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The Sorcerer's House
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Sorcerer's House Discussion

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message 1: by Michael (last edited Dec 23, 2014 08:51AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Michael Roetzel | 22 comments I'm opening a thread in case there's any interest in discussing The Sorcerer's House.

Don't read further unless you've read the book. SPOILERS.

I finished my first reading of this book just the other day, and am now trying to puzzle out the loose ends. Wolfe wraps up the main story in a satisfying way, but there a few loose threads hanging, and they'll take some sussing out to see if they lead anywhere. Here are the questions I have:

1. In the very last pages, its revealed that the letters may not be in chronological order. There's no reason to include that detail unless at least 1 of the letters is out of order. What's the proper ordering of the chapters?

2. Ted is the biggest mystery to me. This character is woven throughout the book, but he's like a ghost, appearing and disappearing without reason. Is he, in fact, a ghost? Is he alive? What is he doing in the house?

3. The two ghosts encountered on the road, Kiki and Mary King, who are they?

4. Medicine Man/Riverman...are these references to mythology? Native American perhaps.

5. Neil Gaiman in his review strongly suspected that the book was alluding to the Tarot. I know little about the Tarot, and wonder what the connection might be.

6. What did Bax and Ieuan talk about when Ieuan came to see him? Bax asks Ieuan what he wants, and then never gets around to finishing recording their conversation. He elides it on purpose, of course.

7. What were Martha's instructions to Bax? They come up prominently on 4 separate occasions, but are never revealed. Were the instructions written in accordance with Zwart's wishes? (Bax reveals that the handwriting is Martha's, but the signature is Zwart's.)

6. Why did Dick Quist deny knowing Skotos? (p 190) Why did Bax link him, mentally, with the dwart Quorn? (p228) Bax seems to think the jeweler, Quist, IS Quorn. There's some sparse evidence. "Dick" Quist. Quorn is noted for his appendage and what he does with it.

[EDIT: Ok, made a pretty big reading mistake here. Bax says Quorn used to be QUILP not Quist. Quilp is the greedy old dwarf from Dicken's "The Old Curiosity Shop", a story which is referenced again in the last chapter. ]

7. Martha warns Bax about Hardaway. Why?


I suspect the answer to many of these mysteries relate to Bax's plan to kill George and steal his identity, a plan he likely hatched in prison and put into effect at the beginning of the book.

The thought strikes me as a write this that perhaps members of Faerie have entered the town, through the Black House....Quist and Ted could be such.


Marc Aramini (felicibusbrevis) | 78 comments I need to read it again (haven't read it since it first came out) but my second read of home Fires revealed Wolfe still relies on repeated patterns of seemingly insignificant details even in his late career. In Fifth Head it seems that the brothers Eastwind and Sandwalker can't possibly be told apart in the final scene of the middle novella, but the constant description of Sandwalker's feet and the death of the brother whose feet are swept out from under him made me absolutely certain Eastwind was the brother who lived, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Perhaps there are similar patterns in Sorcerers house that could make sense of a few of those mysteries you mention, or be discerned through augury with the images (fish, gold, etc) that come up when Bax finds the "magical" device. I hate to see all your excellent questions unanswered, so I will think about them when I reread it, hopefully soon.


Michael Roetzel | 22 comments Thanks for your reply! I'm rereading, too, (slowly) so I'll post updates if I notice anything missing.

One more thought which occurred to me concerns the triannulus. I suspect it plays a bigger role than it seems at first glance.

Emylyn is very scared of what happens if it's used incorrectly. Bax uses it incorrectly, twice, and Emylyn does once. Emylyn gets a werewolf instead of a facefox for his misuse. But what is Baxter's punishment?


Andreas (dread_dragon) | 4 comments Really interesting questions.

I have no idea if the tarot symbols play a role. Years ago I have created a simple spreadsheet on Google to make finding connections easier but without much success. Yet.

I have also tried to identify the letters that could have been altered afterwards as hinted in the "Compiler's Note". The best place would be the P.S. section, right? Sometimes there are also "breaks" noticeable when Bax is telling something and the other person is not reacting to it.

I guess it's time for another re-read.


Michael Roetzel | 22 comments ok, just left a long comment outlining everything I know about Ted, and it didn't save...I don't have the time to re-write it, but, in sum:

1. When he first appears, p. 50, Ted's ghost appears to be wearing a ring identical to the one which Doris gave Bax. This is why Bax thinks he was saved from a worse beating by Ieuan, and how Bax identifies Ted.

2. My current best theory is that Ted is Ieuan. It explains why he was in the house, how he happened to be there right at the moment of the beating, and it explains what Ieuan talked to Bax about in the elided passage.

3. Ted's final appearance in Doris's letter on p. 290 offer the crucial clues, but I haven't solved them yet. There are 3 clues:
A. Ted's middle initial, A.
B. Ted left something behind with his initials on it, which made Doris cry.
C. Ted had a plan for he and Doris to be together, and somehow that plan was ruined. As a result, Ted is miserable and they cannot be together.

If light could be shed on these clues, I suspect it would open up this novel much more...


Michael Roetzel | 22 comments A few more questions that are sticking with me, I'll number them sequentially to the ones I listed in my first post:

8. Wolfe brings up Baxter's ambidexterity on multiple occasions, but is there a deeper meaning to it? He goes so far as to spell out when Bax changes hands while writing, and introduces a break in the narrative when he does so. And Baxter's ambidexterity is crucial to identifying him at the reading of the will. It is at least a parallel to the facility with which Bax commits both good and evil acts.

9. In his first appearance, Elwyn runs through a window and disappears. It's a ghostly act that is easy to forget as it isn't repeated, and after that incident both Elwyn and Ieuan seem solid.

10. Why are Elwyn and Ieuan dressed like boys from centuries past? Their presumed mother, Martha, would have been born in the first half of the 20th century.


Michael Roetzel | 22 comments Had some more thoughts about TSH, and thought I'd update this.

Chapter 18, "Lupine".

Brief summary: Bax and Doris go to check out the Skotos track, Doris and Bax separate, Ted briefly appears and is dismissed by Lupine, Bax properly meets Lupine, Lupine tosses Bax Doris's car keys, Bax picks up Lupine on the road, mistaking her for Doris, then at last Bax sees the real Doris and Lupine disappears.

Let's start at the end. Bax looks directly at Lupine and mistakes her for Doris. Either Lupine has the power to look like Doris, or Lupine simply looks like Doris.

On first reading, I thought Lupine was simply impersonating Doris somehow. But...how did she get the car keys?

To add to the confusion, Bax uses "girl" to describe Lupine, and "woman" for Doris, and it's clear that Lupine appears younger than Doris.

When Ted appears, he is frowning. He disapproves of what is going on, and what is going on is that Lupine is about to reveal herself to Bax. So Ted and Lupine are connected.

I suggest that Doris and Lupine are in some way the same. One doesn't age in faerie, and so that part of Doris which is Lupine hasn't aged. Doris doesn't seem aware of Lupine, but the reverse isn't true. Ted, married to Doris, is collaborating with Lupine.

But where do go from here? I think Doris's surname, Griffin, is no accident. Griffin's in mythology, in Greek mythology, are known for guarding gold, and for warding off evil.

We know TSH explores the idea of good and evil twins. That's sort of like the idea of good and evil parts of the soul, isn't it? And because it's Wolfe, good isn't all good, and evil isn't all evil.

The Tarot reference, btw, for 18 is The Moon, which references imagination, lack of clarity, deception, fear, and, of course, a wolf.

I'd posted above that I was thinking that Ted was Ieuyan. But most people seem to think he's Ambrosious. And that fits with the initials...TAG, Ted Ambrosious Griffin. Assuming that's so, what's his plot?


Jeff | 3 comments I just finished the book a few minutes ago, and was approaching my analysis from another direction.

As a thought experiment, let's say we discount all the information that Bax has given us that cannot be confirmed by others. I think we start with this information:

(1) Bax and George are twins. They loved the same girl, but George won her. Bax spent the twins' joint fortune, then defrauded George and George's friends. On George's insistence, Bax is prosecuted and sent to jail for over three years. In jail, Bax meets, among others, a forger. The story opens as Bax leaves jail.

(2) Instead of expressing anger at his brother or refusing to speak to him, Bax instead immediately starts sending George letters. These letters reach George's "naive" wife Millie, and provoke George to come to Bax.

(3) On reaching Bax, George is thrown in jail and soon disappears. Bax assumes George's life.

(4) Bax has a Phd in literature and ancient history and knows several stories (including the story of Mopsa the Fairy, about children visiting fairyland) by heart, not to mention Victorian literature. He is also apparently charming, has a history as a con artist, and is known as the "bad" twin in his family.

(5) George is reliable and apparently honest, but is prone to a hot temper and treats his wife poorly. He is known as the "good" twin in his family.

(6) When Madam Orizia leaves, she says she disposed of a vampire in the house, but found "nothing else amiss." This "vampire" apparently agreed to be locked in a trunk if it could take a cell phone with it with Bax's number on speed dial.

(7) Doris falls in love with Bax, but says she can't stay with him because he is too crazy.

(8) Bax has misdated several of the letters.

(9) There are two very different folk tales in the town, one relating to a butler who delivers John the Baptist's head on a plate, and one relating to a vampire that steals clotheslines.

(10) Bax manages to acquire the only kind of guns he can own -- antiques. He also asks for instruction on their use from a jailed friend and practices with them relentlessly for not-totally-explained reasons.

(11) The name Quorn is suspiciously close to Quist and could easily be mistaken by, say, Madame Orizia, but then would need to be explained.

(12) The stories that Bax tells George involve another set of twins, one of whom describes himself as good, but has a hot temper, and one of whom is supposedly bad but others say may be good. This "bad" twin has a "cool" anger and carefully plans out how he takes revenge. The "good" twin is named after the Welsh castle where the evil wyvern appears and, when slain, is found to be filled with venom so strong it kills all the fish in the local river. The "bad" twin is named after a Welsh saint. These stories infuriate the hot-tempered George.

All of which is to say that we've got the elements in place for a story with no mystical elements at all, but rather the set-up for a grand revenge con.

Of course, this is Gene Wolfe, so there's of course more going on. I'll think on your questions some. I certainly assumed, for example, that Ted was meant to be associated with Ambrosius, both of whom died not too long in the past, but I don't know at all know what he represents.


Jeff | 3 comments So in my last post, I laid out the facts that I think can be built on to argue that there is no mystical element to the book, but only Bax pulling off a grand con with a few collaborators and some forgery.

Here are some facts that this theory does not account for:

(1) Bax eventually disappears.

(2) Bax somehow got title to the house, Riverscene, and acquired significant money. While he could have conned his way into these, it is unclear how.

(3) Bax apparently acquired a fox as a pet, an ancient sword, and antique pistols. While the latter two could be related to his relationship with Dick Quist, it is unclear how. The fox is inexplicable.

(4) The setup of two orphan twins without parents seems too glorious to exploit without actually having parents in the picture.

(5) Although she could have been conned in this respect as well, Doris does acknowledge that the house is "crazy."

(6) If we assume that only the postscript to Doris's last letter is forged, we are still left with the ghost of Ted and the "thing" he left behind.


Michael Roetzel | 22 comments Jeff, thanks for your contributions, and especially for sussing out the origins of Emlyn and Ieuan!

I agree that TSH does tease us with the possibility that Bax is just making it all up, or that he's just mad. But my question regarding that line of pursuit is, what does it gain us, if true? If it would shed more light on the story to know that Bax is the author of it all, then it's a question worth pursuing.

I just wish I could tie all the loose ends up. What is it that Ted leaves behind? An object that's wet after a man's has held it while crying, and is monogrammed in the corner...it seems so obvious that it's a handkerchief. But why, then, would Doris write "I will not say what it was". A handkerchief isn't the kind of thing a person would feel uncomfortable mentioning. It's infuriating. At this point, I think I just want to go with the obvious, that it was a handkerchief Wolfe was using it as a prop to drop the initials TAG, and Doris's reluctance to name it means nothing.

But what was Ted/Ambrosious's game? Given Doris's letter, and the events she narrates therein, she found him crying *before* the final battle with Lupine. I did just notice one thing I had forgotten or missed earlier; on p. 270 Bax, talking to Kate, states that he believes his mother "must have liked" Ambrosious. It's unclear whether he means in a friendly or romantic way.


message 11: by Jeff (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jeff | 3 comments From my perspective, Wolfe seems to be strongly suggesting that Bax has made the story up as a part of his revenge con, but teases us with the possibility that something supernatural did indeed happen.

This leads us to two lines of inquiry: (1) what does Bax's story tell us about himself and his family; and (2) what, if anything, that Bax says is based on reality?

I would posit that Bax's story -- particularly the relationship between Emlyn, Ieuan, and their absent father -- tells us quite a bit about the Dunn family dynamic. It also builds deeply on a variety of mythologies, fairy tales, and Victorian horror literature -- all of which Bax is an expert in. I would also posit that many of the inconsistencies in Bax's stories (as well as the way they morph over time and their misdatings) reflect Bax's attempts to account for what is really happening in Medicine Man over time. For example, it is at least possible that several of Bax's later stories are attempts to account for Madame Orizia's experiences, which would presumably be relayed back to Millie.

As for Ted, he is certainly a puzzle. Perhaps he is a true supernatural element in the story -- a true ghost who appears to both Doris and Bax. I suspect his crying is telling us something important, and not what Doris thinks.

Of course, it is certainly possible to take Bax at his word, in which case there are many other mysteries to account for. Once we are in a free-floating world of many different magics, the possibilities are endless.


Robert Defrank | 82 comments Just finished the book last night. Don't have any great insights at the moment, but I'm reading these theories and speculations with interest as I try and puzzle it out.


message 13: by Dirk (last edited Mar 05, 2015 12:11PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dirk Mccomsey | 9 comments I just finished the book and it occurs to me that throughout, we are given more clues than are apparent at the time on how to interpret things. Bax himself provides the following facts:
He is ambidextrous and can write two different passages in two styles simultaneously.
In prison, he met someone who taught him about forging.
He is an admitted con man.
He used to email his brother, but now sends letters.

Then, some questions arise... How did the compiler acquire the letters from Doris?
In my opinion, the letters from Doris are a fabrication by Bax to give credit to some of his tale. Doris was indeed his accomplice in a few instances, although how much she truly knew is questionable.

How did the compiler acquire the single letter from George to Bax? It seems that an acceptable answer is that the compiler is indeed Bax and this letter was forged.

Why communicate with letters instead of the email he used previously? He uses letters, because they are easier to forge than email, and provide physical evidence to his story, where an email message could be deleted. Also, he wanted them to be seen by Millie after being read by George.

If one looks at letter Number 21, Bax mentions Mary King, but she (her ghost?) doesn't appear until later in Bax's letters. He is seeking information on Mary King from Shell before he meets her... Is this letter out of order or is he using names he found in local papers and cemeteries to further craft his con?

The fact that the hotel he stayed in was called the Riverman and he conjures the Rivermen at the werewolf battle seem a little too coincidental, even for Wolfe. If one were to look at that whole battle, the tale couldn't be corroborated by anyone not in faerie. The only witnesses were Winker, Toby, Martha, Bax, Zwart, Emlyn and Lupine. Meanwhile "George" (I'm assuming it was really Bax) was sending the "vampire" back in the trunk with Nick (Zwart in two places at once?), Doris, Madame Orizia and Nicholas. Madame Orizia had to be fooled to keep the con alive. And Bax himself mentioned that Nicholas's face was like a mask, but he didn't think it was...

I plan on rereading very soon to determine if Bax's story can be picked apart as entire fabrication/con and hope to follow up afterward...


message 14: by Dirk (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dirk Mccomsey | 9 comments Looking up some things... GEAS is gaelic for curse/enchantment.


[redacted by S.H.I.E.L.D.] (noyoucant) | 3 comments Finished this a bit ago. Weird random about to fall to sleep thought: do we know Ted/Ambrosious are the same person, or is it possible they are twins? We know the story is full of twins/doubles and there was a line in there about how when one twin dies the other soon follows, so I wonder if Ted/Ambrosious died at the same time.


Michael Roetzel | 22 comments Glad we're getting some other readers in this thread! This book continues to elude my attempts to elucidate it, and I've been waiting for some new epiphany...

Regarding the compiler...perhaps I'm wrong, but I just that one go...Wolfe prefers to write in the 1st person, and he needs a device to do that. I don't see it as any more than that, a handy device.

Bax's background as a con man is essential to the swindle he pulls, switching himself for George, and the question is, is it more than that? Is he conning the reader, as well?

Above, I mentioned I found the dress of the young twins, Emlyn and Ieuan, to be oddly anachronistic. As Marth's sons, they should've been more around the same time as Bax...perhaps their dress is a result of living in Faery, or perhaps its a clue that Bax, a specialist in Victorian literature, is making them up.

It's an old trick to create a character that happens to be a specialist in the challenges the author sets before him. Is Wolfe relying on that stunt, or is he bluffing us, because his character, Bax, possesses the tools to either a) rise to the occasion or b) make it all up.

One further thought to consider, in Wolfe's other works which I've read, he's definitely used the works to mull over some thoughts on morality. I don't doubt that he's doing the same here. But what are we to make of it? Bax and George both have their good and bad qualities, and if we can't tell fantasy from reality....


Robert Defrank | 82 comments [redacted by S.H.I.E.L.D.] wrote: "Finished this a bit ago. Weird random about to fall to sleep thought: do we know Ted/Ambrosious are the same person, or is it possible they are twins? We know the story is full of twins/doubles and..."

Yeah, but then Martha the mother clears that up by saying twins run in her family, so that would be the source of the twinning, unless Ted was somehow a relative.


Robert Defrank | 82 comments From my limited experience, I've found the tricky thing about Wolfe (one of the tricky things) is how by demanding that readers connect the dots themselves, it becomes temptingly easy to imagine whole scenarios when there's no solid evidence that they happened.

I was briefly curious about whether Doris could have been Goldwurm, but all the references to Goldwurm give him a masculine pronoun.


Robert Defrank | 82 comments Couple more issues.

1) consider who the recipient of the 'George' letters would be. If he's assuming George would simply throw them away, then possibly Millie is the hoped for and intended recipient all along?

2) I'm finding it doubtful that there are no supernatural elements at all and that it's all a put up job. There's too much that Bax couldn't have arranged. Him taking possession of that house and land. The murders by the Hell Hound.


message 20: by Dirk (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dirk Mccomsey | 9 comments Robert wrote: "Couple more issues.

1) consider who the recipient of the 'George' letters would be. If he's assuming George would simply throw them away, then possibly Millie is the hoped for and intended recipie..."


I assumed that Millie was the intended recipient. Mainly because Bax mentions it several times that he is sure that Millie is reading.

If you read every letter literally, then there must be supernatural forces involved, but take a step back and consider that nearly all of the story is fabricated and tailored for Millie and Madame Orizia. Then, the true "supernatural" events seem to be much more manageable. Bax could have pulled the story of the Hell Hound from the paper. At the end point, who is left who can witness whether or not Bax was truly present at that dinner where the most recent attack happened?


Robert Defrank | 82 comments Dirk wrote: "Robert wrote: "Couple more issues.

1) consider who the recipient of the 'George' letters would be. If he's assuming George would simply throw them away, then possibly Millie is the hoped for and i..."


Hmmm, everything he said might not be literally true, but I think something uncanny's going on. Just thinking of Dorcus' words to Severian in CotC after he first meets the undine: that it doesn't make any sense to lie about really off-the-wall things, like the ability to fly in space, because it just unnecessarily complicates things.


message 22: by Fred (last edited Feb 17, 2016 09:47AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Fred (freder1ck) | 3 comments I looked up Musashi today. He definitely looks like he should be a character in this book. A mixture of fact and legend, and a great dueler who died of cancer.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miyamot...

Also Orizia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orithyia
She was abducted by the wind. But there is another one who was a sea nymph, a daughter of Doris: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doris_(...

Greek and Welsh seem to be two great themes. Both Ted and Doris are Greek names, and Griffin would seem to be but as a surname, Griffin is Welsh.

And a few questions: who is the compiler? What is their agenda? When reading, I found the note from George challenging Bax to a duel to be a bit implausible: how was it delivered, etc.

For me, the heart of the book is the reference to the other world, which its inhabitants call Reality. I would suggest that Bax not only admits to being a con artist, he plays it up on purpose. I found it interesting that he completely denies any reality to the treasure maps, which were the topic of his con.

The only concrete reference to place in the book (besides a river) is to Building 19 of the prison. This could perhaps be Vienna prison in Ohio, which found notoriety after publication as worse than being homeless. http://thesouthern.com/news/local/lif...


message 23: by Fred (new) - rated it 5 stars

Fred (freder1ck) | 3 comments Just read the book through for the second time. This is the first thing by Wolfe I've read, and I really enjoyed reading it. Here's my review:
"Great Read, and bristling with mysteries that I expect will only unfold themselves over time. A testament to a world whose inhabitants speak of as Reality, a world we all inhabited as children, but few can remember, suffocated by the banalities of the common mentality. This book was dedicated to Neil Gaiman, and feels very much like a kind of an answer to Stardust, which Gaiman significantly dedicated to Wolfe and his wife. "


Michael Roetzel | 22 comments Hi Frederick, thanks for contributing! I've left this book alone for awhile, having not gotten anywhere with unraveling it.

But now that some time has passed I'm more enchanted with the idea of Bax making up stories. His background is just set up too perfectly for that. As readers we should ask ourselves: is there any reason to give him the background of a con man and scholar of Greek and Victorian literature, and NOT have that background be of import to the plot? Certainly that would be unWolfeish to do so. No, we have to assume the character of Bax has those qualities for reasons that are significant to the unfolding of the story.

I have a suspicion that the answers to some of the mysteries in Sorcerer's House may be in obscure Victorian fairy tales.


message 25: by Fred (new) - rated it 5 stars

Fred (freder1ck) | 3 comments That's perfect, Michael. I suspect the story will affirm whatever tendencies the reader has, and this will intensify the more you read it.

Like Bax, I am myself an English major who finds office work dull. We should always remember that the only way we know that Bax is a con man, is through his own admission, so Bax is personally encouraging your hypothesis that he has made it all up (what's the motivation of a conman to show his cards so blatantly?). I find it significant that Bax becomes a conman only after exhausting the inheritance of the aunt he's named for. After reading this book, I read Mopsa the Fairy (one of the books mentioned by Bax posing as his brother at the end) and was fascinated to see that Mopsa tells the protagonist that the Fairie world is the same world as this one, which is echoed in Martha's comment to Bax about the place she calls Fairy.

A big question I've had is who is the compiler of the letters? If it's Bax, then what's his game, what benefit would he get from these being widely published? The most likely candidate would be Millie, who may be a tad less naive than she is portrayed. She has access to the bulk of the letters, and in my reading her relationship with Bax is similar to that between Martha and Zwart.

Fred


Michael Roetzel | 22 comments Hey Fred, I think that's a great start, looking into any and all tales Bax mentions is probably the most fruitful way to go about research.

As to the compiler, I could be wrong but I doubt he's important. Wolfe uses a fictional compiler in most of his works. He prefers to write in epistolary format, and usually presents the letters as found by a compiler as an explanation to the reader of how the letters were found and presented in book format. This always inspires debate about how/if the compiler manipulates the story, but I'm not aware of there ever being any sincere agreement that the compiler has done so.


message 27: by Thomas (last edited Dec 21, 2016 07:13PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Thomas Stockman (tstockma) | 1 comments Possibly this comment contains the ultimate spoiler for the book...

I just completed The Sorceror's House, and have a slightly different take. (BTW this is a classic Wolfe book, full of wordplay, puzzles, revelations, and unresolved mysteries & plot points!)

I see this book as more playful, lighter, and less serious in intent than many of Wolfe's. Reminds me a lot of Zelazny, including the plot device (from the Amber series, for Roger) of having father disguise himself as beneath notice, but on hand to watch & support a son coming of age (Bax at age 41, coming into his own as a sorceror). I'm also reminded a lot of Zelazny's A Night In The Lonesome October, given the supernatural subject & playful literary borrowing & references.

The main point of interest I'd like to raise is, as I read chapter 44 (the letter to Millie from George, wrapping up the tale & promising a happy-ever-after ending to her..) I found myself completely convinced (and re-reading it next day reinforces that) that George did not write that letter.

I believe as the story ends, George has disappeared from view as far as this world we live in is concerned, and Bax has taken his place. The letter is far too literate for someone who doesn't write. The sentiments and future plans are something Bax would hold, George wouldn't promise and might not conceive of them. Bax assuming George's identity, holding Bax's power of attorney & property, mimics his father's tactics all too well. And no way would Winkle bond to George.

No, George is gone from view, fate unknown, and Bax & Millie live happily ever after. A true fairy tale ending.

So there you have my interpretation!


message 28: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Petersen (danielottojackpetersen) I heard a podcast hinting at this interpretation. I wasn't sure when I read that letter, but it's definitely plausible and something smells suspicious in that letter for sure. My question is whether Millie is in on it...?


message 29: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim Hello everyone, I just finished this last night (and stayed up until about 3:30 in the morning to do so) and would like to present another alternate theory.

Let us presume, even if just for a moment, that Bax is telling the truth the entire time. Difficult to believe, but if we do, it presents another interesting theory.

If he is telling the truth, I can think of no explanation at the end other than George killed Bax.

My evidence for this: chapter 37 "The Challenge" George states that before the duel, they make wills leaving all properties in the others name. In the final chapter, George states that Bax went back to faerie, but that he left everything to him in his will (assuming the duel took place as he requested, the will would place him as the sole beneficiary). Had he not written up a will entirely for George, would he not have left anything to Sheldon who he even states in text is his best friend and even offers to send money to his wife?

Second clue toward this. If we are to believe that Bax has been telling the truth the entire time, then he has placed George on something of a pedestal. He keeps on looking for the good in him, and assuring everyone that he's not such a bad guy. Despite this we've only seen George in text as violent, ignorant and that literally Bax is the only person with a positive opinion of him. Does he really seem the type, who as Bax puts it in his final chapter "When you and before me holding a pistol (if it comes to that), you will surly realize your mistake. Then we will clasp hands like brothers." The George we are presented with throughout the novel does not seem like the sort to admit mistakes...

It's also notable that the line I quoted above are Bax's last words in the novel. Every letter after that is (presumedly) written by another character. He doesn't say goodbye to Millie, he never tells anyone he's leaving. We only have George's word on it, and Bax, or main narrator throughout the tale never returns.

As to why Bax would be missing and presumed dead, we have already had George explain it to us "Back in those big woods nobody will ever find the body." This explanation also would explain George's tone change in his letter. We've already discussed that Millie is a bit naive, in this case he's telling her this return to faerie story as a way to convince her (the only person to his knowledge who would know about the duel other than himself) a tale to explain why Bax is no longer writing to her.

It should also be noted that Bax leaving to faerie seems rather abrupt considering that his mother suggested that he "stay where you grew up until you come to understand it, Bax,. Then Join us in faerie." His response to that line was "I said I would." So he literally changed his mind in one chapter?

Now there's one thing that really bothers me about this theory, and that's Winkle. Why would she go with George? Well, remember Shel's line? Shell advises Bax that there are two kinds of women: women you make trouble for and women who make trouble for you. What if Winkle helped George? In his challenge chapter he states that "I met a wonderful girl who really knows her way around that place." The only girl presented in the entire story who knows her way around the entire house is Winkle. Why she would betray Bax I do not know, but can we entirely dismiss his line about the woman who knows the house? This would also explain why George has Bax's sword. If Bax went to faerie, taking the possibly magic sword seems more likely than the guns, why would he leave it behind? If Winkle helped George kill Bax on the other hand, George taking the sword seems very likely.

I'm not completely satisfied with the theory (and to be completely honest, I don't feel it makes for a satisfying ending), I'm personally more inclined to believe Bax is the final letter writer, but I thought I would present it as another area for discussion.


Andreas (dread_dragon) | 4 comments This would be a true "Wolfe" move if the fairy tale first looks suspicious but ends up to be true. It would be good to move all the theories to another place (wolfewiki?) to structure them better.

While browsing through book for clues I stumbled upon one thing in chapter 23. Doris talks about the twins and mentions that "one is pretty good in bed" and the other one "more than a little unbalanced".

In chapter 40 she writes to Bax that he wasn't "particularly good in bed". Could this mean that she is the girl that George had met and who "knows her way around that place"? Or is it Winkler?

Another thing: in chapter 34 Mrs. Naber (or rather Martha's twin sister) mentions that "when one twin dies, the other one dies, too". This would be a good reason why the duel never happened. George went to fairy land and Bax got his life.

Ted reminded me of Ernst from the story The Fat Magician. There are some strong parallels: Ernst is very likely a ghost and tries to bring together the narrator with a woman. Here, Ted could have made Bax to come to that place, tried to bring him together with Doris but ultimately failed. Doris understands that Ted is still around, caring for her, so she doesn't leave town.

A curious thing are the identities of Ted A. Griffin, Zwart Black and Alexander Skotos. At one point I speculated that Ted / Zwart / Alexander must be the identity of twin brothers. Ted's middlename could be "Alexander" or "Ambrosius", both would work. One died 3 years ago and Ted only 1 year later.

Maybe there was even a duel between the brothers with the antique guns. Thelma overheard Mr. Black in a shop talking about black powder. One of the pistols wasn't able to fire so it looks like someone manipulated the duel. Bax later identifies the woman at Black's side as Martha, but why didn't she recognize her twin sister? She looked 40 years younger of course, but still...


Sophie (RedheadReading) (sophoes) | 1 comments This is the first Wolfe book I've read and I've just finished my second read through of it to try and puzzle out my thoughts, so this thread has been really interesting! If anyone is interested in podcasts then I'd recommend checking out Alzabo Soup. They've been doing a chapter by chapter analyses of the book and it's been very useful in helping me figure out my thoughts on what's really going on.

In regards to tarot, I don't have a super in depth knowledge of it but I wondered if it also played into the duality of the various twins throughout. When you're reading tarot, the orientation of the cards changes the interpretation, so the card means one thing if it's dealt the right way up and the opposite if it's upside down. I know the whole twins as opposites thing is not exactly new but it could link to the hot anger/cold anger thing that's mentioned by Bax and Emlyn. I wish I had more knowledge of them to be able to go further into it!

Speaking of Emlyn, I wondered if anyone else was questioning whether he is actually Ieuan impersonating him? It's something the podcast made me think about and I'm not sure what the benefit of this reading would be, but in short: Emlyn is actually the 'bad' twin Ieuan who lies when he introduces himself to Bax (just as Bax then lies by giving his name as George to the twin he meets on the stairs. He mentions to George that this is something they did as kids). This would mean that the boy that Bax meets by Ieuan's room is actually the real Emlyn. The evidence to support this would be that the boy introduces himself as Emlyn, says Ieuan's name in a very violent way, says Ieuan would slash his throat if he found him there etc. It's odd that Ieuan would use this venomous language when in disguise as Emlyn, yet Emlyn wouldn't use it when talking about him to Bax. This would mean his mistakes with Bax's name/Winkle's gender are innocent. Also 'Emlyn' says that he has hot anger and Ieuan has cold, but then proceeds to be very icy and cold with Bax when learning about his mistakes with the triannalus (I believe those are some of the words Wolfe uses but could be wrong). As I said, I don't know what this would add to the rest of the narrative so I'm not sure if I believe it or not but it's been puzzling! Especially when you add in Old Nick/Mr Black's comment later that he likes Ieuan because he is helpful but that Emlyn is the bad one by repute. I guess the essence of this detour is that there are still many aspects of this book that puzzle me and I don't know if I'll ever have certain answers, but it's fun trying to work it all out :P


Andreas (dread_dragon) | 4 comments Good points, Sophie. I think I have to lookup the podcast you have mentioned. It completely eludes me if the Tarot really plays a role here

I am currently reading the book again. If we accept that the fairy world somehow mirrors the real one then the Ieuan/Emlyn story strengthens the theory that Baxter impersonates George in different chapters (or the other way round). There are weird clues e.g. Bax switches hands when writing long letters, George saying "I am the real George" etc. Btw, are both twins ambidextrous?

In the internet I have found a lose relation between being ambidextrous and schizophrenia. This would put the book into a new light (!) but without further textual evidences I don't buy it yet.


Andreas (dread_dragon) | 4 comments There are so many details in the book once you start paying attention. I hope I can keep my sanity. :-)

For example, chapter 40 is titled "Dear John" and the letter starts with "Dear Bax" (it's written by Doris). Also, in the Alzabo Soup podcast it's mentioned that Ieuan is a Welsh form of John so he can be related to George.

Does anyone have an idea what this whole "japanese woman" thing is about? Winkle/Winker? He writes in a letter to Sheldon about his "Japanese girlfriend" and one assumption was that supernatural things do not appear in them.

Or chapter 43, Madame Orizia is charging $4,387.76 to cover the travel costs. That's an awful lot so either it's made up or she was staying pretty long in Medicine Man.

References to the Greek are also interesting. Bax mentions in chapter 23 that he began looking for a tenured position at a really good university, someplace prestigious with a mild climate. Considering his studies in Ancient History and his interest in Greek, doesn't this sound like Athens? Which he even mentions separately in chapter 44? This would explain why a Greek is looking for him and is questioning prison inmates. It WON'T explain how he came back to the USA unless we assume that he cheated to get money.

So many questions...


message 34: by Daniel (last edited Jan 29, 2018 02:44AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Daniel (zlogdan) | 15 comments Hi I have just finished it Saturday night at 1 am. I do not have any theories that diverge from all those discussed here, however, what marvels me somehow is that the book allow us three different ways of interpretations.

1) The story told by Bax is to be taken seriously as true.
2) The story that Bax tells is part of his Machiavellian plan to kill/assume the identify of his brother George and nothing from the supernatural events are really real.
3) We may have a mixture of 1 and 2.

Regardless of these three, there is an upper layer, the author layer where one can with some reason imply that Wolfe wrote the three stories in one after all:

"1" It is a real great story regardless of who authored it and tells the story of dispute between two brothers fathered by a sorcerer. This appeals to the readers that love modern day fantasy and it homages Neil Gaiman, a master of modern day fantasy.

"2" It appeals to readers that enjoy literally novels and brings in our beloved concept - also quite enjoyed by Wolfe and his readers: the unreliable narrator.

"3" It gives us a modern day Cain and Abel/ Esau and Jacob plot story.

It does not matter, IMO of course, which of these are true, they all exist in the same book, all these are intended by Wolfe because the puzzles still need to be unraveled. I keep seeing this 3 pattern thing as a "meta quote" from Wolfe's description of the nature of the stories given by Severian at "Shadow of the Torturer" end.


message 35: by Marc (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marc Aramini (felicibusbrevis) | 78 comments I don’t remember if I ever posted here - if someone dms me I can send you my writeup. Look up the Lamia of Corinth and her struggle with Apollonius, which will explain the ambiguously gendered Corinthian gold coin. She has the power to create a house and servants to deceive her victims, drinks blood, and is traceable by her stench, as are Nicholas the butler and Lupine. She is responsible for the house, and the kikimora house spirit sends dreams to Bax to scare away his human love interest (look up the kikimora too and see Kiki in the central letters - Martha murrey is probably one of her manifestations, faking the black story) - a con man conned by house spirits into killing his brother before being drained himself.


Nicholas Siebers | 2 comments Marc wrote: "I don’t remember if I ever posted here - if someone dms me I can send you my writeup. Look up the Lamia of Corinth and her struggle with Apollonius, which will explain the ambiguously gendered Cori..."

This is an excellent theory. Upon re-reading, it is clear that Ms. Murrey is a principal actor in bringing Bax under the spell of the house, and although presented positively she could easily have more negative intentions. She could be a manifestation of the lamia, as you suggest; she could need her "son" Bax to return to faerie as an exchange so that she could escape it, or so that one or both of her younger sons could get out; and I think she is the most likely candidate for the "compiler". Who else would have ready access to the letters sent to Bax? If those were not outright fabrications.


Nicholas Siebers | 2 comments I just finished reading the book twice, and I had the following thoughts that I don't think have been posted here yet (spoilers):

1) In letter 7, Bax refers to Ted's ring as possibly saving his life. But he did not know at the time he wrote that letter that the spirit he saw was Ted, and didn't find it out for many more letters. His comment is strong evidence for all or part this letter being written at a later time, either edited or perhaps fabricated. I didn't find any other letters that were obviously out of time, but I am sure there must be.

2) In the will scene Bax demonstrates a strong degree of ambidexterity. For whatever reason this made me wonder if there is truly just one twin, with multiple personalities. This contradicts so much of the text, I am not sure it is profitable to pursue as there just isn't enough to work with. Still, I can't shake the thought.

3) When George bursts in to the reading of the will, he exclaims something like "I am the real George Dunn. You won't defraud me again". This shows Bax has posed as George in the past as part of a con, which is just interesting; it also suggests that George has some reason to think that he should be the rightful heir. Why would he think that? Could there be some further identity swapping? (Is "Bax" really George, calling himself by a different name to get the properties? Or vice versa in some way? Makes my head hurt.)

4) The ring found in the fish seems to be Ambrosious' "sorcerer weapon" and appears to grant Bax some powers. Is Ambrosious otherwise present in the story? Seems to be Ted? Supposedly killed by Goldwurm, who is not friendly with the Black family although kept at bay by feat of Zwart... the relationship between Ambrosius and Zwart is never specified.

5) Bax deduces that Skotos and Black are the same person because they look the same, have the same associates, and seem to have the same motives. Could they be twins? A case of split personalities? A glamour alowing impersonation of some sort? Ms. Murrey agrees they are the same person, but I don't think she is as reliable as she is presented.

6) Related, I think Martha Murrey may actually be the sorcerer who brings Bax under her spell. It's not presented that way, but on the re-read I could see it. Goes along with Marc's Lamia theory.

I am not sure how active this discussion is but this was a fun read, had my head spinning, and I had to get it out somewhere! All the best.


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