(urth) The Sorcerer's House Questions (*Major Spoilers*)

Gwern Branwen gwern0 at gmail.com
Fri Mar 19 20:46:48 PDT 2010

On Fri, Mar 19, 2010 at 5:42 PM, Matthew Keeley
<matthew.keeley.1 at gmail.com> wrote:
> Just finished reading the new book; it seems a lot clearer than AEG, but,

I did notice Wolfe explained more of the onomastics than usual.

> (spoilers commence)
> 1. Goldwurm's Tower – Apparently the previous owner was named Ambrosius;
> this seems likely to be a reference to Ambrose, often named as Merlin's
> tutor. In other versions, Merlin is called "Merlin Ambrosius". And I believe
> there's a legend that Merlin died "three times" – broke his neck, drowned,
> and something else. The information is somewhat hard to find online; later I
> shall consult some of my Arthurian books.

I wonder how much we could possibly deduce about Goldwurm. We aren't
told a heck of a lot, after all.

Here's one off-the-wall suggestion: at the end, Baxter is hailed as a
son and rival sorcerer. Presumably the rivalry would be a friendly
one. A similar scenario might obtain with the other pair of twins: one
is the master and the other the apprentice. But the apprentice may yet
seek to murder the master (we're told that he's the master of 'cold'
rage which strikes days, weeks, or years later). Perhaps Goldwurm &
Ambrosius were yet another pair of twins? That would further explain
why Goldwurm thought he could easily find the numen-object: twins have
special insight into each other's preferences.

Here's another off-the-wall suggestion: Ambrosius is Ted. Enough of
the mundane characters turn out to be special that we should be
suspicious of the others. The numen of Ambrosius was hidden in a ring
hidden in a fish (a la Koschei the Deathless hiding his heart inside a
duck inside a rabbit inside...), and came to Bax as a fellow sorcerer
through the operation of the tri-thingy. This explains the ring. The
shared sorcerous similarity is why Doris thinks they're unspeakably
alike, and may also explain why Ted's ghost wants them together.

> 2. Goldwurm again – In what object did he deposit his numen?
> 3. I think we can all agree that George didn't really write the last letter
> and that Bax is going to take his place. Winker follows "George", for one
> thing. And "George" seems to know a lot about Victorian fiction, the subject
> of one of Bax's degrees. So why is the real George absent? Did Bax kill him?
> Or did George run off to faerie to try and take command, as he said he would
> do in an earlier letter?

I think it's just as indicated: Bax killed George, liberating George's
wife from her loveless marriage and getting her married to the 'right
twin'. After several years - time enough to exhaust the interest of
the mansion, and 'level up' as a sorcerer, and time enough for age to
start bothering Bax, he departs.

> 4. What did Ted's ghost leave Doris? Could Ted be another Zwart pseudonym?
> 5. Bax very quickly starts calling his putative butler "old Nick", one of
> the devil's classic nicknames. He doesn't seem to notice, but maybe his
> subconscious is warning him not to trust the man? Was there a "real" Nick
> before he was replaced by Zwart?

He would've had to replace the dog too, no?

> 6. Under what conditions can Toby and Winkle transform? Can't just be a full
> moon.

I have a hunch it has to do with the mushroom ring.

> 7. What's Musashi – a historical figure – doing in faerie? Is this an
> idealized archetypal Musashi as opposed to the historic one?

I think this is Wolfe just continuing his distant interest in Japan;
as someone who was very interested in Japan, Wolfe's mentions ring
hollow. He gets some things right: a fox spirit like Winker would be
affiliated with Inari
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inari_%28mythology%29) and would usually
manifest as a beautiful young woman. But others are new to me (the Fox
Sword?) and some seem just wrong - why is Musashi the author of _*A*
Book of Five Rings_? It's usually 'The' Book of Five Rings or 'Book of
Five Rings' period. And the 3 reasons given that Musashi would refrain
from fighting Bax are either tired American jokes ('The world's
greatest swordsman doesn't fear the world's second best, but the
world's worst, because he has no idea what that idiot will do') or
unconvincing. Further, the facefox shouldn't be any color but white if
it's a servant of Inari. (eg. in Hiroshige's woodblock prints ending
the _One Hundred Famous Views of Edo_, there are scores of foxes
gathered at an Inari shrine - each pure white.)

And I notice that the stereotypical Chinese/Japanese lallating accents
are *still* there. Maybe next time...

> 8. What's with the dwarf?

I haven't the slightest idea. He appears gratuitous, Dickens aside.
Maybe he's meant to illustrate the avaricious amoral nature of Faerie?

I've been pondering a theory that perhaps we have the good twin/bad
twin reversed, and that Bax really is evil, and likewise his
corresponding twin bother, and that the dwarf is so depraved & evil
that his capture & confinement is meant to be a signal that the
capturing & confining brother is actually good. But this doesn't seem
to work at all.

> 9. The "compiler" states that the letters may be out of order.... Are there
> any that are clearly in the wrong place in the narrative?
> -Matt

My problem is that I naturally expect letters to arrive out of order,
key letters to be missing, and long delays between replies, so just
about any ordering seems plausible to me and nothing cries out as

> Was Ambrosius Mr. Black's son? In some legends Merlin Ambrosius is the son
> of the devil (or at least a demon of some sort). One of Zwart's aliases is
> "old Nick", an old name for Satan? Is Mr. Black really a devil? Or does he
> just have the accoutrements of one?

I'm inclined to think that he's not literally a devil: Wolfe makes fun
of that during dinner. And Black seems ambivalent, and somewhat evil
(doesn't intervene to prevent multiple murders, creates and unleashes
a vampire, etc.), but not as malevolent as a real devil.

That's not to say he may not be a Faust-like figure - Lupine sold her
soul, so there must be souls and entities to sell souls to.


One thing I didn't quite follow was the finances: when Bax explains
that the legacy was exhausted entirely, forcing him to seek a job,
doesn't that imply that it's all gone? Then why does he so prominently
depend on checks coming in the first couple letters?


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