FIND in
<--prev V305 next-->
From: "Nigel Price" 
Subject: (urth) More arboreal headgear
Date: Sat, 10 May 2003 12:24:04 +0100

Reread what I wrote last night about "The Tree is My Hat". Hmmm... One or
two little things to add.

I've assumed that the dramatised reading sticks closely to the text, and the
whole text, of the story. That's certainly how it sounds. If it turns out
that there's further detail in the original written version which is missing
in the audio version, for example, about the nature of Baden's disease, then
I will, of course, apologise to Robert for ever doubting the accuracy of his

While I'm on the subject of Baden's mysterious illness: I did consider the
possibility that Baden might have contracted HIV during his time with the
Agency in Uganda. I believe that HIV is rife in that country, and if it is
true that he is attracted to black women and had sexual relations with the
locals as he later does on the Pacific island, then it would have been
possible that he caught the disease... But I rejected this line of reasoning
on two grounds. The first is that I think that if GW had wanted to write an
HIV story, he would have been much more specific about the illness and
probably emphasised different issues in the story too. I don't really see
him leaving HIV as just an unnamed tropical disease. The second reason for
rejecting this line of thought is that while those suffering from HIV can,
if they develop AIDS, become vulnerable to a variety of diseases and
therefore display a wide range of symptoms, Baden's sweats and fevers don't
sound anything like the most typical symptoms, whereas they do sound like
the typical symptoms of diseases like malaria. Over against that, those who
develop full-blown AIDS often develop lymphatic and brain cancers and as a
result can experience paranoid delusions. (Having seen this happen in a
friend, I can testify to how terrifying it is to the sufferer, and how
frightening it can be to those around them too.) But while Wolfe seems to
keep the possibility open that Baden is suffering from delusions as a result
of his illness, I still don't think it likely, on the balance of evidence,
that he's got HIV or AIDS.

I look forward, when I get to read the printed version of the story, to
seeing how all the names are spelled. All my efforts in this and my previous
message are just "best guesses" based on what I heard on the dramatised
reading. Is it "Baden" or "Badden"? And how is the shark-man's name spelled?

And talking of names, I realise that I never discussed the name of the
missionary on the island. His full name is - from memory - something like
"Mervyn Robertson" or "Robinson", but he doesn't like his given name and
prefers to be called "Rob". As some of the other names in the story are
clearly significant, I wondered what Rob's name might indicate.

The obvious explanation is that he is some sort of "robber", though at first
that didn't make any sense to me in the context of the story. He's not one
of Wolfe's idealised saints, but he's certainly not a bad man either. He too
has seen a ghost at North Point, in his case, a villager who, it later turns
out, has been dead for four days. Thinking him an ordinary, living man, Rob
helps him on his way by giving him a lift to North Point in his jeep, and in
gratitude, the ghost, who is off "to visit his parents", kisses him on the
eyes. This last detail is strangely gentle and clearly significant. It seems
like a blessing of some sort. I suspect that it confers a gift of
clear-sightedness or something similar. Maybe Rob doesn't save many souls,
but he generally helps them on their way.

As the obvious representative of Christianity in the story, Rob's a fairly
positive character, for all the somewhat limited success of his mission. In
terms of understanding what is really going on on the island, he has managed
to work out the secret of the islander's origins, but has failed to find the
location of the evil underwater temple. OF course, if Baden's experiences
are anything to go by, not finding the shark god's temple is a blessing
rather than a failure. It really isn't a place you want to go! On the other
hand, Baden is there, happily sitting among the ruins of the king's palace
in the jungle when Baden goes there a second time. The first time Baden went
there, it was with his would-be protector the Chief. This time, Baden stubs
his toe, shouts out "Christ!", and - hey presto! - there's Rob, Christ's
imperfect local representative, sitting on the ruined stones above him.

No, I'm sure that Rob is "one of the good guys", which rules out any sort of
John 10.8-10 allusion. He is called "Rob", but he's not one of those who
comes to steal and destroy the sheep. No, if Rob's name is significant, my
guess is that it refers again to that verse I referred to last night:

	"Or again, how can anyone enter a strong
	man's house and carry off his possessions
	unless he first ties up the strong man?
	Then he can rob his house."
	(Matthew 12.29)

In this verse, Jesus is rebutting the charge made by the Pharisees that he
has been casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub. He is making the
point that he is robbing the strong man (Beelzebub) of his victims, because
he has first "tied him up" (bound him with his own spiritual authority as
God's Son), rather than relying, as he is acccused of doing, on the strong
man's help. In Wolfe's story, "Rob" is the would-be thief who would rob the
shark-god of his victim, Baden, but Baden unties the fish charm and thereby
releases the strong man, rendering Rob's efforts ineffectual.

A final, if whimsical, point. At the end of the story, when it attacks
Baden's family, the shark spirit "flashes" on and off, because it can only
be visible to one person at a time and has to appear sequentially to four
(or was the native woman there too, which would make it five?) people. Given
that it is hinted that the Polynesians and their gods come from the stars,
and that Baden glimpses a shark-like UFO above the island, are we to suppose
that what is being described is the application of some sort of hyperspace
technology? Compare the braking manouvers carried out by decelerating
spacecraft in C J Cherryh's books. They "pulse the vanes", flicking in and
out of hyperspace, in order to "dump delta V". Just a thought!



<--prev V305 next-->