(urth) The Waif

Daniel D Jones ddjones at riddlemaster.org
Wed Mar 4 17:42:16 PST 2009

On Tuesday 03 March 2009 15:39:23 Mike Legedza wrote:
> 1) Maybe the biggest question of all ... Who ARE the Flying People?
> Ariael's name suggests he might be some kind of angel...or at least
> instructs us that we should view the Flying People on the same terms as we
> would angels ... but the story is light on evidence as to who exactly the
> flying people are supposed to be, whether they are somehow alien, or a part
> of humanity that left Earth and survived the apocalypse, or literally
> angels.  Does anyone here have any other theories that fits with any
> evidence the text gives?  Ariael is described as being fair skinned and
> almost androgynous looking, which is in keeping with the idea he is an
> angel...but I don't know how eager a real angel would be to beat Gid with a
> stick.

I assumed that they're aliens, although I'm not entirely comfortable with the 
idea.  After all, they're "human beings not much different from ourselves."

The name Ariel (without the 'a') means "Lion of God" in Hebrew.  It's also an 
alternate name for Jerusalem.  But in "The Tempest," Ariel is an "airy spirit" 
who is reluctantly beholden to Prospero and he thwarts a plot to kill  the 
king Alonzo.  I haven't seen much in the way of Shakespearean references in 
Wolfe's work but it seems to fit here, particularly if your interpretation of 
the end is correct.

> 2)  Niman Pryderi's description as to why their community doesn't tolerate
> the flying people is perhaps intentionally confusing.  I've read his logic
> a dozen times now, and still can't really figure out how it works.  From
> what I gather, he is saying that humanity can't rebuild as long as the
> flying people are present, because their presence continually makes us feel
> shame for the way we destroyed our own world.  So essentially, we can only
> rebuild once we have freed ourselves from the constant reminder of our
> sins.  This logic doesn't really make the connection between the flying
> people and us wanting to burn each other alive...but maybe I'm missing
> something vital. Does anyone here a lot smarter than me have a better
> explanation for what is going on here?

I took it not so much as shame as despair and bitterness.  It seems as though 
we have lost much of our scientific knowledge in the collapse.  The Flying 
People have a science which is superior to that one which we lost.  Why, for 
example, struggle trying to figure out Newton's laws when the Flying People 
have obviously mastered Relativity?  And obviously they refuse to teach us 
what they know, which is likely why we really hate them so much and why we 
regard anyone who has dealings with them as traitors who deserve to be burned.

> 4) Just what is Ariael trying to achieve by befriending Bin?  What's his
> agenda, because he seems to have one.  At one point when Ariael asks Bin
> for his boots, Ariael says that he was just testing Bin.  Is this whole
> thing meant to be some kind of test?  Is he testing Bin's compassion?  But
> to what end?  I've read a bit of discussion that says Ariael is taking
> advantage of Bin's good nature, but I'm not sure I understand that.  Yes,
> Ariael seems to attract attention to Bin and Gam on purpose (a person who
> can so easily make himself invisible seems to allow himself to be seen by
> everyone who bothers to look) resulting in them getting captured and
> persecuted by the town...but is he intentionally trying to get them burned
> at the stake?  And something happens at the very end that I think
> challenges the idea that Ariael's intentions are malicious.

Not sure I can add anything to Ariael's overall purpose or what he's 
attempting to accomplish.  How much of his apparent poverty and need is merely 
an act?  Bin offers Ariael one of his boots because his bare feet are bleeding 
and caked in the ashes.  He appears to be genuinely cold and hungry.  If he's 
putting on an act, he's going to a great deal of trouble to make it realistic.

It also isn't apparent to me that Ariael intentionally causes trouble for Bin 
and Gam.  If you note the incidences where he's seen, it's always the case 
that people close to him can not see him but that he's visible to people who 
are further away and/or whom he does not realize is watching him.  I assumed 
in reading that he was not able to make himself physically invisible but 
somehow affected people's perceptions to make them not see him and that this 
talent either had a limited range or he had to be aware that someone was 
looking at him and to make a conscious attempt to prevent that person from 
seeing him.  

> 5) Speaking of the ending, does anyone have any thoughts as to the
> significance of the rain falling at the end?  I'm assuming that the
> downpour was powerful enough to put out the fire that was burning, and that
> Ariael caused the downpour, saving Gam and Bin.  I think it's also possible
> to relate this event to what Nyman Pryderi says about saving Bin by raking
> him out of the fire.  Ariael instead puts the fire out, which I guess is a
> far more effective way to save someone from being burned.  I think this
> whole thing is saying something significant about the nature of love,
> although what specifically I'm a bit unsure on, but I'd love to hear what
> anyone else might have to say on it.

Wow.  I didn't read it that way at all.  It would take a hell of a rain to  
put out a kerosene based fire that had already ignited the wood.  (I've 
personally seen small camp fires with no petroleum lighter used burn for quite 
awhile in a steady downpour.)  I assumed that the fire continued to grow 
despite Bin's efforts and that he and Gram both perished in the flames.  I 
just assumed that the rain was a mood detail.

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