember walking very fast through the almost empty Sunday-morning streets.” After the newspaper office, he flees to the island. (He goes to get his bag, not his AWOL bag, as earlier, so maybe he is going to the island to begin his penitence, not feeling to it.) It is even implied he fled Buffalo, NY to join the army at 15. (If his age in fourth grade was the usual, he couldn't have been more than 15 or 16 in 1950, and he was in Korea before the war, which began in 1950.) The only prediction Papa makes is that Peter will soon be “too young to belong to Mama and me, and then he'll leave, I think.” At the end of the story, Pete says, “Papa was wrong,” as if to say that Peter didn't leave or stay too young, but then he says, “Peter still has the same last name as always,” as if Papa Palmieri had said something about Peter's last name changing, which in the story he doesn't. But if he did skip out of town with Peter, he did change his name and now Pete has taken it back. So, Papa Palimieri was wrong to flee with Peter and Pete is now flagellating himself by living with the ghosts of the kids he killed 20 years ago. (“The boys still come, of course” is referring to the ghosts. No parent, even in 1968, would let their young kids play miles from the road on an island with a hermit. )
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Trip Trap: Billy Goat 3
In Gene Wolfe
Gwindon von Dimpleheimer
Jul 18, 2018
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. Beowulf stuff: 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?
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Gwindon von Dimpleheimer
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