The Shadow Children
& the Free People of Green
vote Silk for Calde!
I decided to re-read this as part of New Year, New Sun, since I kept coming back to the discussion of whether Saint Croix & Saint Anne were Blue & Green, & whether the abos were the inhumi. Also, I really really like this book. I call it a book-- really it is three novellas, but I think it is a much more rewarding experience as a single novel then as three. The stories are the eponymous "Fifth Head of Cerebus," which is fairly typical Wolfe-- identity doubt in personal form. The next is "'A Story' by John V. Marsch" which I think is really remarkable; this is identity doubt on a much larger scale, mixed in as a piece of folklore. As faux-lore, it holds a lot of verisimilitude, & it is knit with conundrum left & right. The third piece, "V.R.T." is again a piece of identity politics-- really, right, the whole novel is-- but serves to tie the two together. People herald this as a great work because of its non-preachy approach to post-colonialism, & it deserves that, but really, I think it is the full weft of uncertainty that lends it weight & character. Seriously, in the throes of food poisoning the other night I kept having nightmares trying to sort out the aborigines from the humans-- not to mention the Shadow Children, which on my first reading I don't think I paid enough attention to. So, I reassert that Book of the Long Sun. Book of the Short Sun & Fifth Head of Cerebus are interlinked: I think the Shadow Children are the Neighbors, & the aborigines the inhumi. So, now that I've eaten some solid food (soup! cereal! cookies! ...a Hot Pocket!) lets try the rundown:
First off, in "Fifth Head of Cerberus," I really am charmed by the little details of giving out keys to the restricted parts of the library (14). Very cute, along with the small detail of trees (orange trees, in Cave Canem) on the roofs of houses (17). Eventually we start getting into the nitty gritty-- Number Five off-handedly speaks about human space colonization predating the Homeric Greeks. He may have a point-- I think the Shadow Children (or the Free People, depending on your reading...) might just be a wave of protoculture. Oh, & then there are the textual clues connecting Anne & Croix to Green & Blue: the Asterism. Those three dots are not incidental, as the Book of the Short Sun points out. The "four armed slave" might be a Shadow Child-- multiple limbed like a Neighbor, isn't it (63)? I admit also to finding it very adorable when Mister Wolfe's technical background comes out, like the Lamarckian Relaxation (75).
Into "'A Story' by John V. Marsch" & I can't ever see "Always" capitalized without thinking "Hallways, always, always" in echo, thanks to House of Leaves. Oh & I can't help but wonder if the dream sycamores are a Twin Peaks reference, even knowing that the book was published in the 70s (88). I like the subtle intimation that the Shadow Children quiver the fabric of spacetime with their songs-- just underplayed enough (96). Also I apparently thought this was worth noting: "bees!" (103). Old Wise One thump's John's chest saying his brain is in his thorax; is the mimicry really that superficial (122)? Oh & I forget that then there is the spice (126)! The spice melenge! Or at least a Dune allusion, or idea-bit. There are further confusing bits of who is who-- Old Wise One can't keep things straight since he's always being re-imagined, but he does speak of them being long & in the ground (133). I also really found it great when Gene Wolfe rapped on the third wall in the naming conventions of the Shadow Children, & how if there is only one his name is Wolf (136). See-- that there is enough to more or less convince me that they are the humans.
Once "V.R.T." starts, the aborigines start taking on a very "little people" & fair folk vibe, especially given their most notable rumored restriction: the inability to use tools (159). So, we get V.R.T.'s first name-- Victor, & his last, Trenchard (188). Do we ever get his middle? I didn't note it, if we did. There are a lot of elements of Saint Croix's dystopia that get played out here, but their devotion to truth is sort of appealing (204). Of course, they are also devoted to slavery, & the concept of whether a man can be free without slavery-- that is, without having slaves (208, 210). What is money for but to by little pieces of slavery, right? Back to Lamarckism, there is a persistent theme running throughout that an organ unused atrophies, which rears up again (31, 217). On 228, we get a new piece of typography: "OO--OO". I wonder about it; the only thing it makes me think of are the odd pupils of the indigenous life on Saint Anne (169). Oh, & the ghoul-bear finally makes an appearance; I still like it for the alzabo, but we see know alzabo like behavior from it (230). V.R.T. does take care to note that there are both Free People & Shadow People still extant on Saint Anne. Liev's Postpostulate had me stumped for a while, I have to confess, till I figured out that it was Veil, backwards.