FIND in
<--prev V30 next-->

From: "Talarican" <exultnttalarican@mindspring.com>
Subject: (urth) And Why Did They Appear?
Date: Tue, 17 Oct 2000 19:43:30 

I am finally ready to weigh in on "And When They Appear".

I thought Tony Ellis' suggestion that House was itself a trap and danger, al
la HAL 9000 or Harlan Ellison's AM, was intriguing but not a total
explanation. Tony's suggestion that the freezer as refuge might become an
inescapable tomb for Sherby under the rubble of the house occurred to me

Unlike Mr. Million, a purely artificial variant of cyborg into which the
actual synapses of a human are mapped, House appears to be ultimately just a
"cybernetic servomechanism". House is highly intelligent but apparently
programmed by conventional means, and is bound, in true sci-fi AI tradition,
by a set of "prime directives" which governs its behavior. Furthermore,
House is
stationary and incapable of fleeing danger.

So what were House' prime directives and duties? House obviously acts as a
head servant, literally a butler, in charge of the household, and serves as
Sherby's tutor and guardian. House cannot allow Sherby to leave with anyone,
even the human servants(?), without the explicit approval of the parents,
even though they now cannot approve. House operates the Learning Center,
tutoring his charge according to a curriculum, often in the guise of play.

Now House finds itself in a situation for which its designers and
programmers did not equip it: the master and mistress are dead; it is
increasingly being cut off from supplies and communication with the outside
world as the insurrection grows; it is caught between its mandate to protect
and care for the boy, and the impending end of its ability to do so; and it
faces its own imminent demise. It seems reasonable to suppose that House
could be "cracking" under the stress a bit. In the sequel to _2001_ ,
remember, HAL9000's breakdown was explained by Clarke as being caused by a
situation - being subjected to deliberate deception - for which the
designers of its synthetic psychology neglected to allow.

I'm just a bit uncomfortable with attributing all of House' actions to
insanity, though. "Crazed Robot Guardian" stories are as old as science
fiction, and I like to think Mr. Wolfe had something less shopworn to

The insurrection, whatever its issues might be (class warfare, literally?),
is total; not only riffraff and perverts like Corporal Charlie participate,
but also the police and firemen. Rescue doesn't appear to be a possibility.
For Sherby's civilization, this is Ragnarok.

Note that House decides to have this Christmas party for Sherby immediately
after the reconnaisance of Mouse and Kite reveals the extremity of the
situation, therefore the decision was a response to the observation. In my
interpretation, House realizes it has one brief opportunity to give Sherby a
final lesson before he is torn from its grasp and sent forth. Therefore, I
viewed House' actions primarily as an endgame whose object was to teach
Sherby something vitally important in those last moments. Given just hours,
at most, to impart a final message to a young sheltered boy about to be
snatched into a totally different existence, what would it be?

{I also am reminded of the dispersal-of-knowlege-to-the-barbarians idea
played in BNS (the ransacking of Castle Baldanders; Cyriaca's thinking
engines in their decline, discoursing with their disciples), although it's
stretch to attribute such motives to House, who surely has no reason to be
concerned about the future welfare of strange rebels.}

The first visitor is none other than the "reformed" Ebenezer Scrooge. He
explains quite frankly his mission, if you like, and superficially it sounds
like a cornball line from that Bill Murray movie adaptation of _A Christmas
Carol_: "...in order that you may know a great secret...that there is a
vagrant magic in Christmas still...". Of course, Dickens' Scrooge, visited
by phantoms, learned an important truth while there was still time, thus I
tend to interpret his presence as another signal that Sherby is supposed to
learn truths from House's artificial phantoms just before it is too late,

I actually had to reread _A Christmas Carol_ to catch the connection of Ali
Baba. Now, of all the details from _ACC_ to toss out, why that fleeting
mention of Ali Baba? Then again, I still don't understand the significance
of Smokey.

Next comes Fox-Loki and the club dancers, followed by the Yule log party.
Wolfe signals that they symbolize the insurrection mob who is to come. The
Yule log party bumping the door with their wood foreshadows the mob later
banging at the door with their log battering ram. Sherby thinks he glimpses
the 'fox' in the crowd milling around the house. Ali Baba and the Yule log
party build a holo-fire; of course the mob later builds one for real.

Then, the fox explains yet more pagan sun-symbolism to Sherby and directs
his attention to the wheel of fire rolling down the mountain (courtesy of
the advancing rebels) and its connection to the holly wreath, a symbol of,
yes, the sun's 'wheel of fire'. 'Yule', BTW, is said to come from the
Anglo-Saxon word for 'wheel', a metaphor for the sun and for time.

If the Yule party symbolizes the insurrectionists, what is the point? The
club dance and the Yule log are explained as pagan solstice rituals designed
to ensure the Sun's return in the spring in spite of the depredations of
Loki-the-fox who seeks to steal it. The decadent civilization of Sherby's
parents is undergoing destruction and renewal, just as the coming of the New
Sun caused the destruction of the old Urth. Is House trying to explain to
Sherby that the insurrection is just a cusp in a civilization's cycle of
decay and rebirth, and that all of life is composed of such?

Christmas Rose and Knecht Rupprecht also speak of themselves as representing
renewal, and its precursor Death. Knecht Rupprecht tells Sherby another
'secret': his preChristian pagan connection with
fertility-through-death-and-decay, another cyclic renewal theme. Is this
death-and-renewal cycle, and the pagan celebration of it, the "vagrant
 magic" to which Scrooge referred?

Other figures seem to represent the historical reality buried behind the
modern traditions of Christmas: Bishop Nicholas of Myra, Fr. Eddi (Eddius
Stephanus, a writer of chants and music, he wrote a hagiography of the
mentioned St. Wilfred, a missionary who persuaded British Celtic clerics to
observe Roman liturgy and the supremacy of the Pope). And of course another
"realistic" figure is introduced in His turn. There seems to be a play of
twins and opposites and counterparts (the quintessential Wolfean theme) on
several levels: solid v. holo, historical v. folklore, Christian v. pagan,
and so forth.

It is interesting to note that House-as-itself kept warning Sherby against
visiting the corpses of his parents in the freezer, even as
House-as-Father-Eddi advised him to take refuge there. Why , if not due to
insanity? Could the freezer paradox represent "second thoughts" on House'
part as the rebels actually enter the estate. I have to agree that at this
point Wolfe (not House) is apparently giving Sherby an opportunity to choose
change and life, over literally frozen adherence to a vanished past.

Or, perchance, there is a plan at work here, a scheme not necessarily of

Sherby "finds Jesus", so literally so that he does not recognize Him,
thinking him just another kid like himself (isn't that the point?). Later,
as the mob breaks in, he glimpses the child Jesus again, but House
implicitly denies generating Him. Is this a "Lo I am with you always"
message of hope imparted by a higher power than House or Carker's Army?

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

<--prev V30 next-->