The Gray House, Week 8



The plastic bag image was found here. The mop picture was found here.

We are coming to the end pages of the book. (I have already finished it, and I find myself in need of discussing this week and the last two, to see if among ourselves we can come to some conclusions, or discuss our different takes on what we are reading).

Today’s section:

Week 8 (pp. 522-604)

WEEK 8 AUDIO: cuts 42 – 45


Week 8 opens with this strange chapter. Red and his pack are cleaning the 2nd quarters, which is no easy feat. He has a quick vision of the place clean, he says, “In short, Sepulcher. The dear old home. Only without Spiders.”  But now it’s a different story, a filthy place.

For a pause, Red goes to the Coffeepot. Big mistake. There Gaby accuses him of ruining her life by making her pregnant. A huge fight ensues. The boys’ counselors show up, but the girls continue.

Red ends up with a swollen hand. He is beaten up. Ginger helps him clean up. She puts him with clothes under the shower, and when his razor falls, she asks worried about the razors and the 2nd.

Red goes to the Sepulcher for medical care. He says how he’s spent so much time in it (always in need of stitches, and being healed), and how he finds Corpse there, a character who is not doing so good, who has been told not to smoke yet he does smoke.

There’s this brilliant scene about the plastic bags, and how Corpse ‘hunts one down’, which Red appreciates much.

We are confirmed by Corpse and Red’s conversation that Red’s old nick was Death. He explains that’s because he sees those who are about to die before they do. They show up in dreams. He doesn’t like that.


Very mysterious chapter. Ralph tells us about the parents, the categories they have assigned them, Managers and Contacters, the first ones always pestering counselours with visits and phone calls, the second category appearing only before graduation.

Ralph explains again what Yuri said in his comment the previous week, about the admission of new students every six years, and the betrayal felt by the Seniors for having been exposed to a graduation when they were six years old.

All the counselors are stressed, they are dealing with the parents, and with their groups. We know that Ralph removed Smoker from the pack and placed him at the Sepulcher, because he feared for him.

Godmother (the girls director, and second to Shark) calls Ralph to her office. This woman is most intriguing, and their conversation one tense battle in which Ralph gets the message that she wants control, and he is not willing to side with her and leave his ‘kids’. Of notice is a young boy who had been listening.

Another meeting. This one with all the girls and boys’s counselors, Shark and Godmother. This scene was written to perfection. Ralph is looking through everybody’s actions and seeing their true personalities, their weaknesses and strengths too. They are what he called before, ‘his pack, his motley crew’. The tenderness at stake is moving. Godmother has plotted with Shark to take control of this graduation, so that whatever happened at the last one doesn’t repeat. But their chances of being on top are very slim. Godmother finally delivers this plan: they’d have graduation early, and none of them will be notified, so that the children won’t discover the date. Both Shark and Godmother want to also remove potential dangerous people for graduation.

Ralph finds himself trapped, and he goes to his office and presents his resignation. Shark and Godmother catch up with him at the canteen and convince him not to quit upon the promise that he will decide who is removed from the House.

That night Ralph attempts to get drunk, and he keeps thinking about what’d happen if they remove Blind from the House. He knows taking any of them outside would be a mistake. Then he thinks about the Lost Syndrome, that which happened to some who left the House and found themselves lost and returned.

He goes to the library to find files of those students. There, the night guard is set to help him, but Ralph doesn’t want his help. It happens this man is the former principal, who is not held in high esteem by Ralph. Ralph humors him, and it happens that this strange dwarfish character ends up taking him to his office. There Ralph sees he has a collection of not working clocks. He tells Ralph about time being different in the House. He also gives him liquor, a strange concoction the type those in the House drink. He tells him that Godmother is Vulture’s grandmother, and she is asking Ralph about removing those, only to trick him into letting her suggest a different person, Vulture. She doesn’t want Vulture to graduate and inherit her house, who is hers only as long as Vulture doesn’t get to it.

Ralph goes to an unrecognized area of the House guided by a young boy. There he admits to being a stoolie, a snitch, and he betrays his own and tells them the evil plots of the Outsides. Next morning Ralph is aghast when he hears that Godmother has left a resignation letter on the door of Shark. Ralph knows this has to do with the House denizens. It’s not her to staple a letter. Besides, they’ve found her car abandoned in the immediacies.


Ralph visits Smoker, and explains that he is not sick, that they put him there to get him out of danger. Ralph tells Smoker what happened in the last graduation, and that alone convinces a reluctant Smoker to keep a diary that he’ll get to Ralph, to alert him of the plans the pack has for graduation.

Smoker comes back to the dorm. Blind has a strange rush, they tell him it’s what happens to those removed from the House for a while. They tell him it was Ralph. To them, Ralph was wrong. He interrogated Blind, I believe, on the disappearance of Godmother. Tabaqui calls Ralph a nutter.

Smoker is confused, but he starts his diary. He tries, Tabaqui snatches the diary, and it becomes a common diary of sorts, where everybody starts writing odd and random things. Humpback went to the top of an oak tree, where he lives with his bird Nanette.

Tabaqui takes them to see his collection of junk, the special thing about it seems to be that it doesn’t belong to anyone. They don’t have an owner.

Smoker’s diary almost gets ruined by Tubby, but it’s salvaged. Pages 586 to 589 are the entries in the diary. From them we learn that they are hearing rumors about a bus, and some of them want to get on it. There’s something about Blind being paranoid, and he thinking about grandmothers. We know also that tents and people are surrounding the House.


This is another surreal chapter, a conversation between Blind and Humpback. Blind talks about being one with the House. Humpback doesn’t like that Blind knows and takes their dreams from them. Blind says they are not dreams. There’s a strange talk about a transformation those who have these dreams endure.

We are learning now about Blind bringing people ‘over’. And at the designations, he, Noble, Sleepy and Corpse are told to go completely over. Is this completely over the Forest? Blind wants Humpback to be present in the next Fairy Tale Night, and be the Pied Piper, playing his flute and driving them away. He asks for Madrigal of Henry the VIII.

I have left many things unsaid, but I’m willing to discuss them in the comments.

108 thoughts on “The Gray House, Week 8

  1. Yuri wrote: “… Blind’s imperative to avoid the reprise of the previous graduation is absolute. In a sense, Blind spared Black Pompey’s fate by dragging him into the Fourth – because there was always a possibility that, left as a Leader, Black could have risen to challenge Blind in time….”

    Wow … yea, *nods head*.

  2. Katie wrote: “KATIE OSBORNE
    25 Jul 2017 at 5:10 pm
    I am the queen of one last thing! Vulture was the one who was torturing the cat. I am not sure if he sustained a leg injury from that encounter. I thought maybe both twins had a limp. In fact, I had wondered if they had literally been Siamese twins or if that was merely the nick they were given. I kinda assumed that they had been separated and the gimpy leg was because of that. But I guess that probably doesn’t make sense since they both seemed to have complete bodies.”

    The other twin was the one torturing the cat, not Vulture … ?

  3. What happened to Max was one of the unanswered questions for me …

  4. (for the alternative conversation I mean :). But alll the rest of the comments on this week are amazing!

  5. Sweet, because I’m done with the book and I feel bereft. I need to go back and reread the ending — like Katie I raced through it and was getting tired by the end — and then I need to come and talk to y’all. I’m going to have some serious Book Ennui once I finally call The Gray House completed and lay it aside (until the next reading).

  6. Thanks for your explanations, this comment brings much clarity. So, according to Blind, she is on the Other Side completely/ she run away scared by some in the House who were alerted by Ralph of her intentions towards Vulture.

    Tomorrow, in week 9, you’ll have an alternative final talk between Blind and Sphinx, and in it, we see a Blind who can see, with a motorcycle parked by his place on the Other Side.

  7. Dragging over, in Blind’s parlance, is relocating someone to the Other Side (and “completely” meaning no trace of the person remains here). She’s fine there, the caretaker of the House gets to care for her (and now with the alternative final talk, I think we know where the motorcycle is from that is used to bring her). The black car is probably not connected to anything, just a reminder of what Sphinx said talking to Noble in the Sepulcher – that the Other Side is not a nice place.
    Back in the world of “realistic” explanations, Godmother could have run away without using the car, and everything that Ralph finds out – the car moved to the nearby street, the fake resignation letter and the cleaned-out room – was performed by the House folk overnight.

  8. I’ll go back and try to find out if it was Vulture. I’m sure about that incident. Whether his leg was already injured or not, he was in that pitch torturing a cat, and someone came to torture him, Lame? (I’ll try to clarify the confusion later today).

  9. Yes! That’s right. That was compelling. Oh my goodness, I really need to reread all that. Yes, I am a broken record. Okay, I really am leaving now!

  10. I am the queen of one last thing! Vulture was the one who was torturing the cat. I am not sure if he sustained a leg injury from that encounter. I thought maybe both twins had a limp. In fact, I had wondered if they had literally been Siamese twins or if that was merely the nick they were given. I kinda assumed that they had been separated and the gimpy leg was because of that. But I guess that probably doesn’t make sense since they both seemed to have complete bodies.

    Yes. he did say that, Vulture said it should have been him, and he also says he’s remained a mere Jumper, even after all the poison he has forced into himself.

  12. I too am heading down to cook dinner. I will also be thinking of your questions, Katie. I may be confused about that chapter when one twin was looking down the window, and there were two people, one in a hole, who was torturing a kitty, and another who shows up, and hurts him in the leg as he was doing to that kitty. (But it may have been Vulture -his leg is hurt), and his brother died of an ailment, as you said.

  13. Oh, and last thing for now, about Vulture…..didn’t he say somewhere in the last chapters that his brother should have been the one to survive? That only sounds vaguely familiar. I was galloping through the last part and was getting tired. I don’t have a good handle on everything that happened.

  14. Hmm. I thought Vulture’s brother just died of an ailment. I don’t know now. I’m not sure how much contact Blind and Vulture usually have. Off the top of my mind, in the Forest chapter they interact and are amicable. Ummm…yeah, without going through the book, I really can’t think of other times. It does seem that the house residents are drawn closer and closer together as the book progresses. We see them connecting in friendship with others who haven’t shared many scenes in the teenage years. I think that Lary just gets excited and anxious about everything. I don’t think he had a serious reason to worry. Remember how freaked he was getting about the rumored coup in book one? My take is that he’s just an excitable fellow. I don’t remember those guys being called Cases…..I will have to check that out. Time for me to get supper started, but I want to peruse the book with your questions in mind and report back!

  15. True, it was Darling and Sheep. Then Catwoman could be Godmother turned to a girl once more. (But Humpback sees her in his dreams as a toddler.) Has Ginger’s bear any significance in all this? Are they all regressing to their childhood?

  16. Ha! I’m not the only one who changes perspective all the time.

    Was Black provoking Blind, then? Was that insanity a clue, or a rule that means fight?

    Maybe he thought he had a better chance that day? (Since Blind had taken a beating by Ralph), or did Black know at all?

  17. Catwoman is the other girl who lives in the room with Ginger, Rat and Mermaid. We never hear that much about her. Darling is the counselor who was demeaning Mermaid for wanting to go to the boys’ side. Sheep was the counselor who was in the scene with Rat and PRIP.

  18. All of the sudden I’m thinking about this question, who killed Vulture’s twin brother? Is that important? Did you know that Blind and Vulture talked? (I had never seen them interact until now, I don’t think.) Also, -don’t read this if you have not read week 9-, at the search in the canteen, Noble, Alexander, and Blind, are called Cases (I get that they were interrogated about whatever they were looking for.) And, don’t read this if you have not finished the book, -why is Lary all anxious. Are they searching the House for drugs, items like a hotplate and ‘insignificant’ things, or corpses?

  19. Oh yes, I do that too. I come to my conclusions and view everything through that lens and can be very stubborn about it all, but then I also can come to the point of being easily persuaded by the arguments of others and getting very lost as to what I actually think.

    I’ve been very confused about what motivated Black to throw that crazy show and how that led to the fight with Blind. I really don’t know. I do think it was an act, but I don’t know for sure.

  20. Yeah, that’s right. I also thought Ginger was talking about Catwoman. Are the two conversations talking about different women? I think in one part when Rat is talking to her father, Darling is there, and the other one was Godmother, right?, so she is a different person than Catwoman.

  21. Now that you say it, I do think you are right about Black. What would compel him? Now this car is going to be a big question mark in my mind!

    It does seem like he told Vulture that she was weakening, but he also told Humpback that she was tenacious.

    Actually, I found that conversation between Blind and Vulture, p577, and Vulture asks how she is doing. Smoker “can’t hear Blind’s answer, but as he speaks he shows Vulture the palm of his hand for some reason.” (We know she bites). Vulture says, “What an utterly vicious creature.”

    THEN, the next dialogue is Ginger saying to Sphinx, “I don’t think she’s got much left….Even the cats are avoiding her.” So she must be talking about Catwoman being ill. This quick switch in conversation may have made us remember in a way that we thought Godmother was the weak one. Or maybe there is another conversation that I missed….

  22. Better scratch that, the martial art scenes I love don’t have blood. I would not have liked to watch that fight between Blind and Black. Nope.

  23. That’s how I took it. They had that war that night, and remember Black, so beaten up yet so proud of having held Blind so well. Sphinx worried for a moment about Blind, and he came back a la Rocky with his Karate Kid/Matrix eerie moves, kind of like the martial arts scenes I love to watch.

    Going back to that night. What was the reason why Blind attacked Black? Wasn’t Black feigning an insanity crisis, with yells of someone that’s about to loose it? (Sphinx says he thought he faked it, that he looked like someone about to play a role, but did he fake it until he got into that role for real?) You see, here again I’m trying desperately to find something that leads me to the topic of insanity. And all because Yuri said that Noble had been in a mental institution when he left the House for a while, and my incriminating Blind was moved too because of my friendship with Sherry, when she said she did not like Blind, (I’m too like this, I’m ready to interpret reality or things according to my loyalties and feelings, and then I find the facts to present it in a rational way.)

    I’ve been editing CM (as I have been telling you all to boredom!), and I am thinking about the will and the reason, once I choose something, I search for arguments to explain or justify. But if my friends say something else (as when Sarah differed about Alexander and Sphinx), I just move to their side and regroup my facts, huh!

  24. Hmm, yeah, I like that. Was that fight their own mini-war? Black conceded and he knows his place and will not try to usurp Blind’s authority, so it is safe for Blind to place him in leadership?

  25. I just so love hearing everyone’s reactions. This is definitely a book that is going to draw many perspectives and opinions, and that is fascinating to me.

    I am an idealist, often to a fault, so it’s not natural for me to think along some of the lines that you do, especially in a fantastical book. My imagination if going to run with the fantastic. That’s why, as I’ve said before, I am glad for your more down to earth point of view. It took me along time to be convinced that they were using drugs, when you were seeing that from the outset.

    Blind is such a tricky character. I still have come to no conclusion about him, but there are certain passages that have put him in a better light for me. I no longer think he is malevolent, but I’m not sure how good he is. I honestly don’t know. Now that I’m on a Christian fairy tale kick, I’ll say that someone might be able to put together an argument that he is like Aslan: not safe, but good. I don’t think I want to go so far as to make that argument, but I am very open to interpretations about Blind.

    I don’t think well in my head, and I really need to just start writing in order to find out what I think. The Moses parallel came out of nowhere, but once I said it, I thought it seemed right. lol

  26. Mariam leaves clues for all personalities. For me, I cannot forget about the car being a black car. Maybe that’s a trap, a false clue that leads nowhere. Didn’t Blind say something about her becoming weak in the Underside?, and not knowing how long she’ll last? Vulture, according to Ralph, was the one who forged his grandmother’s letter. Now I’m getting very confused with Blind’s concept of leaving and staying, -coming up soon.

    I mean, if Vulture’s grandmother (Godmother), did not want him to graduate and inherit the family House?, how is removing her from the House going to stop that? OK, yes, now Vulture can leave by himself, and inhabit the family home?, alone? The night-guard was the former principal, was he reliable when he says that Godmother is Vulture’s grandmother?

    Trying to find a rational answer is impossible. I cannot see Black driving that car.What’s in it for him? I don’t think he cares about Vulture, only about the bus for him and others who will leave with him.

  27. Blind resolved to put Black as the leader of the Sixth when they were at the Cage, right? Sphinx hints that that was also unusual, if the had stayed longer, that resolution would have been very unlikely. I think we can say that yes, it speaks well of Blind, of his trust of Black, and that’s a good solution. Since they already fought, and Black proved an honorable contender, they will not be fighting till the point of death anymore.

  28. Ooh, I didn’t connect that scene with possibly being Godmother’s car. Interesting. Like I said yesterday, I really need to go back and reread those last chapters. I haven’t stopped to make much sense of them at this point. I too wondered how her car was found outside the House. Maybe Vulture was able to drive it off the property – or Black? Black has mentioned more than once that he learned how to drive. Maybe they enlisted his help?

    You know me, I have no explanation for what could have happened to her except that she was literally dragged into the underside. LOL

  29. Katie, your comment opened my eyes so much. I love how you read it, it speaks so well of you. And all this while I’m incriminating Blind of a crime he’s not committed, and again, reducing (trying to!) jumpers and striders to stunned accomplices of those crimes.

    Yuri is right when he reminds us of Blind’s character. Blind is not a person who kills just for killing, and saving Black by bringing him to the Fourth, would be in keeping with Blind.

    My friend Shang used to say that when we talk about others, we truly talk about ourselves. Back to your comment, Katie, I know you were just showing us all that the text has ignited in you, or the connections, the many thoughts and insights that it’s affording you. I don’t think Mariam (or any other author who is this great), has to have those ideas consciously present, but when someone like her is so able to pour all her own self into her creation, the book is meant to uncover so much in us (the pretty and the ugly). Or should I say, uncover so much beauty in some, like it did in you, because today, in me, it only resonated with my literal and pessimistic strike, the part of me that sees this world as a place full of violence, ugliness, evil. My realistic approach is killing the magic of this book.

    I think it was Lewis who called Christianity the one and only true fairy tale. I loved your comparison of Humpback and Moses. Their conversation is very powerful, it doesn’t deserve to be read at that low level as I did, lol.

  30. Yuri, that is a compelling thought, that Blind pulled Black in to avoid another Skull/Moor incident. We never did hear how Black ends up in the fourth. So you hypothesize that after the juniors saw the horror of the senior’s graduation, Blind resolved at that time to keep that from happening to his group, and that he somehow convinced Black to leave Stuffage and join the 4th? The fact that Black becomes a leader again in the last days must mean that Blind has gained sufficient trust in Black. Or what was Blind’s motivation for moving him? I don’t remember if we are really given an explanation.

  31. Oh, I feel horrible about thinking that Blind could have killed Godmother. When he says he took her over, what does it mean? (If Vulture and others scared her, why did her car appeared abandoned?) I think I may have read too much into Godmother’s fate because I’ve finished the book, and there’s that black car with blood and a severed finger. But it’s true that Blind says that, if Ralph had not taken him out of the House, he would have told him more about Godmother.

  32. Could halfway gone refer to any jumper or strider? Someone who lives half in one world, half in the other?

    Silvia said: “Isn’t Humpback tormented by a girl toddler in his dreams? (It’s possible that Humpback saw Blind killing Godmother?) Maybe he is scared that his witnessing the crime will make Blind want to ‘remove him too’?”

    Yes. In the chapter with Blind he talks about this girl, and it is Godmother. “The girl with a surprisingly heavy gaze, wearing a battered short dress stained with egg yolk and blood.” (597)

    Humpback thinks she is a dream. Maybe she is the specific reason why he moved to the tree. Trying to escape her. This morning I was wondering about Humpback’s status as a jumper. I just found a passage in his conversation with Blind that explains a bit. Blind has told him that the girl is not a dream and through the conversation, Humpback comes to an understanding of things. He says, “so I’m a jumper?” Perhaps he’s like Ralph and he doesn’t have a memory of his jumps. Blind tells him that he had no choice but to drag her over. “I’ve left her with you to wake you up.” Wake him up to his ability to go to the underside, I presume?

    As I’m rereading parts of this chapter, I just have to say again how much I love it. It’s one of the best in the book. Humpback’s struggle to accept what he’s being told and discovering about himself, yet his belief that it is true, in Christian terms, is that sense of “I believe, Lord help my unbelief.” He says, “I know you’re not lying, but I still can’t believe it.” “This is crazy! Complete nonsense! Do you even understand what you’re babbling about, Blind? I’m not the Pied Piper. He only exists in fairy tales! And I am not him! I don’t believe in all this, anyway.” To which Blind says, “Believing is not a requirement.” I know I’m imposing my own Christianity on the text, but I think there’s a great deal of universality in the struggle with believing and with what I am going to say. (I’m not suggesting Blind is God or a god, btw). Humpback had an epiphany – realizing that he is a jumper. He knows it’s true, but his rational self is trying to impose and deny. Fighting against it, finding it illogical or impossible, doesn’t change the trueness of the truth. He can choose to believe it or not; that doesn’t affect the truth because it is absolute and exists apart from man. I would also say that, while he may wrestle and fight against it, if he is chosen, then he is in a way marked, and he can run temporarily, but he will ultimately surrender himself. He reminds me here of Moses. “Who am I to do this thing? I’m not the one you’re looking for.” And yet, we know he does. He is compelled, I think because resist as he might, he knows the truth and he will take on the task that is given to him. (Ooh, and like Moses, the task with which he is charged is to lead people from one land to another).

    Towards the end of the encounter Humpback says, “Wait! I need to ask you…lots of things.” “Humpback’s breath is labored. He’s chasing the questions that refuse to be caught. He already knows those lots of things, all that’s been embedded in the songs, poems, sayings, and nursery rhymes. All the miracles of the House have been distilled into them, and he swallowed them whole at the age when miracles mundanely coexist with the rest of reality, so he already has the answers to most of the questions he could ask now. The longer he searches fro them, the better he understand that this is so.” (This is so very lovely). ❤

    Again, I acknowledge that I am reading personal faith in here, but I still think it's worth saying. Humpback has a conversion. And the above passage resonates with the idea of the laws of God being written on man's heart. And particularly this idea of hearing the Truth since childhood – being taught through stories, hymns, etc., even if you run, these truths are there in your soul, waiting, and they will be recalled to your mind, and they will not let you be; you will be pursued, wooed, and eventually brought home. Once he accepts that the House has chosen him, the stories open his mind to the truth that he can no longer deny, and he finds that he understands so much more than he thought he did.

    I don't know where this idea originated, but some of the Christian artists and thinkers I gravitate toward talk about the gospel as the true fairy tale. Sounds a bit like Chesterton or Lewis, but whatever the case, it is an idea that sometimes visits me when I'm reading this book. Don't know why, really. Obviously there are many fairy tale elements in this book, and perhaps the fact that it is layered with spirituality calls this idea to mind. It's just a lovely thought. And a major tangent! I'm not trying to speculate about Mariam's personal beliefs or trying to cram her book into a Christian worldview. I don't think to do so is respectful to her or the text. I simply sense spiritual depth to this book – a real desire for transcendence and belief in more than can be explained with our senses and intellect. And I appreciate it. And I see parallels to my own spiritual journey.

  33. I don’t think Blind did to Grandmother anything other than what he said. He wouldn’t kill unless 1) there is a direct threat to him (and/or the House) and 2) there is no other way to neutralize it. After Godmother’s plans have been uncovered, she was no longer an imminent danger. Pompey was an exception, “not one of the old ones”, one who did not understand that Blind’s imperative to avoid the reprise of the previous graduation is absolute. In a sense, Blind spared Black Pompey’s fate by dragging him into the Fourth – because there was always a possibility that, left as a Leader, Black could have risen to challenge Blind in time.
    Also, I believe Blind when he says that under the threat of not returning to the House he told Ralph everything that he considered to be the truth – namely, that he (or they) did not physically do anything to Godmother, and that there is no place where she (or her body) could be extracted from. It would take an enormous feat of self-delusion to kill her and then convince himself that nothing like that happened, and I don’t think even Blind is capable of that.
    As for the “realistic” explanation of what happened – Vulture, with the help of other inventive individuals, could easily scare her so much that night that she would indeed run far and fast.

  34. This comment came as I’m typing week 10’s section on Smoker retelling Vulture’s tale of the witch.
    Once more we have clues that could point to the real world, and words that take us to that ‘created or alternative’ reality that some in the House live and talk about as real.
    As you are asking these questions, I’m too moving from one explanation/world, to the other.
    We can say, Blind killed Godmother, but he did not want to, he did it because Godmother was going to put an end to the House?, taking her over completely may be not only killing her, but removing her from the House. Ralph took Blind outside to interrogate him about Godmother, and Blind developed a rush, an illness, a sign that he cannot live outside the House.
    Bringing someone over can also mean they go totally crazy, as in mentally gone. But then we have this other world, and I like what you say about it, in it, Godmother is now a toddler. Isn’t Humpback tormented by a girl toddler in his dreams? (It’s possible that Humpback saw Blind killing Godmother?) Maybe he is scared that his witnessing the crime will make Blind want to ‘remove him too’?
    Sometimes I read the Undersides as a dangerous world that Blind’s sick mind has created, and when the others play ‘his game’, they are ‘safe’, but at one point, all of them are at risk of being ‘killed’ by Blind. Is being a Jumper being an accomplice of something? And being a Strider means being someone who deliberately enters that reality they share when they ‘play those games’ -which can be mental flips that come to them by drugs, epilepsy, their own mental condition?

  35. What do you all make of Godmother’s disappearance? I’m not sure, myself. I’m just gonna start talking a bit and see what comes out…..

    I guess my first question is, did Blind kill her? I know Blind is responsible for her disappearance, but did he kill her in the real world to move her to the underside? Did he use the touch of the Fairy Fool? In his conversation with Humpback, he confirms that she will stay there forever. Humpback asks where her body is. He imagines a chrysalis hidden in a locker. We will hear more about chrysalides later in the book. But Blind says he dragged her over completely. This phrase makes me think that he didn’t physically harm her, but physically forced her into the underside. He pulled her into the other world with him and left her there. She has no way to get back. In the underside, she becomes this rather beastly, ill-tempered toddler. Is that because, underneath her cool and refined facade, this is who she truly is? Is she sorta a reverse changeling? She’s become a human baby, left in the fairy world?

    It’s very difficult to drag someone over completely. I get the impression that this was a one time thing that Blind was willing to do to protect his friend. He says, “the house doesn’t like it and makes you pay.” He adds to himself, “with fear, with the possibility of losing everything. With helplessness, banishment, and sometimes even death.” Was his temporary removal from the house by Ralph part of his punishment? Why does he fear these things? Will the House turn on him? Reject him for his deed? In that case, he becomes helpless because he is at the mercy of the House. His power is nothing compared to the House. Why doesn’t the House like it? I think it is the House who chooses who it will admit into the Underside. So Blind is going above the House to do this thing.

    Blind says that when he was outside the House, he ceased to exist. Turned into a nonentity. I wonder what that looked like to Ralph. Blind was once able to survive outside of the House, but now he can’t survive without it. Why? Is it because he needs the Forest?

    I love the end of that chapter with Humpback. He says, “I am not going to ask you to bring me over completely.” At this point, to what extent can Humpback go to the Underside? At the beginning of part two he is not listed as a jumper or a strider. Does he become one? I don’t remember any references to him jumping at this point of the reading. Yet it seems understood between these two boys that he wants to go there rather than go into the outsides. And Blind does ask him to be the piper for the insensible, so it seems he must be able to get there.

    Blind says, “I will find you there. And then I will bring you over. I’m allowed to do that to those who are already halfway gone. I think. I hope. But it might take time.” I love how Humpback continues to affirm that Blind doesn’t need to do anything for him. What does it mean that some, presumably Humpback, are halfway gone?

  36. I said that. It’s a mix of disturbing (because of the non human element Blind brings), and fascinating (kind of Matrix like), a dance of death, so much in that!

  37. Ooh, can’t wait for that!

    I found the Yeats essay fascinating, especially in relation to the book. I was thinking about the fight with Blind and Black and this idea that the Fairy Fool kills with a touch. Obviously, Black was merely beat up, but the fact that it was barely perceptible that Blind touched him….I still like my theory that he was able to do that because he can access and enter the underside at will, but I like how this discovery adds to that. Sphinx calls it a dance of death. Not sure if there is a fairy dance with that name, but the way Blind is described, I can picture it in a fairy-ish way. Or maybe it’s an allusion to the dance macabre. Or maybe it was simply the best way to describe Blind’s movements. 🙂

    Someone mentioned that this scene is much more disturbing than Pompey’s death, and I agree. Absolutely.

  38. Thank you for all the fascinating bits of insight you provide throughout these discussions!

    I didn’t know that Jonathan Livingston Seagull was a book. Reading the synopsis, I see why it would be an important one for Ginger. When we first meet her, she is so determined to become a jumper.

    I have such admiration for the intricacy of this book. I’m sure I’ve missed so many allusions, but each one that I get, adds such depth to the story. So many layers! I think it would be easy for an author to throw around a lot of literary allusions and cultural references with pretension, but I get the sense that Mariam was very deliberate and mindful with her choices. Each one feels very organic. Each gentle and unassuming, not drawing attention to itself, but properly enhancing the story – taking the readers hand as we navigate this strange world.

  39. Thanks, Katie, for expanding on those references. I loved reading that passage by Tabaqui with the new information you’ve shared, Yeats, and the fairy tales. And Castaneda, and the story So that’s Jonathan-Ginger!, and the book about a Seagull they all pass around and read.

    I can’t wait to discuss weeks 9 and 10 with you! (And there’s a bonus on week 9, Yuri sent me the link to an alternative conversation he translated between Blind and Sphinx, an alternative to the one coming in week 9)

  40. FWIW, Mariam says that she herself did not particularly like either Castaneda or “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” (although she’d read them both, of course), but felt that both of these would be meaningful books for the people of the House – that is, they’d be passed around, quoted and weaved into the lore (and Vulture references Castaneda too when he mentions “that old fart Don Juan Matus”)

  41. And yes, I finished the book last night. I binged and read too much, so now I really need to reread the last 50 pages to gain some perspective. And then I need to reread the entire book. Hahaha.

  42. I want to make another connection that doesn’t come for a while in the book. It’s not a plot spoiler, so I hope you all don’t mind! Yeats’ book is called Celtic Twilight. There is another literary reference about twilight that comes in the Epilogue. Ginger remembers having read a phrase is some book, but she has forgotten everything now except this phrase: “The twilight is the crack between the worlds.” (A few weeks back we were musing over the crack that Blind was experiencing). This phrase is from a book called The Teachings of Don Juan, by Carlos Castanenda.

    Wiki: “Carlos Castaneda (December 25, 1925[nb 1]–April 27, 1998) was an American author with a Ph.D. in anthropology.
    Starting with The Teachings of Don Juan in 1968, Castaneda wrote a series of books that describe his training in shamanism, particularly with a group whose lineage descended from the Toltecs. The books, narrated in the first person, relate his experiences under the tutelage of a Yaqui “Man of Knowledge” named don Juan Matus. His 12 books have sold more than 28 million copies in 17 languages. Critics have suggested that they are works of fiction; supporters claim the books are either true or at least valuable works of philosophy and descriptions of practices which enable an increased awareness.
    Castaneda withdrew from public view in 1973 to work further on his inner development, living in a large house in Westwood, California with three colleagues whom he called “Fellow Travellers of Awareness.” He founded Cleargreen, an organization that promotes Tensegrity, which Dr. Castaneda described as the modern version of the “magical passes” of the shamans of ancient Mexico.[6] Magical Passes comprise bodily movements discovered in dream states by shamans of don Juan’s lineage, expanding their powers of perception.[7]”

    Below is an excerpt from this site:

    “This book records the experiences of an anthropology student who becomes the apprentice of don Juan, a Yaqui indian “man of knowledge” who is also a “diablero”, a black sorcerer. It is a profoundly disturbing book since it opens up areas and ideas we usually dismiss or deny. Don Juan, over a period of five years, teaches the author a little of his knowledge. He teaches through giving his apprentice various psycho-active plants: peyote, datura, and a mixture of psilocybin mushrooms, genista canariensis, and other plants. Each of these plants has its own way of teaching, its own demands and its own kind of power. For those of us who thought we understood psychedelic effects this book reveals the rudimentary state of our knowledge. For those of us who have dismissed magic as a combination of hypnotism and stage effects we are confronted with powerful and effective magic which seems irrefutable.

    Don Juan himself appears as a powerful, indecipherable, wise man whose knowledge is both extensive and alien to our own. He offers to each of us the possibility of dealing with other realities, but he makes it clear that all these ways are dangerous, difficult and once entered, cannot be put aside as simply another experience.

    The goal of his teaching is partially expressed as follows:

    The particular thing to learn is how to get to the crack between the worlds and how to enter the other world. There is a crack between the two worlds, the world of the diableros and the world of living men. There is a place where these two worlds overlap. The crack is there. It opens and closes like a door in the wind. To get there a man must exercise his will. He must, I should say, develop an indomitable desire for it, a single-minded dedication. But he must do it without the help of any power or any man…”,

    A little further down he talks about paths:

    “I say it is useless to waste your life on one path, especially if that path has no heart.”
    “But how do you know when a path has no heart, Don Juan?”

    “Before you embark on it you ask the question, Does this path have a
    heart? If the answer is no, you will know it, and then you must choose
    another path.”

    “But how will I know for sure whether a Path has a heart or not?”

    Anybody would know that. The trouble is nobody asks the- question; and when a man finally realizes that he has taken a path without a heart the path is ready to kill him. At that point very few men can stop to deliberate, and leave the path.”

    “How should I proceed to ask the question properly, don Juan?”

    “Just ask it.”

    “I mean, is there a proper method, so I would not lie to myself and
    believe the answer is yes when it really is no?”

    “Why would you lie?”

    “Perhaps because at the moment the path is pleasant and enjoyable.”

    “That is nonsense. A path without a heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy; ft does not make you work at liking it.

    You have the vanity to believe you live in two worlds, but that is only your vanity. There is but one single world for us. We are men, and must follow the world of men contentedly.


    Castaneda was writing during the same era as Led Zeppelin. The band, like many bands of the 60’s used psychoactive plants. I still want to get back to talking about Stairway to Heaven, but I have kids asking for breakfast. That song, I think is about the path we choose to take, and I wonder if Led Zeppelin was reading Castaneda………

  43. Maybe it’s just not a common reference for us. I wonder if the original audience would have readily understood it. I’m guessing yes. From what I read, changelings are rather prevalent in the folktales of Northeastern Europe and England/Scotland/Wales/Ireland. There is another reference to Irish fairy lore that occurs in next week’s reading.

    This is Tabaqui remembering as he drives up to the Crossroads: “The Amadan-na-Breena changes his shape every two days. Sometimes he comes like a youngster, and then he’ll come like the worst of beasts, trying to give the touch he used to be. I heard of late he was shot, but I think myself it would be hard to shoot him.” (620).

    The Amadan-na-Breena is the Fairy Fool in Irish Folklore; also called the Fool of the Otherworldly Hall. His touch brings madness, paralysis, or death – and his touch is incurable. He is most active in June. He changes shape, appearing as a young man or wild beast.

    Yeats wrote about the Fairy Fool in an essay in his book The Celtic Twilight. In fact, the passagge Tabaqui is remembering is from Yeats. It gives accounts from several people who claim to have seen the Adadan-na-Breena. I’m copying and pasting Yeats’ final thoughts. I think they will add to our discussion:

    “What else can death be but the beginning of wisdom and power and beauty? and foolishness may be a kind of death. I cannot think it wonderful that many should see a fool with a shining vessel of some enchantment or wisdom or dream too powerful for mortal brains in ‘every household of them.’ It is natural, too, that there should be a queen to every household of them, and that one should hear little of their kings, for women come more easily than men to that wisdom which ancient peoples, and all wild peoples even now, think the only wisdom. The self, which is the foundation of our knowledge, is broken in pieces by foolishness, and is forgotten in the sudden emotions of women, and therefore fools may get, and women do get of a certainty, glimpses of much that sanctity finds at the end of its painful journey. The man who saw the white fool said of a certain woman, not a peasant woman, ‘If I had her power of vision I would know all the wisdom of the gods, and her visions do not interest her.’ And I know of another woman, also not a peasant woman, who would pass in sleep into countries of an unearthly beauty, and who never cared for anything but to be busy about her house and her children; and presently an herb doctor cured her, as he called it. Wisdom and beauty and power may sometimes, as I think, come to those who die every day they live, though their dying may not be like the dying Shakespeare spoke of. There is a war between the living and the dead, and the Irish stories keep harping upon it. They will have it that when the potatoes or the wheat or any other of the fruits of the earth decay, they ripen in faery, and that our dreams lose their wisdom when the sap rises in the trees, and that our dreams can make the trees wither, and that one hears the bleating of the lambs of faery in November, and that blind eyes can see more than other eyes. Because the soul always believes in these, or in like things, the cell and the wilderness shall never be long empty, or lovers come into the world who will not understand the verse–

    Heardst thou not sweet words among
    That heaven-resounding minstrelsy?
    Heardst thou not that those who die
    Awake in a world of ecstasy?
    How love, when limbs are interwoven,
    And sleep, when the night of life is cloven,
    And thought to the world’s dim boundaries clinging,
    And music when one’s beloved is singing,
    Is death?”

  44. Pingback: The Gray House, Week 4 Addition and Revised Schedule | Silvia Cachia

  45. Wow, Katie, I also thought a changeling was someone who metamorphoses, not the child of a fairy! That information from wiki was amazing! And I read that there’s someone else described as changeling, Humpback? (I cannot remember now who).

    I second your idea of a huge white board where to pin all this, drawings, quotes, etc, to piece this together.

    Listening to Babe, I’m going to leave you, after having read the book, it’s such an experience,

    I’m also known for stretching things, or reading too much, but when Yuri said Mariam likes Never Let Me Go, by Ishiguro, I remember that in it, a song says something about the plot. There’s a tape, and a song that one of the main characters listens to, and the words have a meaning, and the girl dancing to it has a meaning, and another person looking at her dancing, cries, because it all has to do what what’s going on. And we know more about it at the end. The song says, ‘babe, I’m going to leave you, when the summertime comes, and then it goes on to say, babe, I won’t ever leave you.’

  46. This is a good question. I would like to revisit some earlier chapters to better remember how Wolf and Blind interacted. You do make me wonder what Blind really thought about Wolf – what he might have known about him. Based on what he said to Ralph, it’s clear that he had not affection for him, but whether that’s purely jealousy or something more, I can’t confidently say right now.

  47. Haha, I like how you describe Smoker’s experience. Yeah, he can’t handle it!

    At this point, I clearly see that drugs are playing an important role in the experiences of the residents, but like you said, there’s more to getting to the underside than drugs. Not everyone who ingests them goes to the underside, and there are those who do go to the underside who don’t seem to take anything to get there.

  48. You guys, I feel incredibly daft right now. How could I not know that a changeling is a fairy child?! I thought it was the same as a shape shifter. Blind does seem to have the ability to shape shift in the underside, but understanding what a changeling is sheds a little more light for me.

    From Wikipedia: “A changeling is a creature found in folklore and folk religion. A changeling child was believed to be a fairy child that had been left in place of a human child stolen by the fairies. The theme of the swapped child is common in medieval literature and reflects concern over infants thought to be afflicted with unexplained diseases, disorders, or developmental disabilities.”

    “Some stories tell of changelings who forget they are not human and proceed to live a human life. Changelings which do not forget, however, in some stories return to their fairy family, possibly leaving the human family without warning. The human child that was taken may often stay with the fairy family forever.”

    “The reality behind many changeling legends was often the birth of deformed or developmentally disabled children. Among the diseases or disabilities with symptoms that match the description of changelings in various legends are spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, PKU, progeria, Down syndrome, homocystinuria, Williams syndrome, Hurler syndrome, Hunter syndrome, regressive autism, Prader-Willi Syndrome, and cerebral palsy. The greater incidence of birth defects in boys correlates to the belief that male infants were more likely to be taken.[31]
    As noted, it has been hypothesized that the changeling legend may have developed, or at least been used, to explain the peculiarities of children who did not develop normally, probably including all sorts of developmental delays and abnormalities. In particular, it has been suggested that children with autism would be likely to be labeled as changelings or elf-children due to their strange, sometimes inexplicable behavior. For example, this association might explain why fairies are often described as having an obsessive impulse to count things like handfuls of spilled seeds. This has found a place in autistic culture. Some autistic adults have come to identify with changelings (or other replacements, such as aliens) for this reason and their own feeling of being in a world where they do not belong and of practically not being the same species as the other people around them.”

    So is Blind the only changeling? My mind is chasing so many different avenues of thought with this book that I feel I can hardly think at all. I need to slow down and think one thought at a time to conclusion. I think I need a big blank wall on which to pin all my little scraps of information until I’m ready to start stringing things together. lol

  49. In one word, drugs don’t let you in this other side of the House (I believe Tabaqui doesn’t take any, and he is the master of those jumps, right?) When Noble drank in the first part of the book, the drink that took him to the Sepulcher, others were watching that he was OK, right? I think these children take care of each other in everything they do, whether it’s just to eat, move to places, or watch out when they drink Moon River.

    Sphinx was chained to Wolf (literally or symbolically), the night he died. Blind tells Ralph they were watching, and everything was fine, until they realized it wasn’t fine -he never woke up. I firmly believe that Wolf was selfish. Maybe Alexander feels responsible because of what he didn’t do, more than what he did, like not warning him, or not watching him in the night -for signs of something going wrong?, or for keeping to himself, maybe, that what Wolf was taking that night was stronger, different somehow? But, can this overdose be just Wolf’s greediness, and his selfish or individual act? In this case, overdose can mean overconfidence, lack of precaution, feeling ‘immortal’, not needing Alexander or anyone, wanting to have that lonely trip after feeling so accomplished about his blackmailing Alexander, rejoicing with a ‘little help’ of his anticipated leadership with Blind out of the picture!

    Blind’s explanation to Ralph, to me, shows that Blind did not care one way or another, they let him ‘be and do’, it was unexpected, but, as Ralph inquires, it seems something that could have been prevented. (If Wolf were Blind’s friend, I’m pretty sure Blind would have checked before thinking he was placidly sleeping, or Alexander would, for sure, have been in a vigil, -as he seemed to be by Noble’s side when he had that phase of drinking that loaded coffee and looking like a maniac-

  50. And again, though I don’t think we can reduce all this to the drug issue, I think that the drugs accentuate who they are and how they live. Noble, when he takes drugs, he experiences his body moving freely, even visiting Ginger, becoming one with the House, but drugs also accentuate his troubled mind and body, his legs freeze, his torso is on fire.

    Vulture admits he is glad to have something that night (the night of Red’s attack) for his leg’s pain.

    Smoker. He was pretty stupid when he drunk at Vulture’s tent. He was a kitty. It’s like the whole experience fell too big on him. And after, he kept going from, “I loved it”, to “I was so terrified, poor me”!

    Was it Black or Humpback who says, (I’m paraphrasing), shut up, Blind told you not to go out. (I read it as ‘you are such a pussy to be playing with big boys toys’.

    Tabaqui, he just has a blast. In any case, his personality is like he’s already ‘on drugs’ in a good sense. And he never seems to wake up with any bad dreams or vibes after these intense and scary nights they have, as Sphinx says. Sphinx seems in control when he drinks. I think what I was entertaining some comments ago, about the difference between substances and hallucinations, I’m seeing now more as a difference in themselves, who they are, period. That’s why I don’t think anymore the Forest, or the Undersides, etc, are just a product of their hallucinations or of the imagination. I’m willing to believe in more than the untrained eyes see.

  51. By the way, I’m remembering how Blind was also crucial in ‘saving Alexander’. And Alexander broke my heart when he so tactfully kept to himself that Wolf wanted him to have harmed Blind. It’s possible that Blind’s jealousy towards Wolf was not just rooted on Blind not wanting to share Sphinx’s friendship, but maybe Blind also sees Wolf differently than Sphinx?, as one coveting power over loyalty?, as one able to manipulate and use others to get what he wants?

  52. Wow, what a treat, Sarah and Katie! Thanks for all the lavish comment battery you regaled us with.

    I love to see your point of view in all this, Sarah. I have to say once you mentioned Till We Have Faces, yes! The Magician’s Nephew I have not read yet, but I understand the character denying the reality of Aslan, how both characters are like Smoker.

    About Alexander. Let me defend my point. I don’t mean that Sphinx was any bad to him. Not at all. Actually, Sphinx has a delicate position, he is in charge of his guys, and he has a tough face, sure, but we have seen him suffering in a corner when others bullied a newbie, or accepting first Stinker/Tabaqui, and then, through Tabaqui, Alexander.

    What I see it’s this, Sphinx, in a protective move, tells Alexander to not do any of his crazy. But Alexander has a duplicity that Katie reminded us of, he is forced into doing his healing, and he also wants to do that healing out of his heart. (Remember when they thought he was making tea, but he was boiling water for Noble, whose legs felt like frozen?) He wanted to relieve them from their nightmares, their pain… What happened it’s that, Sphinx, (maybe busy with the tension of the two leaders and House problems), forgot to see how relationships were evolving, and he failed to see that Alexander’s breaking his promise (Wolf’s secret, I guess), was not making the dorm unsafe, but it was Wolf’s desire to getting rid of Blind what could cause serious troubles, which was a less direct attempt at killing him, such as Pompey did, but a blunt move against Blind (which I’m sure Sphinx would not have approved of). Sphinx had Wolf in a pedestal (probably because they knew each other since little, spent summers together, etc.), and Alexander, who was new, fell in the trap of confiding in Wolf as he had done in Sphinx, with very different results.

    As for Pompey’s death, I’m more disturbed by Blind’s fight with Black and by his relationship with first Gaby and later Rat, and by his habit of eating small animals alive, -ouch. What tops it all it’s his smile and placid sleep after his fight with Black, even though he also took a beating.

    And yes, yes, YES! Tabaqui’s chapter on his treasures, your quotes, it’s so beautiful that I also burst with emotion when I read his words.

    Smoker is, I guess, what happens to us when we grow up, when we, like in the Little Prince, only see a hat, and others see a boa with lots of things inside. Tabaqui and most of the others, refuse to live a plain life, they love the songs, the music, the legends, the fairy tales. Smoker’s most rebellious act was the red sneakers, ha ha ha, he almost didn’t make it to that coffee pot meeting. Very true, remove the smoking and the red shoes, and back to the Pheasants he goes. However, I don’t want to forget he has been key to us readers to understand a bit more of the House, and by contrast, its people.

  53. And I have school planning that is calling my name and cannot be denied, as much as I would love to gaze into the House and explore its nooks and crannies all day long! The school year is calling, and I must go.

  54. I like Mermaid. She makes me feel protective, but she also seems to have an inner firmness. I like her quiet dignity when she tells Smoker, “You know, there is no need to pity us… we didn’t call you here so you could pity us.”

    While we’re throwing out quotes, can we PLEASE highlight the gorgeousness of Tabaqui’s attempts to explain to Smoker?! I wish I could pour these words in a tub and wallow in their beauty:

    “You see, life does not go in a straight line. It’s like circles on the surface of the water. Every circle, every loop is composed of the same stories, with very few changes, but no one notices that. No one recognizes those stories. It is customary to think that the time in which you find yourself is brand-new, freshly made and freshly painted. But the world only ever draws repeated patterns. And there aren’t that many of them.”
    “But what does this old junk have to do with that?”
    He sighs, visibly hurt.
    “It has to do with the sea, for example, always bringing up the same things that are nevertheless always different. If this time you got a twig, it doesn’t mean that the last time it wasn’t a seashell. A wise man brings all of it together, put it with what’s been collected by those who came before him, and then adds to it the stories of what came up in the olden days. And this way he would know what the sea brings.”

  55. The part you quoted gained my sympathy (for the moment at least) too. I love the connections you make to the Lewis books. It is sad for him, isn’t it. He just can’t see beyond.

    And what an interesting thought that Ralph is the inverse of Smoker. That’s fabulous. Ralph is a good man. Far from perfect, but he has real integrity.

    And I have pizza dough that has risen and is calling my name. As always, I have so much I want to explore and don’t have time to say, but I better make dinner!

  56. I think his abilities are real. Maybe not real in the sense he thinks—that he forced people to kill themselves—but yes, real and powerful (and dangerous to himself because of the relentless hunger they stir up in others). I’ve seen weird stuff and have come to believe that “there are more things in heaven and on Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

  57. And to clarify, I DON’T think their hunger for him is in any way healthy. Just that they would have moved onto a different empty pursuit if there wasn’t anything to Alexander beyond smoke and mirrors.

  58. Ha! I had copied your post into my comment box so I wouldn’t have to scroll to remember all you said, and I forgot to delete it before I posted. 🙂

  59. I thought that the people in the tents were the crazy followers of Alexander’s grandfather, too. It’s been YEARS and they have presumably been hunting for him all this time?! (Or did they come now because they are waiting for Graduation to force him out of the seclusion of the House?) I don’t blame all the children for running. They terrified me. I kept thinking about zombies as they groped through the fence… mindless and hungry. Ugh!!

    Oh, I know! They are so creepy! I think Alexander has been in the House for two years. It surprises me that they are so frantic for him. When I first read about the cult, I figured it was a case of gullible, empty people just wanting to believe something and willing to follow anything. But the fact that they are hunting Alexander down, that their group didn’t dissipate once their Angel was removed from them, it speaks to the realness of Alexander’s abilities. Don’t you think? He really does have something that they desire, something real, something they think will satisfy, fill them, fix them – make them more than “empty skins.” It’s a curious question, how they found him here and how long they’ve known. It does make sense that they would congregate as graduation approaches, knowing he would be forced out of the House.

  60. No, I just finished this section a few minutes ago. I can’t wait any more, though. I’m going to finish the book this week. I strongly suspect that reaching the end isn’t necessarily going to provide all the answers I want. 😉

  61. Smoker. Oh, Smoker.

    Like everyone else, I bounce between affection and frustration. For most of this section and the last, I was pretty disgusted by him. He was just acting like such a Pheasant! There are passages, though, that make me grieve so much for him.

    While sitting quietly with others, he says, ” it’s better not to ask questions, because either you’re one with the pack and know everything about everything, or you aren’t and you don’t, in which case you’re just getting on everyone’s nerves.” Smoker is the perennial Outsider because he simply cannot see the other (spiritual, spooky, supernatural) side of the House. At first the others try to answer his questions and open his eyes, but they fail, then they give up, and eventually they see the need to protect themselves from him.

    He reminds me of Orual in CS Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, who cannot see the splendid palace of Psyche and Eros and is utterly convinced that her sister is wearing rags and eating weeds; or of Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew, who spends so much time convincing himself that Asian is just a dumb lion that her cannot hear Aslan’s words, even when they are words of comfort.

    Ralph is the inverse of Smoker. He is the believer in a pack of skeptics. He cannot get the counselors or Shark to see the Other side of the House, no matter how hard he tries, and he also cannot talk himself out of believing no matter how much he wishes that he could.

  62. These are good observations. I didn’t take Sphinx’s stipulations as a rejection of Alexander, but it unknowingly bound him in ways that were unhealthy and denied something at the core of who Alexander is. But, as you’ve pointed out, what was the alternative. And look at how Wolf abused him when he discovered his secret. You are right, Sarah. Perhaps that is simply the fate of the “holy man.” Set apart. Unable to fully enter into community. Like his life is a sacrifice for the benefit of others? I don’t know.

    (Sarah, have you finished the book as well, or are you and I both in the dark about certain things)?

  63. Also about the van…

    I caught more than a tinge of wistfulness in the offer. Black wants them to take the van and escape together. For all his frustration and fighting and nastiness, he also intensely longs to belong.

  64. I thought Sphinx was trying to protect Alexander. As soon as word of his miracles got out, people were going to hound him forever. I didn’t see Sphinx as telling Alexander that who he was wasn’t okay (although I see how young Alexander would interpret it that way, especially given his pre-House experiences), but rather that he would have to put this ability away to keep himself (and maybe his packmates?) safe.

    Was it morally wrong? Honestly. I don’t know. I don’t think Sphinx was incorrect. Look at what happened as soon as Wolf found out—he tried to use Alexander as a tool, hurting him along the way and trying to force him to hurt someone else. Would there be a better way to approach the dangers of Alexander’s powers? Maybe. I’m not sure what, though. It feels too simplified to say that they just weren’t accepting him for who he was.

  65. I might be the only one, and maybe I’m being drawn in by the rules of the House, but Pompey’s death doesn’t bother me at all. I agree with Tabaqui that it is inevitable, not because of any weird convolution of reality, but because Pompey was planning to kill Blind! Pompey had not intention of backing down. Blind had no intention of being killed. Blind was far more skilled than Pompey. Ergo, the death was inevitable.

    Anyway, there are things about Blind that freak me out, but this isn’t one of them, weirdly enough.

  66. I thought that the people in the tents were the crazy followers of Alexander’s grandfather, too. It’s been YEARS and they have presumably been hunting for him all this time?! (Or did they come now because they are waiting for Graduation to force him out of the seclusion of the House?) I don’t blame all the children for running. They terrified me. I kept thinking about zombies as they groped through the fence… mindless and hungry. Ugh!!

  67. I understood what you mean. I’ve been through that same progression in getting to know them. At first my sympathy for Smoker was strong, but now, as you say, he is showing more his Pheasant ways.

    Black too, gained sympathies with that conversation. Black and Smoker bonded when they stayed behind and did not go to the Sepulcher. They both considered themselves black sheep, or ‘outsiders’. That statement about a ‘van’, shows that Black wants out, out of the House, but he was so kind to offer that to Sphinx, yet he was timid, not wanting Sphinx to laugh. That says a lot. Sphinx knows a van is not for him or ‘his kind’.

  68. Yes, Sphinx was wrong to put restrictions on Alexander. He does seem fated to never be fully accepted for who he is. I don’t think they intended to force Alexander into a mask. I think they were mostly interested in protecting their electronics, and I don’t think they comprehended the extent and goodness of Alexander’s abilities.

    I love the complexity of these characters. They are all a mix of strengths and weaknesses, good and bad. They are confusing, just like we all can be. And I love how slowly they are each revealed to us. It takes so much time to get to know them and start understanding them. Take Black for instance. I gained some sympathy for him when he and Smoker first conversed at the Crossroads, but then I again grew suspicious of him. When he told Sphinx and Humpback that he knew where he could get a van – everything that that statement meant….it just rounded out his character for me in such a touching way. Melancholy.

    I feel the same way about Smoker. Funny. Early on, I liked him a lot. My compassion has grown for most of the characters as the book progresses, but Smoker I’ve grown more impatient with. Lately I have been thinking that he really does seem to belong with the Pheasants – if he would just lose the shoes and the cigarettes.

  69. I’m almost sure that Squib, Solomon and Don ran because their coup attempt failed; had they succeeded in usurping Red, they would have ruled over the Second.
    And Ralph’s concern for Smoker’s well-being is, I think, misplaced; it stems from the talk between Ralph and Sphinx on the bench, where Sphinx says “you can add Smoker to that list” but adds to himself “but we’re not the First”, meaning – we have the means to push him out, but we’re not going to do that.

  70. One more thing. Why was Smoker in danger of the House getting rid of him? Do you think it’s because he is showing so much as an outsider, than the others feel he’d tell on them or something? (But then he accepts to ‘tell on them’ with his diary?) I mean, if you don’t play the game you are at risk, like Smoker was, and that’s why Ralph put him in the Sepulcher. But, if you play the game, you are also at risk, as when Red was attacked I think by those 3 unwilling to play the House game, and who wanted to leave, but, by the way, let’s try to also kill Red, right? (Did they want to leave the House before they attacked Red, or because they attacked Red?) If they attacked Red, why didn’t police, or Shark, called the parents and asked them to take them?

    Oh, we never talked about the passage when one of the girls is leaving, and the parents don’t see some of the Senior boys. Ralph’s section is secluded, the parents don’t know of the existence of some of these children. I think Red is one of those without parents. So, if 3 students with involved parents were going to kill him, who would have cared? One of these three will also show up, and I think he’d be held responsible for something (we are not told what).

    I keep thinking how horrible it is to have some children grow up unattended, in the middle of drugs, violence, their own illnesses of various sorts, and pretty much leave them to their own devices. Very pretty of the grown ups not to want to have troubles at the time of graduation, huh! How long can one live shoving things under a rag?

  71. Mariam showed us how the one who sees things others don’t, Sphinx, was unable to see how Wolf was not the person he thought, he did not see Wolf’s other side. Alexander had a new and fragile trust with Sphinx, he had Tabaqui’s acceptance, yet he was unable to speak up or to refuse being used. Sphinx asked him not to use his magic, and he did. Sphinx shouldn’t have put a condition on Alexander. Could nobody accept him for what he is? Chimera did. Sphinx, the understanding one, the compassionate one, he also has a dark spot. Ralph, the helpful one, the protective one, he also had a moment of unleashing violence. Blind, the insensitive one, the one without scruples, he has a moment of being vulnerable, he’d risk his life for Sphinx if needed.

    Smoker. He provokes conflicted emotions in me. Sometimes I feel for him, others I want to slap him, -he is spoiled, bratty, and he hurts others when he feels like it, as with Ginger. I had the feeling that, because she ignores him completely, he decides to remark how horrible she is (no empathy). I also don’t know the nature of Ginger/Noble’s relationship. Mermaid envies their outbursts of emotion, but as Sphinx says, that’s not a sign of having more personality, -oh, no-, that’s also a sign of emotional imbalance in both. The with or without you kind of love.

  72. The song in the basement was “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”; “Stairway To Heaven” was playing in the “bar” when Grasshopper sneaked there (where it says about room turning to purple and gold)..

  73. Yes, those in the tents are, I think, Alexander followers, like when they were outside of his other home.

    And as you say, I think Alexander feels guilt because he has never had a system of laws, any authority, no moral compass, while Blind has a moral compass, a crooked one, yes, but he does kill Pompey because the House rules demand it. Alexander never had a father, or mentor, or a right/wrong, he is caught up in a manipulative way of life, he has not found himself, he is too unassertive, he was hostage, and he has that syndrome of those who have been captive, he cannot think for himself, he needs someone guiding him, and he always second guesses himself.

  74. We also call him Alejandro Magno, o Alejandro de Macedonia. I like knowing he is Alexander ‘the Great’ as a contrast, like Black is Blonde.

  75. Ah, the wonders of cultural transfer.

    The person that we call Alexander the Great is in Russian Alexander of Macedon, or simply “of Macedon”, which is what the character name is (it is in fact not a noun); not only is that ungrammatical if translated directly (and “Macedonian” is even worse – that’s simply a person who has a corresponding citizenship), but also completely unclear to an English-speaking reader. It’s been given to him (by Tabaqui, I suspect) on contrast, and Alexander acknowledges that (“As far from the Great as could be”), the way Black is Black because he used to be Blond. So, I needed to preserve the association, and that was the only way I could think of, with the primary reference missing.
    As for Noble, it’s the extra reference that is predominating in English that made me switch: Lord, with a capital letter and without article before and a last name after it, has a very specific meaning, and Noble is not Him – whereas in Russian all the word conjures up is an image of a snotty English aristocrat with a cup of tea in his hand.

  76. And also, about Ginger: It is curious that she started carrying around her old teddy bear. Like she is somehow growing more childlike. Maybe, as graduation approaches, she needs the comfort of an object that soothed her long ago.

  77. And personally I don’t think Alexander was in any way responsible. I don’t think he gave Wolf anything. For me, it fits so well with his character to be heaping guilt upon himself despite being completely innocent.

  78. Yes, I definitely think Alexander’s secret is his healing power. It must remain a secret for two reasons. One, he is only allowed to stay in the 4th if he promises not to do his magic. And two, he doesn’t want to be groped and pestered by all the miracle seekers that would surface.

    So he has an army, huh? Are the people in the tents the shaved head people?

    Yes, at this point I do think that Wolf overdosed on something. Alexander said he cursed his grandpa until he eventually wore him down and he died. In the same way, he truly believes that his fear killed Wolf. But Alexander is innocent. Fascinating how he puts this guilt on himself even though he never laid a hand on Wolf. And then we have Blind who feels completely justified in, and at peace with, knifing Pompey. Blind feels no guilt. He just does what he thinks must be done.

  79. The fire scene was very endearing. It showed a quiet, subdued, and caring side of Ginger that we had not seen much before. When Sphinx is talking with her, he says something about how she tames people and she can’t help doing it because she loves being loved. It is a surprising aspect, when we are accustomed to seeing her as fiery and independent. When she took Tubby, it seemed like a momentary decision, like she hadn’t had this kind of relationship with him before. I wonder what brought it on. Was it her way of fleeing the House and the chaos – finding peace from the anxieties of upcoming graduation? It was after she and Smoker had been alone together. He makes his disapproval of her clear. Maybe she needed to feel loved at that moment.

    I think you are right. Earlier, I said that Tubby was the one who was drawn to Ginger’s hair and she would let him touch it, but I think it was Elephant. I can’t find the passage though. I don’t know who Tubby was trying to get to on the LN.

    It would make sense if Noble was out by the fire with Ginger, I suppose. And yet, if that is a sacred place for her, would she bring him? They fight all the time, and despite his passion for her, I get the sense that she’s not overly committed to him – that it’s more a matter of “why not.” Like the path of least resistance I don’t think he is one of the many she has tamed. I might be wrong, though. I haven’t given much thought to their relationship. Whether Noble was near a physical fire, I think all of your interpretations work with the story.

    Great insights about Wolf and Alexander. This idea that Alexander is tortured by Sphinx’s inability to see Wolf for what he is – I think you’re right on. Alexander had come to a place of trusting Sphinx and confiding in him, and I think that Sphinx does care about Alexander, but after Wolf’s death, the feeling of belonging that was starting to grow within Alexander was stunted because he knew how close Wolf and Sphinx were and he feared losing the acceptance he found in Sphinx. But now Alexander is living in fear of loss and he is burdened by the truth of what he has done (or thinks he has done). Chimera rescues Alexander from himself, but she doesn’t truly save him. He’s still tortured. But I think she does provide him some amount of comfort and outlet. And I like how you think of her as an indication that Sphinx is oblivious to Alexander’s suffering. I think that’s right. And she is so protective of him and therefore fearful of Sphinx. For all of Sphinx’s insight and awareness, he really misses the mark with Alexander. And like you said, he missed all indication of jealousy from his packmates. Maybe he’s not as observant as he believes himself to be.

    It was surprising that Ralph punched Blind – and hard. Ralph is rather at the breaking point. He is afraid of more violence and frustrated by Blind’s stoicism and unwillingness to acquiesce. I think he just loses it and in so doing becomes the violent one.

  80. Remember he had those shaved head followers? (They will show up again). He conjures an army of followers, his powers.
    I now think that his secret may have been those healing powers that his grandpa was abusing. He also has some mental influence ability, and maybe he thought about Wolf’s death, and Wolf overdosed on his own, but Alexander feels responsible for having wished for it, and probably, for having dealt with pills too. (It is possible he heals, and possible he uses medicines too which can always be abused). Wolf’s greediness may have killed him. I think Wolf was very sick, and maybe even refused treatment. Grasshopper /Sphinx was his keeper (he was sure he took his treatment, and sure that he did not do anything to risk his life). That night, he took something (like Noble does too), and he never woke up. They knew, but never knew. Maybe Alexander increased the dose?, consciously? , unconsciously?

  81. This is an interesting question. Alexander the Great was a Macedonian. So now my question is, how is Alexander like this great military leader. It is surprising to me.

  82. From previous chapters. What did you think about Ginger with Tubby by the fire? When little, she did go there where the Seniors were, it was her ‘comfort’, her religion too. A spiritual experience, being by the fire, the things they wrote with a charred branch on the walls. She feels responsible for Tabby, Tubby is totally dependent, they all take care of him, Ginger in particular. (When he climbed looking for that being with the hair, was that Ginger or Mermaid?, or Darling?) Elephant wanted to touch Mermaid’s hair, I don’t know who Tabby was looking for. And what did Noble mean when he said to Smoker that he was getting too close to the fire? Sphinx tells him not to talk like that, or Smoker will go around the House looking for a real fire. But two chapters after, Ginger tells us there’s a real fire!

    Getting too close to the fire could be: getting too close to danger, getting too close to Ginger, as in falling in love, or getting too close to those who really lit those fires in the night, and engage in some House rituals we don’t know what they are, those three, or other.

    Something else I forgot to mention, when Ralph interrogated Blind, the night Red was attacked, we are not told at that time, but back in the dorm we know Ralph punched Blind in the stomach. Ralph also took it for granted he killed Wolf (before he knew he didn’t, but he did kill Pompey). Ralph felt bad about having asked Blind if he was glad about Wolf’s death. Blind was honest there, he said he couldn’t say he wasn’t glad of Wolf not being alive anymore, but he wouldn’t have wished his death either, as in an active decision to kill him or assist others to do that. Blind killing Pompey was according to House rules. We know nothing justifies murder, but Pompey (though stupidly), set up to ‘kill’ Blind. I maybe trying to justify Blind’s actions right now, but Pompey should have known he had no chance with Blind. His decision was a bit suicidal. Blind did not have to do it, for more than he claims it’s the House rules, but he did it. Wolf, on the other hand, was a bad person. The more I think about it, the more I hate Wolf for using vulnerable Alexander. It was completely wrong, he pushed him to the brink of suicide. Alexander was also tortured by Sphinx inability to see the bad in Wolf. Yes, Sphinx forgave him, but I think that was late. (Chimera is proof that Sphinx was oblivious to Alexander’s suffering). Also, Sphinx had no idea of the suffering that Black and Humpback had endured when Elk picked him as his favorite. They still tortured him, and that’s what he saw, but Sphinx had no clue of how lonely they all felt. Remember the summer Elk spent with Wolf, Blind, and Grasshopper? That must have hurt the other juniors a lot.

  83. Yuri, a quick question. I have seen in the drawings that Noble was Lord in Russian, and Alexander Macedonian? I love that you translated Alexander, and Noble has that connotation, nobility, as a Lord would be. I really remember when Noble approached Smoker at the bathroom, in front of the mirror. I found that such a ‘noble’ action, that Noble just fit. And I don’t know what it is but Alexander conjures so much that boy in need of love, that tortured soul (maybe because he came to us as Alexander, and Alexander he grew on us, the readers). Anyway, what were your reasons for translating these two names a bit differently, and are there other nicks or names you also changed?

  84. Katie, when I bring the more realistic possible explanations, it’s my rebellious nature of wanting to ‘solve this puzzle’ in a purely rational way. It’s my tendency to resist the effort of keeping an open mind. We, I think, as moderns or post-moderns, have an incurable tendency to explain rationally, in the question-answer paradigm, and to live and talk inside the utilitarian frame of mind. But we all here have heard and know about the poetic life, not the bohemian life, but a life in which we are not inside a cause and effect physical world, where we are not always finding solutions to our problems, because we know we are not a problem, but His Creation, and as such, we have re-creation abilities, we have a soul and a mind that cannot be reduced to anything chemical. I think Mariam’s use of the chemical substances was very clever, because at one point, if some of them are taking drugs because of their medical condition, or because they are there and they find them alluring or whatever, these children and young men and women are not mere drug-addicts either. To say it differently, a drug-addict is still a person, and we cannot dismiss his/her feelings, perception of reality, his humanity.

    At the same time, -drugs or no drugs-, we all know what it is to fall pray to our own demons. That’s why it’s so clever, I think, to hint at drugs, it blurs one more barrier. There’s many allegoric themes (I don’t know if intentional, or it happens to those authors who have this talent). Critics are experts at boring us with all these political-religious-cultural explanations of great books. Sometimes I don’t see them, and I don’t doubt them, but at times they seem contrived and fake. But this thought came to me as I read, Mariam made me control my desire to classify, judge, dismiss or undermine others, she generously allowed me to hear and see those I would not have stopped to meet. I hope never to be Rat’s father, or Godmother, surely not Shark when he addressed his students.

  85. I find myself thinking about the House and its denizens, -grin, every day, several times. It’s like as if I have lived in the house for 3 months (what took me to read it), or six years, tee hee!

    I think it was week 7 when I realized what I had felt all along, that I will not get simple answers, because I don’t have simple questions.

    I was a bit confused when I read the last chapters, but as time passes, I’m feeling closure, and I’m deeply satisfied. Why?, because the questions and answers don’t matter as much as keeping the conversation alive. My kindred soul is Tabaqui. Like him, I cannot shut up. You could ask me to play harmonica, but since I can’t, I’ll keep talking, and like him, I’ll pretend that everything is alright, and I’ll go from a festive period of dressing like a xmas tree, to a time of mourning, with sunglasses to see the sunny sky as clouded, and get drowned in my sulky mood.

    Sometimes I feel like Smoker, irritated at others playing games, or evading my questions. Other times, I’m just a happy resident, or a fly on the wall, or a concerned counselor. I’m looking forward to Fairy Tale Night, and I’m glad we have our own here at the comments. (Aren’t our theories and questions like our tales?)

    I don’t like to explain the House and the happenings only in a ‘realistic’ way, that’s not right, that’s reducing the House, making it smaller. Even a common hallucination is a collective experience. There’s something magical, they are united by more than just a substance induced experience, they are connected, there’s more than just one temporal and spacial reality, there’s dimensions, loops, time distortion, new sections we had not seen before, people that may no be people but other worldly creatures. Sphinx games of looky-looky are an invitation, I think, to us too, to look at things with an open mind, with more than analytical or rational eyes. If we reduce life to that, how sad we’d be. Part of the wonder of this book, this House, this universe, is that it invites us to rekindle our imagination, to put everything we have into it, to experience it at all depths and levels.

  86. It’s not crazy. I also thought about that comment. I remember it was an allusion to that time when he was young, Sphinx, and he went following the music, and the song said, ‘fly, baby’, and remember his nick, Grasshopper, because he flew down the stairs? And he busted the glass, (and that’ll happen again next week, a window glass will be busted). And Elephant told them it was Grasshopper, but apparently the Seniors were not upset about it, and they did not retaliate, as Grasshopper or the others thought. After that, they stopped having windows, they kept barring them, and painting them black, and then they removed them.

  87. Throwing something a little crazy out there.

    I was just reading Tabaqui’s chapter for next week and there is a part with Alexander in the coffeepot when Tabaqui says to Sphinx, “Time for you to bust the glass for us. Can’t you see what’s going on? Time to fly.” He’s alluding of course to the time when Grasshopper kicked the basement window in because he wanted to let the seniors out to fly away. Led Zeppelin was playing. I don’t remember if the book says which song, but if it didn’t name it, for some reason I assumed Stairway to Heaven. So here is my probably crazy thought: Is this entire book basically a variation on the theme of Stairway to Heaven? It seems that there are a lot of correlations between the song and this book. I don’t really understand the song, except that it is about a spiritual journey, so I admit this is an assertion that has not been thought through and examined. It just *feels* like the right connection to me. I need to go analyze the song and see if there is any merit to what I am saying. I get all kinds of odd ideas. I’m probably going to far. 😁😆

  88. Wow, I have given such little thought to their disabilities and what it means to the book as a whole. Yet you say that is the unspoken theme. Something so central, yet something I’ve neglected to consider thus far. And the moment you say that, I think, YES! I’ve danced around it, knowing that they fear the Outsides because they are different from the rest of society, but there is so much more nuance to it than that. I love what you say about people like Alexander and Humpback – they are the hands and feet of those without. They are servants in the best, most holy sense of the word. And yet, their value cannot be only in what they do. And that is part of the fear of the outsides. Everything in this life tell us that in fact our value does lie in what we do rather than in the essence of who we are. We live in a very performance driven society.

    The bit about legs being unnecessary was classic Tabaqui. So funny that I failed to see the deeper meaning. This is all so good!

    “Humpback is trying to reclaim his own individuality.” Yes! Sometimes I dance around something with so many words, but this is the essence of the chapter, isn’t it? And the question of whether he is doing the right thing? I can only imagine living life in a dorm full of individuals with various habits and quirks. How could you not feel somehow lost in the mix and without privacy. It would be so easy to become merely a pack instead of a person. Because Humpback is so sensitive, I think he has a difficult time maintaining that sense of self in the midst of everyone else. Again, I’m projecting myself onto him, but I soak up the feelings and experiences of others to a degree that sometimes causes me to feel a lot of weight and even loss of myself. Even unspoken things, because my intuition is very strong. Perhaps Humpback’s experience is similar and that is why he feels the need to flee and assert his independence. I also like how you describe Blind’s motives. He is trying to help Humpback take his place within his society – to use his gifts for the good of others. Perhaps some of his motivation is selfish, but I agree with you that Blind is trying to help Humpback find himself. He really believes that living in the tree is not good fro him. “Come down and look for what you’ve lost there. You might find more than you expect to find while sitting here.” Blind’s entreaty seems earnest to me. I go so back and forth with this character. Talking to you about this makes me think that Blind really is doing what he thinks is right and that he wants his pack to utilize their strengths to help him in his endeavor to, more or less, save them.

  89. I love everything you wrote, Katie. Humpback’s way of dealing with the tension at the House is to isolate himself. But Blind doesn’t let him. Graduation means a time to confront reality, some will leave the House, some won’t. To me the unspoken theme is disabilities. At the House, for a while, those who are disabled live full meaningful lives, they are even powerful. Humpback and Alexander are helpers, they are the eyes, the arms, and legs of those without them. I found the part when Tabaqui reasons how unnecessary legs are (except to models and ?, I forgot), and how humanity will evolve to a society without them, a revealing part of the many layers of the book. It’s the theme of those with disabilities, and those without them.

    Blind doesn’t want Humpback to break off from the House. Blind is explaining to him, I think, how they are all part of one same conscience, but Humpback is, to me, trying to reclaim his own individuality. Isn’t his accusation a plea with Blind to stop making himself a person, a leader, at the expense of taking from others? (I think what Blind takes is all that knowledge of their weaknesses, their dreams, their insecurities…) I know what you say, Blind seems more human, but I am with Humpback, he is not human in the sense that he doesn’t have a life of his own. He was told to take care of Sphinx, and he did, at the same time, he subjugated everybody else to his power. But he is just the House, once they leave it, he will be nobody. I think Blind is trying the impossible (or is it impossible?), he wants them all to live in that ‘alternative’ world that is the Undersides, an extension of the House, where they will continue being leaders, with others to their service. He wants Humpback to lead them to that place, right? And what’s that place? (We can discuss it next week).

    I too felt this to be such a poetic and philosophical conversation. Individual and Collective, person versus group, our desires-the good of the community. I deliberately did not narrate a lot about it, and I’m so glad you did. I too loved this chapter.

  90. I’m caught up! Between the drama and suspense of Ralph’s chapter and the lyrical, mysterious nature of Blind’s chapter I am currently a very satisfied reader! They are so different from each other in tone and yet fit so perfectly into the larger framework. I want to talk about Blind’s chapter because it is probably my favorite since Alexander’s Scarlet Dragon chapter. This is a chapter that I will probably need to read several times before I can extract much of the meaning and nuance, but I will share what I’m thinking so far:
    This is the first time in a long time where I saw Blind in a sympathetic light – probably since the chapters about his childhood. While still retaining that strange, other-worldly vibe, I also felt him to be a person, rather than a force or a ….I don’t know….creature? I love the things that are revealed in these pages.
    We get our first intimate glimpse of Humpback since the chapter of him playing his flute in the yard. He still has a sensitive, artistic soul. It seems perfectly right to me that he should take to the trees. I think he is running from the House in an attempt to find peace in a time full of trouble and anxiety over the coming graduation There is a rumor that he is a prophet. This belief has taken shape simply because of his new, reclusive lifestyle. So now he has followers who won’t leave him alone. He is not the first spiritual figure we’ve seen. There is of course Alexander, and I would put Ancient in the same category. In each case, they are solitary figures, seeking peace, burdened by the requests of others – requests for wholeness or enlightenment.
    This is one of my favorite passages: “Humpback is part of that tension he tried to flee, he brought it with him and placed in in the branches, hoping that the silence and the tree’s vitality could do something to it. Something that he himself couldn’t Everybody’s the same. Running around trying to hide everything deeper inside, then hiding themselves and their birds. Stepping back, always stepping back and smelling of fear, but keeping up appearances, smiling, joking, quarreling, eating, and procreating. And Humpback is not like them, he’s bad at it, he only gets as far as the very first, overt part of any action and that makes him even more unhappy.”
    Humpback is tired of keeping up appearances. He is weighed down by apprehension and he runs to the calm and protection of nature. He is in his element here. His voice is confident. He is sure, and yet, Blind believes that his seclusion itself is a burden. Blind feels “the cold breath of Humpback’s loneliness.” I’m not sure if Humpback’s choice is the brave one, the good one. I *feel* like it is, because he is a more whole person, and yet, there is this question of community. Maybe I am projecting my own self on to Humpback, because I do often identify with him, but I think that Humpback senses the brokenness of human relationship and his (and their) inability to be vulnerable. He observes how everyone around him hides and are fearful of revealing themselves. He sees the day to day surface behaviors and actions as ultimately meaningless because the true self is stuffed down. Humpback is not good at living this way. I think he longs so much for a free and authentic life, and he’s searching for the means to get there. Maybe his path really is to become a hermit. Maybe he’s just not cut out for living in community. “Other people’s songs have damaged Humpback, he can no longer do magic even when he lives in a tree. What he used to do so well is now but a trivial melody for him.” Why is it that his own song, has been damaged by the songs of others? How does living side by side with others, damage us? Certainly, life is messy, and hurt and change is inevitable, but I think Humpback is cared for within his pack. What has changed within him as he’s grown? He feels he has been robbed by others, like he is less himself than he used to be. Shouldn’t the lives of others enrich our own – provided we are not abused?
    From time to time we hear about emotions or pain being taken from an individual and placed on something/someone else. Alexander is the most obvious example. Now Humpback is doing it to the oak. At the beginning of book 3, Sphinx flees the House to escape the chaos. He comes to the tree as well, and he is perplexed to find that someone had written words on the tree. The chaos of the House was placed onto the tree. I bet there are probably other instances of this, but those are off the top.
    Interestingly, Blind takes things onto himself too. “When he touches his fingers to the bark, it is not warmer than his skin anymore, he washed it of its memory, the tree will stand untouched now for some time, like a primeval oak in the primeval forest.” I’m not sure what exactly Blind takes and whether it is a good taking. It seems like he takes memories and dreams. (Note to self: we really need to talk about nightmares at some point – so many things to talk about). Humpback becomes upset and asks, “Why is it you don’t ask before taking something from us?….I sometimes think that you feed on our thoughts. That there is no you, only what you’ve taken from us, stolen from us. And that…loot – it walks among us, it talks to us, sniffs at us, pretending that it’s one of us. I feel myself emptying in your presence….You’re tiny shards of us glued together.” Humpback’s accusations squeeze my heart, take my breath, make me want to exclaim…I don’t know what. But I feel bursting. It’s just so – WOW. It’s interesting that even though I feel Blind to be more human in this chapter, Humpback is accusing him of not being. To Humpback it seems to be “us” and “you.” And you, Blind, are not a real person. You are pieced together from bits of all of us in the House. You are something Other. I loved that we get the “glued together” person, like what Grasshopper saw in the beginning. There is this idea here of Blind feeding on others for sustenance. Like a vampire. And I’m just gonna leave that there for now. I’ve got a lot of thinking to do.
    There’s so much more I want to talk about in this chapter, but I will finish it out later. (I mean, Godmother?!)

  91. I need to finish! Once I read this week and can start commenting, it will probably be interesting for you and Sherry to hear my thoughts, since you know so much more. I wonder how long our discussions will go on once we are all done reading. You make it sound like there will be a lot to process!

  92. I am going to publish week 9 and 10 next week, independently, but week 10 is short and I cannot wait to discuss it in full. But, as Sherry says, I need to wait, or I will slip, for sure.

    I think I know, (I have a theory), but I fear it is my interpretation and I may be missing something you all see.

  93. I read that Ralph chapter today, and I do see what you mean, although dread was instilled in me when we met him in book 2! But yes, his chapter for this week was so good, and, as you said, ominous – and infuriating too. I can see why you have both finished. Since hitting that chapter, I’m longing for a resolution.

  94. I confess I finished reading the book, too. My comment last week was about this “Ralph” chapter, that this is what turned things so ominous, and I needed to finish reading after that.

    I feel incapable of talking about individual sections. I’m looking forward to talking more once everyone finishes the book and we don’t have to worry about spoilers.

  95. I loved the plastic bag phobia. The description of Red’s skeptical distrust and the way he personifies them was so pleasurable to read. Humorous. And endearing.

    I still have 40 pages to read for this week, so I will come back and catch up with you all when I’m done!

  96. (and “Madrigal of Henry the VIII” is of course “Pastime In Good Company”, done as an instrumental by Jethro Tull with Ian Anderson on the flute – another of Mariam’s musical favorites, in addition to Beatles and Led Zeppelin)

  97. This made me think about The Zelmenyaners, the brilliant chapter about a spoon. The book is a saga, the story of the family who lives in the same building compound, and the life of its members who all come to this common patio to celebrate, talk, etc. Like Mariam did with the plastic bag, Moyshe Kulbak waxes poetic in a chapter about a spoon and its significance in the life of one of those Zelmenyaners. The Zelmenyaners is a brilliant book, one I read at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017, and already one of my all time favorites.

  98. The bit about plastic bags is actually an autobiographical detail: Mariam used to have a bit of a phobia for them too, “ever since that time when a particularly dusty and sticky member
    of the species” had dropped on her.

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