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From: Michael Andre-Driussi <mantis@siriusfiction.com>
Subject: (urth) PEACE: Coldhouse expanded
Date: Tue, 10 Jul 2001 09:59:34 

I wrote:
>Here's another quick one: FEAR and LOVE.  It may be that the whole point of
>the cold house prank is to show how Weer is in fear of the other person (a
>vengeful ghost) who seems to be inside the empty house with him in the
>frametale.  In the final page, in one reading at least, the other person is
>revealed to be Olivia, the loved one (whose death was so crushing to him).
>(Thus: Weer is dead; yet death is an illusion.)

Allow me to expand upon that.

We read the coldhouse story.  Because of the context of the larger novel,
and because it is spooky, we sense that Weer is scared.  Because of the
conventions of ghost stories, as well as the context of the larger novel
(Bobby Black), we suspect that Weer was somehow responsible for the prank,
and that is why he is fearful of the ghost.

Speaking only for myself and others I've talked with, we have spent a lot
of time, often enjoyable, trying to figure out this angle: timeline issues,
possible motives, the odd tie-in with the enigmatic Chinese garden dream,
the off-stage death of Professor Peacock, and other threads.

But today I backtrack, and it seems that the simple answer is that Weer
fears the ghost because it is a ghost, just as anyone might fear a
ghost--one need not be the murderer of a person to fear that person's
ghost.  We know that Weer is responsible for Bobby Black's death (at least
until that stage when we start to doubt the historicity of Bobby Black),
but that doesn't mean that Weer was the prankster (even though he seems to
know a lot of details, etc.).  In fact, Weer as president might feel
somewhat more singled out for revenge than the average worker, but again,
anybody can be afraid of a ghost.

Applying meta-answer number one ("Weer getting used to being dead . . ."),
we have the irony that Weer himself is the ghost haunting the house--a
ghost afraid of ghosts!  But that's what the majority of the book is about.

I also wrote:
>The next meta-answer, also simple but I think also important, is something
>like "Weer spent perhaps too much of his life reading books rather than
>living life directly, and as a result his afterlife experience is a journey
>like that of Don Quixote/Walter Mitty/Gumby; as he experiences his own
>AMERICAN BOOK OF THE DEAD he cobbles together a text from the various texts
>he read and loved throughout his life, texts which, ultimately, might have
>little or no relation to "real" history, but intimate relation to the
>essential dream history (his psyche, his spirit, his whatchamacallit); his
>is an apology (or a working out, or a therapy, or a regurgitation) for
>having read too much."

In PEACE there is a strong theme of how books are lies.  Fiction, of
course, is all lies; but even non-fiction includes untruths, and science
itself is just an imperfect approximation.  Then there are forgeries, which
would seem to be the most complete lies of all.

Weer's story has little to do with his life and much to do with his
reading.  In the past we have taken this in realistic, psychological terms
as meaning he is masking some things that are too painful for him to deal
with otherwise (so the romancing of Olivia turns into a fairytale
fragment--the best case we have of "history" being mapped by "fiction").
But, to backtrack, to try a different tack, it may be more the case that
Weer did not have much of a life outside of books--the thing he is
"masking" is the fact that he wasn't engaged in life the way he was engaged
with books (ala Don Quixote).

One might go further and say that Weer regrets he didn't skip all those
other books and read the Bible alone, but I don't think the text goes in
that direction.

Now I'll trot out the old Robert Graves' chestnut, the five-stages of the hero:
Birth, Initiation, Reign, Repose, Death.

Birth -- Alden Dennis Weer (section 1); covers the childhood.
Initiation -- Olivia (section 2)
Reign -- The Alchemist (section 3)
Repose -- Gold (section 4); features the wounding of the hero.
Death -- The President (section 5)


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