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From: "Nigel Price" 
Subject: (urth) Doomed men's manuscripts
Date: Thu, 15 May 2003 23:36:13 +0100

Nutria wrote concerning my recent confusion of names...

>>Yes. Twas me. But Tree of the Knowledge of
>>Good and Evil, where the original man-eating
>>shark dwelt.

You see? I even get the names of my trees mixed up.

>>But I'm hampered in analysis, not having the full text.

It might have been better if, suffering a similar lack, I had shared your

>>Well, how likely is it that Wolfe managed to
>>find Severian's memoirs after they travelled
>>the corridors of time? And Latro's journal,
>>for that matter? Somehow, he gets hold of these
>>things. No one knows how. He's not telling.
>>He's obviously got some kind of inside track.

The ancients speculated that all things lost on earth might eventually end
up on the moon. That, for example, is where Ariosto located Orlando's lost
wits. But Ariosto and the ancients were wrong. The Limbo of the Lost is
actually located in the basement of an ordinary-looking house in the suburbs
of Chicago. Manuscripts, stories and ideas lost in other times, places and
dimensions all end up there.

The owner of the basement comes down early every morning, dusts them all off
and, having selected the finest and most unusual, proceeds to polish them
and polish them until they shine with a light to rival that of the new sun
at its zenith. He then passes them on to a merchant who lives on a high tor,
and he in turn sells them to curious and discerning collectors around the
world. They treasure these strange findings, though few understand their
true meaning or purpose.

>>Maybe the Outsider gives them to him.

I'm sure He does.

I still, on balance, see "The Tree is my Hat" as a story of damnation rather
than a "just in time" repentance. I'm fascinated to find, though, as so
often before, that when I look, or in this case listen, hard enough, I find
a sort of counter-current running through the story which hints at a
possible outcome completely opposite from the one that I still think is

Just to illustrate how another writer might have tackled the story, here is
the ending of the journal kept by another doomed narrator, this time the
hero of the embedded tale in William Hope Hodgson's gothic masterpiece, _The
House on the Borderland_ (1908). The hero lives in a castle built over a
chasm leading to a hellish parallel dimension. We join the story near the
end. The hero is writing his journal, even as The Monster is finally about
to break through into the castle and Get Him...

>>"Hush! I hear something, down - down in the
>>cellars. It is a creaking sound. My God, it
>>is the opening of the great, oak trap. What
>>can be doing that? The scratching of my pen
>>deafens me.... I must listen.... There are
>>steps on the stairs; strange padding steps,
>>that come up and nearer.... Jesus, be
>>merciful to me, an old man. There is
>>something fumbling at the door-handle.
>>O God, help me now! Jesus - The door is
>>opening - slowly. Somethi-"
>>That is all.
>>Note.-From the unfinished word, it is
>>possible, on the MS, to trace a faint line
>>of ink, which suggests that the pen has
>>trailed away over the paper; possibly
>>through fright and weakness.-Ed.

I've always thought that this was a great ending, even if the idea of the
hero scratching away at his journal while the Monster climbs the stairs and
enters the room is patently ludicrous. (If only he had had a dictaphone!)
But you don't have any doubt that the hero is going to meet An Awful Fate.

There are similarities with the ending of "The Tree is my Hat", but Wolfe, a
far more sophisticated artist, says much less, and ends his narrative well
before his hero actually encounters the fatal thunderstorm.

Incidentally, Hodgson provides a frame story to explain exactly how he and
his friend discovered the doomed man's manuscript, which he then "edited"
for publication. Wolfe does a little of this TBotNS, but provides no such
account for "The Tree is my Hat".



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