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On the Wolfsberg

From: Susan Wenger
Sent: Friday, January 05, 2001 5:56 PM

In "On the Wolfsberg," POB goes back to the dreamy, surrealistic tone that made his earlier stories so inscrutable. It opens, "When she came out of the mindless, ruminating state that walking often induced she found that the moon had risen: a gibbous moon behind hazy cloud, but enough to flood the world with diffuse light. She also found that she had no notion where the road was going to, nor why she was walking along it so eagerly, nor indeed who or where she was."

POB drops us into the middle of this murk. The girl doesn't know who she is, where she's going. The reader doesn't know who she is either, or where she's going, or where she's been.

"'This is the damnedest thing,' she said, amused, 'I have absolutely no notion of . . .'" And that makes two of us - but as she is comfortably amused by the situation, the reader can relax and enjoy it also - she's not frightened or upset, so the reader can settle back and see what comes next. But the title is a bit alarming: "On The Wolfsberg:" whatever the wolfsberg is, it's not like being on the teddybearberg or the guppyberg.

She goes along, whistling "Death and the Maiden" in an undertone. Now, even if SHE is serene, the reader isn't. You can whistle softly, but whistling in an undertone lends an ominous note, and Death and the Maiden doesn't reassure me any.

She figures out that she's amnesic, that she's far from home, abroad: and the reader figures out that she's a scientist, a doctor, a student of natural history, a Maturin-type.

Then she spots a piece of paper on the road.

"Her automatic cry, "Let it be nothing symbolic, for God's sake. No more of those square old symbols" is O'Brian playing tricks on his reader, I think - meta-thinking about story construction. Only in a story would a piece of paper on the road be symbolic. So: can anyone tell me, please, what IS the symbolism of the square of paper? Charlezzzz?

After the piece of paper, the tenor of the story gets grimmer - she felt an anxious, dreary expression settle on her face, and she found that the elasticity had gone from her stride. I enjoy that O'Brian describes this so well - he doesn't say she felt anxious, dreary; she shows us an anxious, dreary expression actively settle on her face. There is a change in the light, a subtle alteration in the atmosphere, and now there's an air of menace.

And then there's a wolf. Well-described by POB: "He was a big wolf, lean, long-legged and gaunt, and he was drifting along on the mountainside above her and somewhat behind, moving silently on a track parallel with her own. He reached the inky shadow of a rock, and she saw his eyes gleam green." We know more about the wolf already than we do about the lady! And I would have expected his eyes to gleam green in the light of the moon, not in the inky shadow of a rock.

And the symbolism returns: the wolf is just some damned symbol: we know it's true because the lady says so.

And the wolf is Hugh Lupus, an empty selfish man, hollow and false: false through and through, and she hurls a rock at him.

What IS this story about?

To learn about "The Port-Wine Sea," my parody of Patrick O'Brian's wonderful Aubrey-Maturin series, please see


From: John Finneran
Sent: Saturday, January 06, 2001 2:57 AM

I'll comment on this story in more detail soon, but, for now I want to make a few brief observations:

"On the Wolfsberg" has echoes of MANY of the earlier short stories (which is to be expected if it is the culmination of the short story meta-story).

It also closely parallels the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood (the female in the woods, menaced by a wolf who masquerades as a human).

One of the earliest versions of Little Red Riding Hood was a French version by Charles Perrault (Le Petit Chaperon Rouge). The text (translated into English) may be found at:


Here is the moral from Perrault's version:

"From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition - neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!"

The "wolf" in the moral above that children, especially lasses, should beware of, seems to be men who could be rapists, or, at minimum, false seducers.

"On the Wolfsberg" has throughout an air of sexual menace. The unnamed woman considers whether she has been raped (p. 248), and later she quotes the line "expense of spirit in a waste of shame" (still p. 248).

The quotation is from Shakespeare's Sonnet 129, known as the "Lust Sonnet". Here is the complete sonnet:

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had
Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

From: Charlezzzz@AOL.COM
Sent: Saturday, January 06, 2001 10:27 AM

In a message dated 1/6/2001 3:07:58 AM, John.Finneran@PILEOFSHIRTS.COM writes:

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,

Doesn't Maturin somewhere think of this sonnet? Or at least quote a few words?


From: Susan Wenger
Sent: Saturday, January 06, 2001 10:50 AM

I like John's reasoning comparing this story to "Little Red Riding Hood." I still haven't figured out the significance of the piece of paper on the road, and indeed, all we know about the paper is that it was a set of diagrams, possibly directions for solving a Chinese puzzle. Yet, that piece of paper was the turning point in the story. Up until then, all was carefree and gay; she was whistling, cheerful, and her very last impression before seeing the paper was the extraordinarily varied scents - one as sweet as orange-blossom, another like pot-pourri, and one that must surely have been rosemary. Now it is hugely unlikely that three such extraordinarily varied scents should have crossed her path in the woods. I think POB is showing us GOOD sensory impressions here - but after the piece of paper, the Chinese puzzle if you will, all impressions become bad, or frightening, or menacing. In America, children think of China as antipodal - if you dig a hole deep enough through the core of the earth you'll wind up in China. Does China have similar connotations of oppositeness in England, where POB was marketing his stories? Or, in fact, was he marketing them directly to America by the time he wrote this story? But anyway, the symbolic piece of paper, the Chinese puzzle, reversed the course of the story.

I wonder if POB was writing about the act of writing a short story. You start somewhere in the middle of nowhere, there's something symbolic, and then the story shifts with the symbolism.

Last night I wrote that the girl seemed Maturin-esque in her interest in identifying scientifically the natural history that she encountered. She was NOT Maturin-esque at the end of the story. The wolf did NOT threaten her - if anything he seemed to be offering her companionship; and for no reason other than boredom, she flung a rock at him. Perhaps she was the villain of the story and not the victim at all. Little Red Riding Hood should have know better than to go deep into the woods and to be so trusting of the wolf. Maybe she grew up into the subject of this story, and now she's soured on wolves and men.

- Susan

From: u1c04803
Sent: Saturday, January 06, 2001 11:21 AM

Hey, Charlezzzz,

Try your google trick with "Hugh Lupus".

And tell us if POB was just dancing with wolves.


From: Jean A
Sent: Saturday, January 06, 2001 12:01 PM

First off, I really liked this story.

To me, it recounts one of those dreams one might have only a few times in a lifetime in which a problem is suddenly resolved.

I think that she knows that she is dreaming by the end of the story, especially when she cries: 'What kind of a goddam symbol are you, anyhow?' At this point the wolf was sniffing about a milestone; he kept his eye on her and deliberately cocked his leg. 'A symbol cocking his leg, for God's sake,' she exclaimed. 'I never knew wolves did that. Unless indeed it is symbol upon symbol.' She picked up a stone and walked back along the road: the wolf crouched, rigid, glaring. She called out, 'Here's for you, canis lupus,' and as her arm whipped up she knew who she was and that Hugh Lupus was an empty selfish man, hollow and false: false through and through. The knowledge came faster than the flying stone."

Have other people had dreams in which they knew that they were dreaming?

I have.

Perhaps it is a common phenomenon that POB is writing about. Indeed, as quite a small child I developed, on my own, a way to wake myself out of a frequently occurring nightmare: I simply rubbed my eyes in the dream, as soon as I realized that it was a dream, and I would immediately wake up.

Jean A.

From: Jean A
Sent: Saturday, January 06, 2001 12:14 PM

( I didn't mean to send the first post so soon)

Other possibilities:

The bits of grass and fern, the "bruise" which she locates somewhere about her heart, the sweet odors - perhaps they point to an accident that she has had.

Perhaps she is under anaesthetic.

I still opt for the dreaming, though!

Jean A

From: u1c04803
Sent: Saturday, January 06, 2001 2:53 PM

I thought, like Jean, that this story told of one of those dreams where that part of the brain which knows what's what, delivers a message of truth to that other part of the brain where we live our delusions. In this case, a woman seems to be in a state of being victimized in some way by a man, and the smart part of her psyche is bringing the bad news to the romantic part.

The disassociation she discusses recalls Sartre's fixating on a root, losing some kind of psychic footing, and pondering being or not being, but her experience does seem, in the end, oneiric rather than existentialist.

That there are wolf symbols in the dream, that the man in question is "wolfish", lupine, that he turns out to be "Hugh Lupus", could be POB amusing himself with us, enjoying himself, maybe playing with the name of one of the historic Hugh Lupus's. Which he might have been familiar with due to one's association with Wales (see Google), where POB lived, or otherwise. Or it could be that he's playing on the association between predatory men, and wolf symbols, or both, but it does seem unlikely that he came up with the name of Hugh Lupus entirely out of the air.

The landscape through which the woman wanders has the geography and smells of other of his short stories, and the Mediterranean mountainous regions POB know so well, the slopes, the paths, the passes, the herbs of the provinces. She's travelling them, making the perilous voyage towards truth, realizing her loss of self, her injuries, and finally the cause of all these.

In the Jack and Stephen stories POB has given Jack what he's called an "inner man", which breaks through his sleep, and tells him when his ship needs him. In the same way, this person in the short story has an inner woman waking her from the somnalence of victimization. That she is intelligent and knowledgeable has not saved her. But some emergency on-call element of her being has awakened, and is conveying the message. Hugh Lupus. Bad news. Wake up.


From: Susan Wenger
Sent: Saturday, January 06, 2001 3:35 PM

Susan Wenger wrote:

I still haven't figured out the significance of the piece of paper on the road, and indeed, all we know about the paper is that it was a set of diagrams, possibly directions for solving a Chinese puzzle.

I'm still worrying at that piece of paper. Perhaps Hugh sent her a "Dear Jane" letter, and that piece of paper symbolizes the letter she received that sent her into a state of shock?

From: u1c04803
Sent: Saturday, January 06, 2001 6:07 PM

The paper seems to symbolize a puzzle, a problem, a conundrum--and actually working it out, making visible efforts to work it out.

She has been doing the opposite, resisting working out her puzzle, her problem. The paper shows her there is a problem being worked out, and that people make actual, visible efforts to work them out. It is reality staring her in the face, at a point when she's been evasive, avoiding, not knowing who she is, in lala land.

The paper brings her back to earth, the atmosphere changes, she feels the troubling things she's been oblivious to, she faces the problem, and finally recognizes a truth.

No, she's not comfortable about it. It doesn't feel good. It's menacing. But it's where she has to go.


From: Dawn Harkins
Sent: Sunday, January 07, 2001 2:25 PM

Jean A wrote:

Have other people had dreams in which they knew that they were dreaming?


Dawn, @~39n, 129w, 6500'up

From: Ladyshrike@AOL.COM
Sent: Sunday, January 07, 2001 8:01 PM

Absolutely. When the going gets tough, the tough ... wake up.


From: Mme Bahorel
Sent: Sunday, January 07, 2001 8:05 PM

Oh, of course! It's that moment when you realise "Never in a million years is this likely to happen" -- and then you wake up because you realised it was never going to happen. It's such a disappointment when even asleep you're too practical to keep going with the fantasy.

Mme Bahorel

42°02'47"N, 87°41'40"W (school)
40°30'45"N, 88°59'18"W (home)

From: John Finneran
Sent: Monday, January 08, 2001 2:45 AM

A bit more background for this story:

The heroine whistles "Death and the Maiden" on the story's second page (p. 248). After a consultation with my research associate, Mr. Google, I found out some information on this song. D and M is a musical piece by Schubert, based on a brief (8 line) poem by Matthias Claudius. The poem is a dialogue between a maiden and Death, and is given below, along with a bit of additional information, all taken from the following website:


Der Tod und das Mädchen (Death and the Maiden)

Text by Matthias Claudius (1740-1815) Set by Franz Schubert (1797-1828), D. 531 (1817), published 1821 as op. 7 no 3.

The Maiden:
"Pass by me, oh, pass by me!
Vision of skull and bone!
I am still young, deny me,
Go and leave me alone."

"Give me thy hand thou form so fair and mild!
A friend am I, not come to pain you.
Be of good cheer! I am not wild.
My arms in soft sleep shall contain you."

Death is here presented as a seducer, one who seeks to allay the Maiden's fears with professions of friendship (like the Big Bad Wolf in the guise of Grandmother, to use the Little Red Riding Hood analogy I raised earlier).

The counterparts in "On the Wolfsberg" seem clear enough: the wolf as Death, and Wolfsberg's heroine as the Maiden (she dismisses the possibility of having been raped with the words "everything is perfectly intact" (p. 248), with "intact" suggesting virginity.)

John Finneran

From: u1c04803
Sent: Monday, January 08, 2001 6:01 AM

Thoughts of the day.

OK, new framework, scratch previous comments (wild speculations) about the "puzzle" paper found on her path. On to new speculations.

In the beginning, she's sensing the existence of death, but making her way half-awares, trying to proceed as though he didn't exixt, dialoging with him in an almost unconscious way. A mindlessness in living.

But the paper appears before her, evidence of efforts to work out a problem. Definite efforts, which haven't succeeded because the paper has been discarded, thrown away. The problem is the fragility of human existence, beings given a mind to work on problems, but not control over ultimate death. Nothing to be done about that. She's forced to begin to become mindful, andbrought up against futility, despite all her knowledge of earthly facts, earthly efforts.

So from then on there's an increasing dark mood, corresponding with her awakening, enlightening. realizations. Of the presence and power of death.

Symbolized by the wolf.


From: Rowen84@AOL.COM
Sent: Monday, January 08, 2001 9:13 AM

The paper is:

"...possibly directions for solving a Chinese puzzle, an interlocking wooden ball..."

I'm not sure that you can assume they haven't succeeded. I think the paper is more in the line of litter, as in someone opened a box (toy), pulled out the puzzle and ignored the 'operating manual' for the ball, symbolically, the world . She's depressed because the road is unused; people don't think, don't try to understand the puzzle.

"She looked attentively at the road...clearly few people ever used it..."

When one is a thinking person, a reasoning person and travels down this road one must encounter thoughts of death, mortality, the mystery of existence and can be frightened by them. (Wolves) The milestone might represent a birthday, an important event that has just occurred in her life that has sent her down this path. The wolf, cocking his leg, is a symbolic comment: to be crude, "Oh, piss on it all", signifying that she recognizes that to worry about existential thoughts, to wallow on this endless road, is "hollow, false, false through and through". Self-indulgent and leading to death (more quickly than necessary) (The amnesia may also be a reference to a considered suicide in a more literal sense - the death of identity=the death of self) This is well in keeping with POB's slightly sardonic sense of humor.

She rejects it all with the stone, choosing to live life instead of consider life.

And this is the last short story in the book. Maybe his last short story? "No more symbols, nothing _directed_"? "Just let me walk along like this."

Symbolically, the (dead) end of the road for this particular line of writing?


From: John Finneran
Sent: Friday, January 12, 2001 2:19 AM

More thoughts on "On the Wolfsberg":

The first thing to say about this story is that is permeated with symbolism. The presence of this symbolism is explicitly pointed out by the central heroine ("No more of those square old symbols", p. 248, "A symbol cocking its leg", p. 250), and not merely something we must infer, as in the earlier stories. But the meaning of some of this symbolism is so obscure or personal as to be impenetrable, and this after several utterly comprehensible stories. It seems a strange way to end a collection of short stories, and not just a collection, but THE collection of PO'B's short stories ("The Collected Short Stories of Patrick O'Brian" is the name of the collection in Britain.)

So why this heavily symbolic story at the end? For one thing, it serves to transform our perception of the earlier stories, which in many ways has been negative for the reputation of the short stories; for after reading this last story, the reader is likely to say, "Huh? Wha'? What just happened? She knew who she was at the end (p. 250), so why doesn't PO'B tell US, his dear readers who are buying his books and putting bread and butter on his table, who she was? And what's the deal with all those symbols? I know it means something, but I don't know what! And now that I think about it, there's a lot of them symbols and hard-to-understand stuff in the earlier stories, as well! I don't like this short story business at all! Why doesn't PO'B stick to Jack and Stephen!"

This is, as I say, the negative aspect of the placement of this story, and could have been somewhat alleviated if PO'B had ended the collection with a more comprehensible, less overtly symbolic story (such as "The Handmaiden").

But the placement also transforms our perception of the earlier stories in a positive way, in that this level of overt symbolism strongly suggest that there may be more subtle symbolism present in the earlier more seemingly straightforward stories(fortunately for those of us participating in this short story thread who have been seeing symbols left and right in the earlier stories), not to mention the rest of PO'B's writings.

More importantly, "Wolfsberg" needs to be last, because it is the conclusion of the meta-story that has developed across the stories. I think we can decipher some of this conclusion, though much of it remains mysterious.

The narrative in "Wolfsberg" is unusual in that it seems to be at least partly determined by the thoughts of the heroine (she thinks of things and they happen). Jean's suggestion of the story as a conscious dream (in which the dreamer knows she's dreaming) makes sense, but I had another idea as I read it, which is that the story is similar to Flann O'Brien's novel "At Swim Two Bird" in which an author begins to write a story and the characters come alive, so that the forces he has set in motion are to some extent beyond his control.

The first symbol we encounter is that of the path, which the protagonist travels on through the woods and mountains. This is an image used over and over in the short stories, beginning with "The Return", and carrying on right through to "The Handmaiden". In fact, the narrative from "Handmaiden" continues without a pause in "Wolfsburg": "Handmaiden" ends with the heroine walking: ("She walked along the hall towards the door, ... and hurried out of the house on Edward's track", p. 244), and "Wolfsberg" begins with the heroine still walking ("When she came out of the mindless, ruminating state that walking often induced ...She also found that she had no notion ... why she was walking", p. 245).

In our discussions of the earlier stories, Charlezzzz and other have identified the path with the journey of the soul.

The path in "Wolfsberg" is associated with damnation: note the number of time the heroine uses "damned" or a variant in relation to her journey: "This is the damnest thing" she says as "[s]he looked attentively at the road" (p. 245); "the reason why I do not really care where this road is going is that I do not care where I am going either: not a damn, alas." (p. 249), and, of the wolf: "What kind of a goddam symbol are you, anyhow?" (p.250). She thinks at one point (p. 248) of Shakespeare's "Lust Sonnet", "that leads men to this hell" (quote from the sonnet, does not appear in the story).

Clearly, the end of the path, or one possible destination, is Hell.

At least two of the seven deadly sins appear along the path: lust with the lust sonnet ("expense of spirit in a waste of shame", p. 248), and accidie (spiritual despair, a favorite PO'B theme in the stories, most notably in "The Walker") when the heroine declares "the reason why I do not really care where this road is going is that I do not care where I am going either: not a damn, alas." (p. 249).

At the extreme, if one falls too far into the depths of accidie, one can succumb to what PO'B elsewhere calls The Death of the Soul, and become, like the title character in "The Walker", a member of the walking dead. From PO'B's novel "The Catalans": "I will tell you what I mean by the death of the soul. When you no longer have the power to love, when there is no stir of affection anywhere in your being, then your soul is dead. That is the death of your soul. Your soul is dead, and you are damned: you are dead walking, and you are in hell in your own body." (Catalans, p. 96)

Also appearing along the path is an image of "clouds from an aeroplane" (p. 247), which seems to be taken directly from "The Little Death"'s image of "an unending floor of white cloud, and in the sky was an aeroplane falling and falling, falling forever." (p. 55), which is, I think, an image of the death of PO'B's brother Michael. (See http://jfinnera.www1.50megs.com/Death.htm for a fuller explanation.)

Another theme continued from previous stories is that of the missing woman. As I noted in our discussion of "Handmaiden", in the earlier stories women were alluded to, but did not appear, or were disappearing in one way or another, until the emergence of Paula in "Handmaiden". (See http://jfinnera.www1.50megs.com/Handmaid.htm for our earlier discussion of "Handmaiden"). Again in "Wolfsberg", there is a central female character.

And this central character (not named) is a naturalist, and a rationalist. Susan compared her to Stephen Maturin. Perhaps a better comparison is to Christine Wood, the female naturalist who appears at the end of the Aubrey-Maturin saga. (And "Wood" is perhaps a significant name, if she comes from the realm of the subconscious, the wood (what we Americans would call the woods) in the short stories.)

"Wolfsberg"'s heroine is a rationalist, a categorizer, a cataloguer: she likes to put things into neat, ordered lists, such as "the alphabet, the cranial nerves of the dogfish, the list of elements" (p. 246). In this she is like the central characters in "The Clockmender" and "The Lemon", and like the protagonist of "Lemon", at least, this extreme rationality, can lead to insanity. "The sleep of reason produces monsters," as Goya said. Also highly instructive on this theme is "The Maniac", chapter two of G.K. Chesterton's book "Orthodoxy". This is from that chapter: "The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason." and "Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom."

In political terms, this extreme rationalism leading to madness was seen in the French Revolution and its aftermath in the 18th Century (theme of the Aubrey-Maturin novels) and its descendants, the Bolshevik and National Socialist revolutions in the 20th Century.

And, in "Wolfsberg", the heroine, in the sleep of reason, is again producing monsters: she calls up the wolf by whistling "Death and the Maiden" (p. 246. She whistles again on p. 249). "Naming calls" (i.e., naming the Devil calls the Devil), to use the familiar expression from the Aubrey-Maturin series (and also the name of one of PO'B's short stories not included in this collection). And, as in "The Passeur" (p. 61), whistling calls the wolf. More about the wolf in a moment.

One of the most memorable passages of the story comes when the heroine says, "I suppose I have not been knocked on the head and raped, with all that grass on my back? No, of course I have not: everything is perfectly intact. And I do so despise who are perpetually being raped, or almost raped, or in situations where they might have been raped -- trains, cabins, lifts, lonely woods -- the lot." (p. 248) This is a very strange statement: the defining aspect of rape for the victim is that it is involuntary, but here she treats it as something which is chosen, and in a sense it is, if one assumes an identity which is independent of the actual facts, and in this false identity one has not been knocked on the head (a euphemism for being killed in PO'B's sea novels) or raped if one does not chose to have been.

"[E]verything is perfectly intact" suggests virginity, but this may be a false virginity as part of the heroine's chosen false identity. The theme of false female virginity has also appeared earlier in the short stories: with Conchita in "Handmaiden" and in "The Chian Wine" with new brides putting pigeon's blood on their matrimonial sheets (p. 140) and with Halevy traveling four hundred miles for a statue of the Virgin Mary which does not exist (p. 144).

A double or false identity is a theme that PO'B uses throughout his writings: most completely in his novel "Richard Temple", but also considerably in the Aubrey-Maturin books, with the double agents and secret pasts of many of the characters. (PO'B is also familiar with double identities in his personal life.)

Now the wolf: a wolf appeared in "The Passeur" (which has many parallels to "Wolfsberg") and we identified it with Golgotha and National Socialism, among other things (see http://jfinnera.www1.50megs.com/Passeur.htm ). In "Handmaiden", we can also identify it with the "monster" from the "sleep of reason" and with Death (from the song "Death and the Maiden") and with The Big Bad Wolf from "Little Red Riding Hood". Note also that the wolf is "six feet long" (p. 250), i.e., the size of a man, and a tall man at that, perhaps "a big, heavy man" like The Walker (p.70).

Immediately before the final confrontation, the wolf cocks his leg, presumably to urinate. I see a few possible reasons for this: he exposes his penis, which confirms conclusively that he is male, and underscores the sexual menace to the heroine (of rape or seduction); he may be about to mark his territory (with the heroine inside his territory); and (delicate lissuns avert your eyes from the remainder of this sentence) the wolf urination advances the thoughts of the heroine (and thus the action of the story), as she thinks: wolf piss, lu-piss, lupus, canis lupus, Hugh Lupus.

Then there is the final confrontation itself, where the heroine throws the stone at the wolf. This is the great break with the template of Little Red Riding Hood. Red is eaten by the wolf (or saved by a woodcutter ex machina in other versions), but our heroine fights back (she awakens from the "somnalence of victimization", to use Lois's fine expression) and is perhaps rejecting all the symbolic meanings of the wolf as well, and is also perhaps now not going to advance mechanically to Hell.

And she realizes that the wolf is Hugh Lupus. We've seen the name Hugh before, back in "Not Liking to Pass the Road Again" (another story similar to "Wolfsberg"), who has his face bitten by a mad dog (p. 37): biting off his face would be symbolically removing his mask. And in "Wolfsberg", too, the mask is off, and, the wolf is exposed as Hugh Lupus, the heroine realizes who she is, and symbolically, the whole structure of Double Identity is collapsed, and identified as "hollow and false: false through and through". (p. 250)

John Finneran
(who is going on vacation and not checking e-mail from 1/12 - 1/23)

From: u1c04803
Sent: Friday, January 12, 2001 8:11 PM

The heroine with "the grass on my back" recalls the woman in the grass-stained dress who amused Diana so much at a dance.

And the "double or false identity" in the sexual context suggested here, recalls the episode of the false, and falsely pregnant Amanda Smith. Her and Jack's dalliance, the lovegame she tried to play with him, and his, in turn, with Sophie.


From: Charlezzzz@AOL.COM
Sent: Friday, January 12, 2001 6:32 PM

In this story, some of the symbols bob up to the surface, as they do in a dream from which we're trying to awaken. The word "symbol" is used a couple of times: "What kind of a goddamn symbol are you, anyhow," she yells.

POB is playing mind-games with us: he good as tells us so. He as good as tells us he's writing a story and we're reading a story and the character is trapped in a story, caught in a piece of paper with some puzzling notations on it. Her cry on seeing that paper is automatic: "Let it be nothing symbolic, for God's sake." (Quoth POB--Don't you wish it could be like that.)

What's a symbol? A symbol lies waiting in our dreams. It doesn't "mean" anything. It works on our subconscious. What does a wolf symbolize for all of us brought up in Western culture, most of us who have never seen a wolf outside a zoo? Well, for a furrier, a hunter, a naturalist, a shepherd, or Farley Mowatt, a wolf is a specific animal... but for most of us, especially in dreams and in fairy tales, it *also* represents a kind of danger, a wild danger, a Red Riding Hood danger. And sometimes, given the right circumstances, that danger is sexual.

(1) So...now consider the title. On the Wolfsberg. Translation? "Here's a story, a story where the only character is a woman going through wolf country rather than through human country, and wolf country is a mysterious dangerous place, and the danger, or part of it, is sexual. And we'll see how she gets along, because this is a story."

(2) She's walking. Doesn't know where or why, and doesn't much care. We've seen characters like that in half of POB's short stories. Mostly, they seem to be souls after death, walking toward judgment. Mostly men. Mostly bearing a burden--at least once a burden the size of a child. The land through which they walk sometimes has dangers in it, sometimes not. She walks on her road: "clearly few people ever used it...soft hills for ever, limitless peace and silence." She whistles Death and the Maiden (of course.) She contemplates "the peaceful infinity of rounded hills below her." Infinity.

(3) Her thought: "Amnesia: it is an obvious refuge from distress, from an intolerable situation: everyone knows that." And then that odd passage where she, at some distance from herself, decides she has not been raped. (Well, she's in wolf country.)

(4) A hint: nothing but a hint, but she smells the odor of Rosemary--that's for remembrance Think of her, for a moment, as Ophelia. Dead, drowned bewildered lady, lost from her own mind, driven to watery death by a sometime lover who... the expense of spirit in a waste of shame... and she wants no more of that. No Shakespeare, please. No more symbols.

(5) The paper. A paper like the story (in dreamwork, "like" = "is.") A story wch you have to tilt to the light, and then you find (perhaps) a set of diagrams, possibly directions for solving a Chinese puzzle. Symbols. Yes. On the Wolfsberg. Like the poem Hamlet sends Ophelia: Doubt truth to be a liar...

(6) And now the story darkens; a change of light -- a certain air of menace. Now the road, heretofore rising, began to slope down," still in this noiseless silvery everlasting universe, the easiest road in the world to follow. Everlasting? Universe? Easiest road? Facilis decensus Avernus. Poor Ophelia, destroyed by her prince. Sent to a burial with scanted rites, unsaved. (There's no need to think that POB is really giving us an Ophelia here--just that she's in the background somewhere. In the background of every reader's mind, whether she's called to the surface or not.)

(7) Then the wolf. "Just some damned symbol, longing for a romp." Symbol upon symbol. And--huzzah!-- she flings a stone at him, and as climax, she knows that Hugh Lupus "was an empty selfish man, hollow and false: false through and through."

(8) Outcome: SHE isn't headed for judgment SHE is the judge. She judges the wolf, this "empty selfish man." And it seems to me that the story hinges on the reversal in the last sentence, where POB uses the word "came" rather than the word "went" for the delivery of that judgment "The knowledge came faster than the flying stone." In short, the wolf recognizes who he is, or what he has done.

(9) Who's Hugh Lupus? Well, as John F. reminds us, there's a Hugh in "Not Liking to Pass this Way Again" found at the foot of the old bridge, with his face bitten. One cd write a whole chapter on the symbolism of a bitten face. Let's just assume it can stand for something like the removal of a mask...or the donning or a mask...or the exposure of a man's *real* character...or, through pain, of the hiding and maybe the changing of a man's real character.

(10) It seems to me that Dean King, peeking through his keyhole, missed his chance to visit POB's deepest tormented feelings, and that some of these stories, gnarled and twisted as they are, are an artist's effort to work through those feelings. As we do in dreams. With symbols.


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