Babbie's Horn(s)

William Dempsey

an essay on Gene Wolfe’s Book of the Short Sun—spoilers abound

Gene Wolfe’s Book of the Short Sun has been called by some a return to the “baroque”[1] style of his earlier works[2] (the implicit references here being The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Peace, and of course the Book of the New Sun, the lattermost being the apotheosis of this alleged period[3]). Perhaps due to its recency in comparison to New Sun, or its confusing nonlinear narrative structure, Short Sun has received a fair bit less attention than its dazzling elder brother (this phrase in cognizance of the irony that Severian is, compared to middle-aged Horn, just a boy). Nonetheless, interpretations and explanations have inevitably emerged, and, as is the nature of such things, some have come into conflict.

My writing here is prompted by such a putative incompatibility between two Short Sun theories that have each, at the times I first encountered them, seemed prima facie correct in relevant aspects (by this I mean the aspects relevant to the discussion at hand, i.e. the aspects concerning Babbie). The first finds its origin in a number of posts on the Urth List by Marc Aramini[4]; the second is from Robert Borski’s “Penumbrae of the Short Sun”[5]. Each of these essays sports many tendrils, but I will just be focusing on a few key ideas regarding the characters of Silk(and)Horn, Babbie the hus, the Neighbors, and Pig.

In short (ha), the conflict is this. Aramini claims that Horn’s consciousness is, at some point (we’ll come back to the question of exactly when) transferred into Babbie, the pet hus that he acquired during his visit to Mucor and Marble at the black rock.[6] On the other hand, Borski makes a series of claims about Babbie: that he is a Neighbor, that he contains Pig’s consciousness, and that he contains Tartaros’ consciousness.[7] Borski has an additional claim—that Pig is Tartaros (or more carefully, if we take ‘Pig’ to refer to the blind godling Horn first encounters when he awakens in Silk’s body aboard the Whorl, that Pig contains the consciousness of Tartaros, as well as its other established passenger, Passilk[8])—which, when combined with the prior premises, delivers the theory that Babbie is a Neighbor who contains the consciousness of Tartaros, which previously resided in Pig. It seems hard to reconcile these accounts of Babbie. Or, at least, the following questions are generated: if Tartaros resides in Babbie, how could it be that Horn ultimately ends up residing in Babbie? Do the god and the papermaker end up sharing the same (poor) hus’ body? What happened to the instance of Passilk in Pig after he was given new eyes?

What follows comprises assessments of both theories. I end up concluding that more is correct in Aramini’s than Borski’s, but I have objections to both. I attempt to construct a watertight theory of Babbie’s nature and identity from what I think can be retained of these prior explanatory structures. Along the way, I discover a few threads extending into the shadowy distance. I tug at some of them, but do not follow them all; I have done my best to signal to the reader where these unresolved mysteries lurk, and what questions will need answering if we are looking to tame them.

“I heard myself calling Babbie…”

Taking a step back, why think that Babbie is a vessel for foreign souls at all? Here are three justifications, in order (I believe) of increasing significance. First, the term ‘hus’, which, as Borski points out, has in addition to its porcine descriptive connotations for the (alien) animal, the meaning of house (which we know Wolfe was intentionally playing on).[9] A house is certainly a container for conscious beings, and so by abstraction for consciousnesses, and there is the functional parallel of Babbie’s status as a ‘house’ to Pig’s status as a ‘purse’, which is also a kind of container.[10] Second, the hus doesn’t do all that much over the course of the three books—Chekhov’s gun seems to suggest that his presence can only be warranted if it contributes to the story, and serving as a disguised container for other major characters seems to qualify as service in this regard. Third, there is the scene in Return where Babbie appears as a man to Hoof during dream travel, which is an obvious parallel to Jahlee’s acquired humanity during the oneiration to Urth in In Green’s Jungles,[11] and suggests that there is some hidden human aspect of his nature which is made manifest during the phenomenon. A contained human (or godly[12]) consciousness could account for this transformation.

Aramini holds that at some point “some of” Horn’s consciousness “flees into Babbie”, which he argues will account for the “big change between the narrator in On Blue’s Waters when he is very depressed and at the beginning of In Green’s Jungles.”[13] The narration of Blue ends with Silkhorn abandoning Evensong and finding his way to “a hovel […] in the forest” populated by Brother and Sister, two children living alone after the death of their mother, where he writes until he runs out of paper, and the narration of Green begins in the walled village of Blanko, which Silkhorn has presumably found his way to by foot, and where he acquires more paper to continue his writing.[14]

Now it is certainly true, as Aramini emphasizes, that Silk’s consciousness becomes dominant at the very end of Blue in a striking fashion. There is the dream in which Silkhorn envisions himself and Hyacinth “chopping nettles from around the hollyhocks”,[15] which I am in full agreement must be a metaphorical indication that Silk is coming to dominate Horn, as Nettle, the love of Horn’s life, is “chopp[ed]” away by Hyacinth, the love of Silk’s. A page before, the narrator, still Horn-dominant, wishes goodbye to Nettle and Sinew “my son”. In the same paragraph, the Outsider is mentioned by name—“May the Outsider bless you as I do”[16] (the talk of blessing is certainly suggestive of Silk’s position as an augur, and serves to show that Silkhorn’s consciousness should not be understood as a discrete binary between the two men, but rather as a continuum, or an admixture)—which, I believe, sets the stage for the subsequent paragraph, separated by a dinkus, where Silkhorn writes:

I found him in the forest, sitting in the dark under the trees. I could not see him. It was too dark to see anything. But I knelt beside him and laid my head upon his knee, and he comforted me.[17]

I think the unnamed figure in the forest must be a manifestation of the Outsider. The obscured[18] but corporeal description is consistent with other definite appearances of the god, especially in Long Sun,[19] as is the figure’s compassionate temperament.

The dominance of Silk’s consciousness in the narration emerges shortly after this incident, arguably becoming further cemented after the narrator sees his reflection spearing for fish in the water (forcing him closer to acknowledging the truth of his identity that he will struggle with over the course of all three books, and recalling the (very deliberately Christian) image of fishing that closes the afterword in Return[20]). These events precipitate and partially explain the seeming personality-shift in the narrator in the final pages of Blue.

All of this is not to rule out the possibility that, at some point, (some of) Horn’s consciousness was transferred into Babbie. Aramini has three pieces of evidence to offer us that this transfer happened. First, there is the moment when, while Evensong is sleeping on the boat-hut that she and Silkhorn have used in their escape from Gaon and Silkhorn is trying to do the same, he hears “[him]self” calling to Babbie.[21] After noting the absence of both Oreb and the inhumi who had been flying overhead earlier, the narrator then states that

Someone on the shore called again for Babbie, and I understood that he meant me; it never so much as occurred to me then that I had sometimes been called “Silk” or “Horn.” He who called me seemed quite near, and he called me with more urgency than Seawrack ever has. I searched the shadows under the closest trees for him without result.[22]

We can infer from “again” that the voice Silkhorn hears call for Babbie is the same voice he hears the first time. From this it follows that the voice he hears the second time is his own, as the first voice he heard was explicitly identified as such. So two very strange things have happened: Silkhorn has heard himself calling for Babbie, and has understood “Babbie” to refer to himself.

Next, there is dream travel scene in Return to the Whorl (taking place after Silkhorn’s narration has given way to Hoof’s) where Babbie appears as “a hairy man with thick arms and real big shoulders, and glasses, and a couple of Babbie’s eyes (the little ones).”[23] A little later, in the same sequence, Hoof writes:

I bumped somebody short and hairy and hard as a rock. I knew who that was right away, and how dangerous he was, too, so I said, “It’s me, Babbie, it’s Hoof,” very quick.

Something happened then that surprised me as much as just about anything I saw on the Red Sun Whorl, except for the part right at the last. Because Babbie threw his arms around me and gave me a great big hug, saying “Huh! Huh! Huh!” and lifted me off my feet. Babbie’s arms were shorter than mine, but thicker than my legs, and he was the strongest person I ever met.[24]

Aramini observes that “[t]he Huh Huh Huh could be either an attempt to say Hoof or Horn” [sic],[25] and it is certainly available to read fatherly affection into Babbie’s embrace of Hoof,[26] and perhaps also filial affection (underneath a layer of surprise) into Hoof’s reaction. The contrastive difference between the elided sound “huh” and the more traditionally porcine (at least to my imagined ear) “hunck-hunck-hunck!” noise that a presumably pre-possessed Babbie makes in Blue[27] lends further credence to this theory. Not to mention the fact that, given the way in which the implicit or inner becomes explicit or observable whenever characters oneirate throughout Short Sun, Babbie must be more than only a hus by the time of accompaniment of Hoof and the others in chapter 17 of Return.

Finally, there is Maytera Marble’s prophecy in the third chapter of Blue, where it is stated that Horn will find himself “riding upon a beast with three horns.”[28] On Aramini’s reading, the “beast with three horns” is in fact Babbie; “[t]wo [of the horns] are [the hus’] tusks, and one is Horn himself!”[29] Horn’s allusion to a seemingly literal occasion of riding a three-horned beast on Green “at the time [he] was wounded fatally” at the end of the chapter[30] would then have to be treated as one of two meanings of said statement in Marble’s prophecy.[31] The polysemy is of course on brand for Wolfe. 

I am of the opinion that the conjunction of these three pieces of evidence creates a fairly strong case for the hypothesis that at least some of Horn’s consciousness ends up contained in Babbie at some point during Short Sun, but I cannot consider the theory complete until it is combined with an explanation as to when and why/how the transference of Horn’s consciousness takes place. I do not think that Aramini’s own version of the theory supplies this information, because I do not believe that it offers a plausible signaling event to indicate that said transference has taken place. I do think that Wolfe is a predominantly rationalistic writer, which is to say that his fiction can be fruitfully analyzed utilizing the Principle of Sufficient Reason; to paraphrase Spinoza, we can formulate the principle as such:

(PSR) There is no fact (in the text), for which it cannot be asked what is the cause (or reason) [causa (sive ratio)] why it is the case.[32]

Obviously not every writer works this way—try applying such a requirement to anything by Donald Barthelme, for instance, and you won’t come back happy—but thus far nothing has prevented me from successfully applying it to Wolfe.

The event that Aramini argues to be the cause of Horn’s transference is that of Silkhorn sitting under the “big Tree”,[33] after he has spent some time in the forest looking for the source of the voice calling for Babbie. Silkhorn explicitly compares the tree to the trees of Green,[34] whose special characteristics are emphasized throughout the series, but I think it is wrong to attribute to the trees the Neighborly power to transfer souls. The only time we see definitively this power in action is when Horn dies on Green, and the Neighbor comes to him.[35]

With the tree hypothesis eliminated, the assertion that Horn’s consciousness is transferred into Babbie at the end of Blue violates the PSR because there is no evident cause that we could treat as explanatory of such an event. If (and this is only a hypothesis, but, I think, a plausible one) instances of causation are to be individuated by their related events, then identifying such a cause is the only way to explain the assertion, and in doing so justify its incorporation into the larger theory. Contrast this with the transfer of Horn’s consciousness into Silk; this event is clearly caused by a Neighbor (which is in turn caused by the dying Horn’s beckoning of a Neighbor through Seawrack’s ring).

But as I’ve said above, this does not rule out the possibility that some other event in the story of Short Sun can be identified as the requisite cause and thus vindicate Arimini’s evidence. Whatever our hypothesized event will be, it will have to, by the ordinary rules of causation, take place before the first indication of Babbie being more than a simple hus. As it turns out, there are numerous moments throughout Blue suggesting Babbie’s personhood. The first, clear piece of evidence, I think, is when Horn notices Babbie watching him administer sealing wax (to the desertwood box in which he stores Wijzer’s map) “with more interest than [he] would have expected any beast save Oreb to show.”[36] Given that we learn, by the end of Return, that Oreb has been possessed by Scylla for the duration of the trilogy,[37] it is hard to interpret this comparison as anything other than an indication of a similar intelligence in Babbie, or even an analogous possession. Following this, in chapter 5, Silkhorn recounts an interesting incident in which Horn momentarily panics at the thought that there is some hidden, additional person on the riverbank with him and Seawrack. After some anxious speculation, he calls after realizing that “the third person [he] sensed was merely Babbie, whom I had by a species of mental misstep ceased to consider an animal.”[38] This comes off as obvious irony from Wolfe. Later, Seawrack states that “Babbie’s more like people.”[39] And then there is the scene after Horn’s escape from the pit where he may or may not have died (we’ll come back to this), where a particular interaction is isolated in the narration as having been “impress[ive]” to Horn—that Babbie seems to understand his speech and gives an appropriate nod of affirmation in response to Horn’s “[y]ou thought I was dead!”[40] All of this provides additional evidence against the claim that Horn’s consciousness entered Babbie at the end of Blue, as each one of these moments occurs long before Silkhorn’s abandonment of Evensong and encounter with Brother and Sister.

So when exactly was it that Babbie became (at least partially) a person? Well, one simple if perhaps surprising hypothesis is that he was always that way, at least, as long as he has appeared on-screen in the text. Borski’s theory builds in exactly this idea, on the basis that Borski believes the hus to be a Neighbor:

when Horn, once again outward bound on his journey, looks back to Mucor’s Rock and sees the witchy talent waving to him from atop a promontory, he also notes the following: “At the top of the cliff, I saw a small dark figure that seemed almost a cluster of boys, or two men upon their hands and knees. It vanished, then reappeared as it made a flying leap from the top of the cliff.” (Blue, 105) The ‘leaper’ sends up a waterspout five cubits from Horn’s sloop, then vanishes “as if it had sunk like a stone.” But almost immediately thereafter it’s Babbie who surfaces, “his black snout and little red eyes breaking water just aft of the rudder.” Babbie then climbs aboard, where he squats “like a spider,” and so begins his sojourn aboard the sloop, where he will fast become Horn’s boon companion. Most interesting to note here are the three correspondences with the Neighbors. The first is uncountability: the figure on the cliff looks like “a cluster of boys, or two men upon their hands and knees;” compare this with Horn’s later statement about how, “The Vanished People are like that at times, a single individual counting as many, and many coalescing into two or three.” Secondly, we have the ostensible change in size and shape (Babbie-the-hus is no larger than a big dog); the Mother, as we already know, can similarly morph. And lastly we have the arachnid comparison; when Horn falls into the pit, he observes “a man with a long nose (a tall man or an immense spider)” standing over him. Nor should we forget that Babbie is the gift of Circean Mucor, which plays the Homeric angle of transformed animals. It therefore seems at least possible that the hus is more than a simple beast and quite possibly a Neighbor.[41]

The figure atop the cliff is absolutely a Neighbor, and Borski is right to point out the coincidence of that Neighbor’s disappearance into the water and Babbie’s subsequent appearance. The immediate questions are: (1) is it possible that a Neighbor can disguise himself as a hus? and (2) why would a Neighbor disguise himself as a hus?


I have already sketched where Borski’s theory goes (viz. Pig/Tartaros possesses Babbie), but I think it’s worth stopping before we get there to interrogate this initial claim about Babbie-as-Neighbor. This is an assertion that becomes less plausible to me the more I consider it, primarily because there is no evidence in the text that Neighbors can shapeshift (inhumi certainly can—Neighbors not so much[42]), and secondarily because the questions (1) and (2) remain conspicuously unanswered.

But certainly there must be some connection between the Neighbors and Babbie—the image of the cliff-perching Neighbor to disappear only for Babbie to replace him becomes very difficult to ignore following Borski’s discussion. So we might—and I think should—provisionally assume that there is a connection here, on pain of committing ourselves to figuring out precisely what that connection involves.

The Neighbors maintain an interest in Horn throughout most if not all of Short Sun. His first interaction with them takes place in the eleventh chapter of Blue, during which the Neighbors gift sovereignty of Blue to humanity, having designated Horn the “representative” of the species because they believe him to be “well disposed” toward them, but also probably because they perceive him as a man who has been “every being of [his] kind.”[43] Just after this, Horn chances upon Babbie, whom he almost shoots for the second time (another conspicuous instance of Babbie appearing shortly after the Neighbors disappear),[44] and then, to the amazement of He-pen-sheep and his son, kills a massive beast known as a “breakbull”[45]—Borski is right to emphasize this as one instance, among others, of Horn displaying superhuman abilities.[46] But the incident on Mucor’s Rock shows that the Neighbors have been observing, if perhaps not yet interacting with, Horn for some time. And then there is Seawrack’s silvery (but not silver!) ring, which she gives Horn in a chapter of the same name, that establishes Horn as a friend of the ghostly natives of Blue, and ultimately calls the Neighbors to transfer his consciousness into Silk’s body on the Whorl from his own dying body on Green.[47]

So not only does there seem to be some connection between Babbie and the Neighbors, in addition to the quite clear connection between the Neighbors and Horn, but there also seems to be a connection between Seawrack and the Neighbors—one that is very possibly independent of Horn’s connection—through her ring. Perhaps Horn’s connection to the Neighbors is actually caused by his acceptance of the ring, though if this is the case, it becomes even more mysterious that a Neighbor would already have been watching Horn from Mucor’s Rock, before Horn and Seawrack had become acquainted and eventually exchanged rings. It seems most plausible to me, especially given the reasons the Neighbors themselves give for their singling out of Horn as a representative for humanity, that the Neighbors have been interested in Horn the whole time.

He-pen-sheep, who along with his family seems to be quite familiar with the Neighbors, calls Horn “Neighbor-Man.” Later, in the same conversation, his son, in what seems interpretable as a warning, “display[s] both palms” and admonishes Horn, uttering, “No kill Neighbor”, at which He-pen-sheep laughs, and corrects the boy: “He no kill. Change blood Neighbor”, before (presumably) explaining further in his own language, which Horn and (frustratingly) the reader are unable to understand.[48] The broken English with which Wolfe chooses to render this speech in the text is porous with ambiguity. Here are three possible interpretations: (a) ‘Horn has changed the blood of (a) Neighbor(s)’; (b) ‘Horn’s blood has been changed by (a) Neighbor(s)'; (c) Horn’s blood has been changed into that of (a) Neighbor(s)’. At the very least, something has happened involving Horn, one or more Neighbors, and his or their blood (or both). When could this have happened? The most attractive answer is that it happened at some point during the extended sequence of chapters 8 and 9 of Blue, in which Horn, Babbie, and Seawrack discover on an island an overgrown ruin of the Neighbors, Horn goes hunting for an animal he believes he senses in the brush, despite Seawrack’s protestations, falls into a pit, and, if Seawrack’s later insistent comments are to be believed, dies there.[49] Or something dies, at least; Silkhorn writes that “[w]ith that fall, the best part of my life was over. The pit was its grave.”[50]

Chapter 9 opens with Horn “regain[ing] consciousness” in the pit, feeling cold (there is some interesting hellish imagery of “glittering eyes and sharp faces” injected here), seeing Babbie’s “familiar, hairy mask peering” [emphasis mine] down at him, before his consciousness lapses a second time. When he awakes once more, he feels “as if [his] spirit had gone and left [his] body unoccupied as it did on Green; but in this case it had returned, and [his] memories (such as they were) were those of the body and not those of the spirit.[51] In the pit he speaks with Krait at length for the first time; after this, Silkhorn recounts the following incident:

Once, as I lay there at the bottom of the pit, it seemed to me that a man with a long nose (a tall man or an immense spider) stood over me. I did not move or even open my eyes, knowing that if I did he would be gone. He touched my forehead with something he held, and the pit vanished.

This is Horn’s first experience of astral travel—the Neighbor spirits him to Nettle’s kitchen, where he frightens her once she realizes that he is not really there in the flesh.[52] Now, if Seawrack is right that Horn died in the pit, what we have here is a sequence in which Horn falls, dies, is somehow revived, sees Babbie, meets Krait, and is induced into astral travel by a Neighbor. Horn and Seawrack come across He-pen-sheep’s Neighbor-friendly family—and subsequently Horn makes his covenant with the Neighbors—after this sequence. It begins to seem likely that if some Neighbor-involving change came over Horn, this sequence of possibly literal death and resurrection would be the right time for it to take place. It has been suggested, for instance, that what He-pen-sheep means to convey is that the Neighbor “gave [Horn] a blood transfusion”,[53] which (I am now inferring) revived him. If such a blood-transfusion did occur, then Horn must, after the pit, be some kind of part-man, part-Neighbor hybrid, and “Neighbor-man” a literal appellation (Borski offers a statement in seeming agreement with this understanding of the phrase, but—curiously—does not comment upon it further[54]). This being the case would also serve to explain his aforementioned superhuman abilities, which begin to manifest after his meeting with the Neighbors in chapter 9.

My reservations with this view are based around the worry that it is not obvious that it is the Neighbor who revives Horn from death, nor is it obvious how a blood transfusion from a Neighbor could revive him. Nevertheless, I am hard pressed to conceive of a better explanation for both Horn’s apparent resurrection and He-pen-sheep’s cryptic remark about changing blood.

Regardless of whether Horn is a “Neighbor-man”, he is certainly the Neighbors’ man, as evidenced by their regular observation of his movements, the degree of deference they show to him, and their repeated efforts to protect him. Seawrack’s ring marks him as one too—in fact, this may be all that He-pen-sheep means when he calls Horn “Neighbor-man”: he responds to Horn’s request for clarification on his initial use of the phrase by pointing to the ring and saying, “You Neighbor-Man” [emphasis mine].[55] Of course, we have already noted Wolfe’s penchant for polysemy; one meaning may not necessarily preclude another.

Another piece of evidence for the blood transfusion theory may be the strange statement made by the Neighbor who brings Horn to the meeting (who may be the same Neighbor who found him in the pit). Here is the relevant part of the scene:

The Neighbor who had brought me stood up, and I did, too. “You spoke of a companion,” he said, and he sounded almost casual. “Seawrack, you named her. You did not give us your own name, you who have been every being of your kind.”

“My name is Horn.” I offered him my hand.

He took it, and this time I felt his hand and remembered it. It seemed to be covered with short, stiff hairs. Beyond that I will not say. “My name is Horn also,” he told me. I felt that I was being paid an immense compliment, and did not know how to reply.[56]

If the Neighbor speaking is in fact the same particular Neighbor who resurrected Horn in the pit, and if said resurrection involved mixing of blood, then that Neighbor—let’s call him Neighbor-Horn—is named ‘Horn’ because he is, in part, Horn. (By this logic, if that Neighbor bore some other name before the transfusion, it would be equally appropriate for Horn to call himself by that name.) But there is also a thematic thrust to this scene, one that is replicated frequently throughout Short Sun. I am going to call the phenomenon in question dependent identity.

“He sounds just like you”

The idea is essentially this: Short Sun constructs, throughout its winding narrative, a moral-metaphysical structure of life—in particular, species or kinds of life. At the center of the structure are human beings. Every other significant species in the text—the inhumi, the Neighbors, and yes, huses—is dependent for its nature on the choices of humanity. This metaphysic is at home in a Christian worldview, on which human beings are imbued with both free will and a moral sense, and on which there is a unique responsibility assigned to humans, in contrast to other forms of life—think of Edenic Adam being charged with dominion over the animals. It is the conjunction of these that crucially individuates the metaphysical status of humanity. In Short Sun, the moral triumphs and/or failings of humanity ripple out toward other forms of life, and characterize them in the process. The most lucid instance of this is that of the inhumi: their “secret” is that they only prey on humanity because humans prey on one another.[57] Another way of putting this: the nature or identity of the inhumi as predators is dependent on the moral choice of humanity to be a predatory species. This idea is also echoed early on when Horn interprets Babbie’s glare as stating “very plainly, You hate me so I hate you.”[58] To invoke a Wolfean motif as metaphor, there is a kind of reflection by various forms of life of humanity.

The same sort of dependence relation obtains elsewhere across the Short Sun Whorls—consider this comment by Seawrack about Babbie to Horn and Sinew:

“When you go away and leave us, Babbie will go into the trees and look for things to eat. [...] He talks now, and he picks up things to look at. You said “hind legs,” and he does. He stands up when you tell him to, like to row.”

[...] “And he does anyway sometimes when he thinks we’re not paying attention, so he can use his hands. When he goes into the trees, it will be a real person going in there. But he won’t be a real person in there for very long.[59]

Seawrack’s claim is that Babbie’s identity as a person is dependent on his being around people (perhaps specifically dependent on being around Horn?). She asserts that the further removed he is from human life, the less human he will become. Granted, this is not as clear a morally conditioned case of dependence than that of the inhumi, but I take it as evident that Seawrack is invoking a similar sort of relation in all of the other relevant aspects.

Notice also how this idea generates thematic dovetails between various character-relationships: Horn wants to deny that Babbie is as close to being human as he really is; humanity as a whole, plausibly, wants to deny the humanity of the inhumi, as such an admission would constitute evidence of humanity’s own inhumanity; Horn wants to deny that Sinew, his son, whose love for him he refuses to see,[60] is like himself, so he sublimates the recognition into a “realiz[ation]” that Sinew’s voice “resembled Krait’s” (which is of course nothing more than a substitution of one son for another (adopted) son that leaves the paternal source of both men unchanged, as Seawrack gets at when she interrupts Horn’s thoughts with “[h]e sounds just like you.”[61]

Identity dependence can also do some explanatory work with respect to Neighbor-Horn. Perhaps the idea is that, if Horn identified by the Neighbors as a representative for all of his species—“[he] who has been every being of [his] kind”—then ‘Horn’, extensionally universalized (domain restricted to human beings), comes to mean ‘human’, and accordingly the Neighbor who says “[m]y name is Horn also” can be understood to be expressing that he (and the other Neighbors) are human also.

"Find Pig!"

Returning to the topic of Babbie, perhaps an acknowledgement of this thematic law (in-world metaphysical law) of the text was all we needed to account for his apparent personhood. Well, not so fast, as, although the law might explain generically why the hus is (capable of becoming) a person, it does not explain the singular strangeness of his insistent, affectionate interaction with Hoof during dream travel in Return. Aramini’s emphasis of this moment is one of the strongest parts of his theory.

Borski, on the other hand, has a completely different take—he thinks that Babbie contains Pig, who is also Tartaros, the blind god of the Whorl and, by Wolfe’s own lights, “Pas’ loyal son”.[62] There is a certain prima facie association at play between Pig and Tartaros, as Borski points out, viz. Pig is blind, but this does not hold up to scrutiny; Pig was not created lacking eyes, as would be entailed if he was created in Tartaros’ self-image. In fact, Pig informs Silkhorn and Hound that he had eyes, but that they were cut out by “troopers” at some point in the mountains.[63] And it is necessary that Pig have had eyes, because an ability to see would have been required for him to receive a piece of Passilk from Mainframe, via a Sacred Window. The godling confirms for Silkhorn that this is exactly what happened, and moreover that his possession by Passilk occurs immediately after his killing of an augur in front of a such a Window, an act which he cryptically states he “[d]id fer him.”[64] It follows that the excision of Pig’s eyes must have occurred in between his possession by Passilk and his first encounter with Silkhorn, as he is decidedly eyeless by the latter point. 

So I do not believe that Pig is Tartaros. What can be preserved from Borski’s theory if we deny this point? Well, he is right to say that, because Pig is a godling,[65] we should expect that he has been built, at the behest of someone in Mainframe, to serve some purpose. Furthermore, we can assume that his purpose is the same as that of the other godlings. We only encounter one other godling in the text, and we know what he wants—he wants Silkhorn to ask the people of the Whorl to remain aboard the gargantuan spaceship.[66]

Proceeding on the hypothesis that Pig’s purpose is the same as that of other godlings, it is reasonable to hold that his personal goals must be complimentary to theirs as parts of Passilk’s overarching plan. It also seems to be the case, given their actions in Long Sun, that the fliers; the technicians of Mainframe—the “wee folk”, as Pig calls them on account of their small frames[67]—are similarly aligned with Pas. That Pig mentions that they start to appear often after he loses his eyes,[68] and the fact that the surgeon (whose orders come from the fliers[69]) we meet in chapter 16 of Return is motivated to return sight to the godling together indicate that the fliers probably did not want Pig’s eyes removed. It seems plausible that the fliers increasing presence around Pig after the troopers took his eyes was for the purpose of protecting him from further harm—on this reading, Pig’s remark that the fliers were “safe wi’ [with] [him]”[70] is an ironic one, as it is really Pig who was safe with the fliers, not the reverse.

As a nascent godling, Pig is less aware of his purpose than the developed godling encountered at the close of the sixth chapter Return. It seems that he was let loose after his construction (I assume this takes place in Mainframe) to roam and ravage (perhaps to give him time to grow?). 

I had been reasonably certain that the augur whom Pig had murdered had in fact been Silk himself,[71] but I am now convinced that this cannot be the case. The decisive piece of evidence for me was the moment following Pig’s shriving, when Silkhorn says that Pig’s killing of the augur before the Sacred Window and subsequent possession (the possession takes place almost immediately after the murder[72]) took place in The Mountains That Look at Mountains, which are located near one pole of the Whorl, and very far from Viron.[73] These are the same mountains where the troopers cut out Pig’s eyes, which lines up with the overall timeline we are constructing (previously I had struggled with the apparent fact, on the Pig-kills-Silk theory, that Pig would have had to get from Viron all the way to the mountains to have his eyes removed, and then all the way back in order to meet Silkhorn within less than a day after his awakening in the manse). 

Resultantly we must conclude that the augur Pig killed was some anonymous local augur living in the Mountains That Look at Mountains. This refutes another part of Borski’s theory, which involves the claim that Pig was deliberately induced to kill Silk in order for Horn to occupy his body.[74] It also means that the wounds Silkhorn discovers on his arms[72] are likely self-inflicted; Long Sun establishes Silk’s suicidality,[73] and Hyacinth’s death would serve as a plausible trigger for Silk cutting his own wrists with the knife that Silkhorn finds lying on the floor near him at the beginning of Return.[77]

At this point, not much of Borski’s theory has survived scrutiny, while much of Aramini’s has. However, Borski has a final claim to make about Pig that’s worth considering. This claim, which takes us back to the original topic of my essay, is that Pig is, in some sense, Babbie. His evidence consists in “a number of [...] correspondences”: Pig’s “thick black nails” correspond to Babbie’s “thick black” claws; Horn has a dream in Return in which Pig mans the tiller of a boat[78], which corresponds to Babbie rowing Horn’s sloop at various points during his time with Horn and Seawrack;[79] and perhaps most significantly, Babbie is a hus, a species which in many ways resembles a pig (the name ‘Babbie’ may also recall the name ‘Babe’, that of a famous fictional pig[80]).[81] Borski extrapolates from these correspondences that the hidden human nature of the hus made explicit during oneiration is the manifestation of Pig’s image,[82] but I have a hard time believing this to be true, as Pig would have no motivation to embrace Hoof. On this count, then, I am still sided with Aramini; if Babbie contains any other character’s consciousness, it must be Horn’s.

We are left with another question about Pig, though. What happens to him, after his sight is restored? I do not think that he is somehow transferred into Babbie, so he likely remains on the Whorl. Furthermore we may still wonder why Passilk chose to possess him in the first place, especially if the god would eventually hop right back into the ship’s computer once the godling was fitted with a new eye. This fits into the larger question of what his purpose is. Silkhorn remarks that Pig has been given “certain new instructions”[83]—presumably from Mainframe—but does not elaborate on what he believes these instructions are. These are questions to which I have not yet found adequate answers, and certainly deserve further investigation. I will leave them open-ended here—for the time being, I am going to return once more to the topic of our favorite hus.

"...I understood that he meant me."

Earlier in this essay I noted the strange incident in the final chapter of Blue, where Silkhorn “[hears] [him]self calling Babbie” twice, and on the second time intuits that the voice calling for Babbie means him by the hus’ name. This shortly before he goes ashore, investigates unsuccessfully for the source of the voice, sits in the hollow of the big tree, writes farewell to Horn’s family, and then encounters the Outsider. The putative change from Silkhorn to just Silk in the narration appears to happen between these last two events. I propose that there are three possibilities for what is going on here:

(1) There is a Neighbor hidden somewhere in the forest who initiates the transfer of Horn’s consciousness into Babbie. This Neighbor may be mimicking Silkhorn’s voice, just as the Neighbor Horn met earlier in the book mimicked his name.

(2) Silkhorn has retained the hybrid human-Neighbor status initially instituted in Horn, and Horn’s consciousness is thus able, as part-Neighbor, to initiate a transfer of consciousness himself. When Silkhorn (passively) hears himself calling Babbie, and then hears himself—as though “himself” is someone else—calling Babbie, this is a textual representation of the experience of the redivision of Silk’s and Horn’s individual consciousnesses, which were previously mixed; both moments are described from the perspective of the Silk-part, who experiences the first vocalization as a passive act of his body because it is for him (it is active for the Horn-part), and experiences the second vocalization as othered because the caller qua Horn’s consciousness has separated or is in the process of separating from Silk. The Horn-part of the amalgamated consciousness is the one who understands the name ‘Babbie’ to refer to himself, as he is, in a sense, becoming Babbie.

(3) No transfer of consciousness into Babbie takes place, but Horn’s consciousness does exit Silk’s body.

I think (3) is right, but before I defend it, let me say something about why I think (1) and (2) are wrong.

I find (1) implausible because there is no textual evidence for the presence of a Neighbor in the forest. The narrator later mentions that he tells Brother and Sister about meeting a “Vanished God” in the forest,[84] but the Neighbors are not identical to the Vanished Gods. (I believe the “Vanished God” referenced here is the Outsider.[85])

I think (2) is false because it gets the chronology slightly wrong; Horn’s consciousness must still be dominant when the narrator writes farewell to Horn’s family, which occurs after both times Babbie is called. Therefore the othering of Silkhorn’s voice calling Babbie cannot represent the moment of Horn’s consciousness leaving Silk’s body.[86]

My reasoning for (3): I have already argued for the existence of the metaphysical law of identity dependence in Short Sun, and have argued in particular that there is ample evidence of its application to Babbie. What I think has been happening, over the course of Blue, is that Babbie has been absorbing/acquiring/mirroring (however you would like to put it) Horn, his “master”.[87] I think that the hus continues to be Horn, at least partially, through the rest of the series, which accounts for his appearance and affection toward Horn’s son Hoof in Return (it also appears that Babbie has also picked up a bit of Silk, along the way, as he presents with glasses during dream travel[88]).

As for the voice calling for Babbie (meaning (Silk)Horn), I am partial to the view that this is the voice of the Outsider, whom the narrator will meet not long after in the forest. The explanation of this is figurative-analogical: the Outsider is to Silkhorn as Horn is to Babbie, both relationships are of a beneficent master to a loving servant. Consider this monologue in Blue as the narrator reminisces on his relationship to the hus:

Babbie was my slave, no doubt. I could have led him to the market and sold him. But he did not object in the least to this slavery, and in that way freed himself by freeing his spirit. He was my slave, but he could have escaped any time when we were on the river, simply by jumping into the water and swimming to shore. For that matter he could have escaped even more easily on any of the many occasions when I left him to guard the sloop. He never liked being left alone, but he protected the sloop as instructed just the same.[89]

I see a sophisticated analogical metaphor in this passage for the relationship of human to god. Furthermore, this beneficent master/uncoerced servant idea has some history within Wolfe’s writing. Looking back all the way to the first volume of New Sun, we find a very similar idea emerging in a discussion between Severian with Master Malrubius. Malrubius asks the torturer to name “the seven principles of governance”; the first of these, Severian recites is “[a]ttachment to the person of the monarch.” A moment later, Malrubius poses another question: “[o]f what kind, Severian, is your own attachment to the Divine Entity?” An uncertain Severian answers, “[t]he first, if I have any.” Malrubius follows up by, referring to Severian’s pet dog Triskele, saying, “[t]he animal that rests beside you now would die for you. Of what kind is his attachment to you?” “The first?” Severian conjectures, but Malrubius and Triskele have vanished.[90]

Not only is the same relation of person to god stated, but it is suggested to obtain in an identical way between a pet and its master. Accordingly, Severian is to the Divine Entity as Triskele is to Severian; Horn is to the Outsider as Babbie to Horn. The same structure pervades.

So what has happened to Horn? Nothing more, I think, than his death. Or more accurately, his comprehension and acceptance of his death—just as Silk wants to deny his identity, Horn wants to deny that he is really dead, that he died on Green, and that the “Horn” writing the books we are reading is not truly the original Horn, but a derivative image of the papermaker. I offer once again an argument by analogy; consider Scylla, or more specifically the instance of Scylla that possesses Oreb. At the end of Return, Silk takes this Scylla to Urth to visit her own tomb (we learn here that her real name as Typhon’s daughter was ‘Cilinia’—that her Mainframe upload’s name is Scylla is likely a result of the fact that Cilinia pledged secretly herself to the real Scylla, who Silk calls “Greater Scylla”, one of the megatherians seeking to dominate Urth,[91] sometime before her father made his family and friends into the gods of the Whorl[92]); once the dream-manifestation of the virtual version of tyrant’s daughter looks upon Cilinia’s open casket, which contains “some dirt and hair and old bones, and a little jewelry”, she seems to recognize that she is dead—or more precisely, that she is the lingering image of a person long dead—she dissipates. Hoof writes that “[i]t was like she was water in a bowl, and the dirt in the lead casket was the ground, and somebody we could not see was pouring her out. Maybe the light was.”[93] Horn’s disappearance from Silk’s body happens for the same reason. The passage immediately before his farewell to his family is this:

I will write, I suppose, as long as the light lasts; I have three (no, four) more sheets of paper. The light will not last long, however, and I have no way to start a fire and nothing to cook if I did. The last time I ate was at about this time two days ago with Chota. I am not hungry, but I am afraid I may become weaker.

If the inhumi find me here and kill me here, then they find me here and kill me. That is all there is to it.[94]

To invoke the PSR a final time, this train of thought is the signaling event for Horn’s realization that he is dead. The realization occurs as he recognizes, as he is writing the above passage, that what he expects may happen to him (death by inhumi) has already happened. Thus, he ends the passage by stating a truth he was not able to accept when he initially died on Green: “[t]hat is all there is to it”—just as Cilinia’s is, Horn’s death is final. Once his ghostly image, possessing the body of another, faces this, it can finally depart. This in turn explains the emergence of Silk at the end of Blue that Aramini originally picked up on.

Thus Short Sun concerns two protagonists, conjoining on occasion in the manner of the atmospheres of two sister-planets, one who must overcome his denial that he is dead, and one who must overcome his denial that he is alive.

A closing note—I was not present on the Urth List when it was active—when much of the tooth-cutting of theories on Wolfe’s oeuvre was carried out. As a result, it is more than possible that I am overlooking discussions/debates that may have already occurred on the topic of this essay. I have done my best to scour the forum records, but I would not be surprised if I had missed something important. I often do. For any Wolfe scholars who find this article redundant, I ask your forgiveness, and to point me to the relevant conversations so that I can catch myself up. Cheers!

[1] Nick Gevers interview: I have heard the same sentiment expressed elsewhere.

[2] Wolfe himself explicitly denied that there were any conscious or clear changes in his style—see his immediate response to the ‘return to the baroque’ claim in the same interview with Nick Gevers.

[3] I have toyed around with the idea that Wolfe’s writing career could be (somewhat arbitrarily) broken up into three stages: an ‘early Wolfe’, a ‘middle Wolfe’, and a ‘late Wolfe’. If this division can be made with some degree of reasonableness (it’s not clear that it can, given that the stylistic shifts are gradual, if they happen at all (see [2]), and—given Wolfe’s evidently insatiable drive to put ink on paper—that there are no significantly large gaps in his publishing timeline to use as obvious signposts of transition points), then all three of the allegedly “baroque” books fall within the early Wolfe timeslice. This said, I am less convinced that the term ‘baroque’ is a reasonable descriptor for Fifth Head or for Peace as it is for New Sun. The latter earns the title probably through its occasionally overwhelming attention to detail, as exemplified in the ‘city-exploring’ chapters of The Shadow of the Torturer (here I mean primarily chapters XVI-XVIII) as well as chapter II of The Sword of the Lictor. This sort of crowded world-description may be present in New Sun in part as a further demonstration of the protagonist-and-narrator Severian’s eidetic memory (not to mention his reflective personality in the time of his life when he is writing the book(s)—a trait which is not shared by his younger self), and I assert that it is not shared by the narrator of the title novella of Fifth Head (on that narrator’s name, see Robert Borski’s essay “Je m’appelle Jean Loup”, who does not describe much of his world beyond his immediate experience whatsoever, and seems if anything, to keep his head to the ground with respect to certain (to us) striking features of his surroundings, especially if the reading that Port-Mimizon is crawling with his own clones is right (on this see Alzabo Soup’s episodes on the title novella), nor in the deliberately elusive mythological style of “A Story” by John V. Marsch, nor in the fragmented and procedural V.R.T.. Peace may have more of a claim to baroqueness, but I find Weer’s narrative style, if meandering, flowery, and sometimes philosophical like Severian’s can be at times, to be less descriptively ornate with regard to the scenery. It should be noted that perhaps this difference is not actually a function of a difference in narrative styles at all, but rather simply arises from the fact that Severian has grown up in seclusion, and so might be more motivated to note details of places which come off as foreign to him, while Weer is in contrast quite familiar with his environment. I do not think this accounts for the difference entirely, but it plays a role.

[4] “Tree-Corn, Silk-Horn, and the Word-Whorl Riddle of the Short Sun” ( is the most comprehensive, but I refer to a couple others here and there in what follows.

[5] To be found in his collection The Long and the Short of It: More Essays on the Fiction of Gene Wolfe.

[6] On Blue’s Waters, 106; Silkhorn clarifies that Babbie was a gift from Mucor and did not board the sloop of his own accord a couple pages later (107-108). This would fit with Babbie’s initial resentment toward being in the care of Horn, as such a state of affairs was not his own choice (assuming Horn’s interpretation of the hus’ expression (108) is correct).

[7] The Long and the Short of It, 120-121.

[8] Return to the Whorl, 175. Borski asserts that it is Passilk contained in Pig (The Long and the Short of It, 122-123); this claim is not read explicitly from the text, but rather inferred, and so is in need of justification. I take it that the reasoning is as follows: there is no evident means as to how Silk himself could have transferred his consciousness into Pig, as he lacks the astral projection power of Mucor, but Passilk, the amalgam of Silk and Pas created in Mainframe (Exodus from the Long Sun, 386), as a resident of Mainframe, could download its parts/copies into beings via the eyes—thus, given that Pig was still in possession of eyes when he knelt in front of a Sacred Window (Return to the Whorl, 199), and we know that some consciousness called ‘Silk’ resides within Pig, it must in fact be Passilk contained within the godling. As a further piece of evidence, note that the afterword to Return to the Whorl states that “the divine Silk was possessing Pig” [emphasis mine]. (It is also worth noting that Passilk is only mentioned by name twice in the entirety of Short Sun: once by the surgeon who grants Pig sight in Return (335), and once in Silkhorn’s narration in On Blue’s Waters, explicitly in reference to the surgeon’s mention (369).)

[9] The Long and the Short of It, 121.

[10] See [8].

[11] In Green’s Jungles, chapters 21-23. Cf. Return to the Whorl, chapter 19.

[12] The gods of the Whorl of course having originally been humans.


[14] On Blue’s Waters, 375-381; In Green’s Jungles, chapter 1.

[15] On Blue’s Waters, 379.

[16] Ibid., 378.

[17] Ibid.

[18] In Caldé of the Long Sun (133), Silk addresses the Outside directly as “Obscure Outsider”.

[19] See e.g. Caldé of the Long Sun, 254.

[20] See Christopher Beiting, “The Divine Interregnum in Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the Short Sun”.

[21] On Blue’s Waters, 376.

[22] Ibid., 376-377.

[23] Return to the Whorl, 345.

[24] Ibid., 353.



[27] On Blue’s Waters, 194.

[28] Ibid., 92.


[30] On Blue’s Waters, 94.

[31] As an aside, I think that the following comment—“But I shall say no more about that. It would only disturb us both.”—is intended as a joke by Wolfe: the phrasing would suggest that Silkhorn is speaking directly to the reader, but I suspect that he is really, for a rare moment, speaking plurally, as both the part of himself that is Silk, and the part that is Horn. Thus, “disturb us both” means disturb both of my personalities. Given that Horn’s death on Green leads to his occupation of Silk’s body, it is unsurprising that this moment would be disturbing for both consciousnesses.

[32] Principia philosophiae cartesianae (The Principles of Cartesian Philosophy); here I have paraphrased the original existential formulation of the PSR into a factive formulation, which is more at home in contemporary philosophy. For a more detailed contemporary discussion of the PSR, see Shamik Dasgupta, “Metaphysical Rationalism.”

[33] On Blue’s Waters, 377.


[35] In Green’s Jungles, 126-127.

[36] On Blue’s Waters, 124.

[37] Return to the Whorl, 348.

[38] On Blue’s Waters, 137.

[39] Ibid., 179.

[40] Ibid., 215.

[41] The Long and the Short of It, 120.

[42] The rhizomatic Neighbors’ characteristic power is that of dream travel, or oneiration, or astral travel, or “bilocation”, as Silkhorn calls it at one point (Return to the Whorl, 183).

[43] On Blue’s Waters, 266-272.

[44] There is something symbolically important here, but I am not yet sure what.

[45] On Blue’s Waters, 272-274.

[46] The Long and the Short of It, 129.

[47] On Blue’s Waters, 254; In Green’s Jungles, 126-127. Silkhorn speculates in Return that Seawrack’s ring may “not only [identify] [him] as a friend [to the Neighbors], but actually [attract] them” (183); we know beyond doubt that the ring does at least function in the former way, as a Neighbor whom Silkhorn has not met previously in one scene points to the ring and consequently asks, “You are a friend of ours?” (In Green’s Jungles, 20).

[48] On Blue’s Waters, 262.

[49] Ibid., 192-194, 231.

[50] Ibid., 194.

[51] Ibid., 195.

[52] Ibid., 203.

[53] Comment by Kusari-zukin,; cf. Aramini on the shearbear:

[54] The Long and the Short of It, 130; I don’t understand how Borski seems to move to this from the claim that Horn contains a piece of Pas, as Pas is not a Neighbor.

[55] On Blue’s Waters, 262.

[56] Ibid., 271-272.

[57] “They are vile creatures, exactly as Hari Mau says, but how can they help it, when we are as we are? I wish sometimes that Krait had not told me” (On Blue’s Waters, 241); “We have the inhumi to prey on us, yet we prey on one another” (ibid., 246); “When the inhumi prey on us, they are like us” (In Green’s Jungles, 214); “Remember—what we are, they must become” (Return to the Whorl, 354). Wolfe has also explicitly confirmed this point—see again the interview with Nick Gevers ( What’s more, Jahlee even says at one point that the inhumi acquire a desire to become more human from humans: “It’s something we get from you, a need to become more and more like you, until we’re as human as we can possibly be” (Return to the Whorl, 60)—it would follow from this that humans themselves have a desire to become more human. A fittingly Wolfean theme.

[58] On Blue’s Waters, 108.

[59] Ibid., 339-340.

[60] This observation from Michael Straight:

[61] On Blue’s Waters, 340. Krait is technically Horn’s grandson—see Return to the Whorl, 83.

[62] Return to the Whorl, 408.

[63] Ibid., 73. Borski insists that this story is “prevarication” by Tartaros, in order to keep his identity concealed (—I am not convinced on this point, for the reasons above.

[64] Ibid., 200-201.

[65] Wolfe has explicitly confirmed this too (

[66] Return to the Whorl, 139-140. Why the godlings want this—really, why Passilk wants this, I do not know. I must confess that this ordinance on the part of the Father of Mainframe remains one of the most inexplicable elements of the story to me. I will regrettably have to put this mystery to the side for the time being.

[67] Ibid., 73.

[68] Ibid., 73.

[69] Ibid., 335.

[70] Ibid., 73.

[71] My reasoning was as follows. Pig and Silkhorn engage in the following dialogue during what the latter admits after the fact is Pig’s shriving (confession):

“Good a’ yer. Saunt, ain’t yer, bucky?” [Good on you. [You’re a] Saint [augur], aren’t you?]

“No,” he said gently. “No, I’m not, Pig. I’ve told you I’m not.”

“He were, ter.” [He was, too.]

“Did you kill him Pig?”

“Ho, aye. Stood by his Winder, he did.” [Oh, yes. [He was] standing by his [Sacred] Window.”

Pig’s [sic] drew his sword as he spoke, and Oreb squawked with fear and flew back to his master.

“Had a yeller cup ter gae me. Threw it down an’ broke. ‘Twas chiner.” [[He] had a yellow cup to give me. [I] threw it down and [it] broke. It was china.]

“Poor Pig.”

“Did fer him. Cut doon wi’ me whin.” Pig held up his long blade, which gleamed faintly in the dusty sunlight.

“And then?”

“Ain’t yer goin’ ter say nae thing h’about h’it, bucky? Figured yer would.” [Aren’t you going to say anything about it? [I] figured [that] you would.]

He shook his head, although Pig could not have seen the gesture. “Later, perhaps” (Return to the Whorl, 200).

I had thought that the word “he” in the third line above referred to Silk, as it has no establishing antecedent, and Pig seems to know immediately who Silkhorn means when he uses the pronoun. Furthermore, Pig tells us that the augur presented him with a “yeller cup”, which Pig then smashed on the floor. The china cup actually constitutes an additional sliver of evidence that the slain augur in question was Silk—in Exodus from the Long Sun we are informed of Silk’s predilection for china cups, as he is depicted “admir[ing] the delicate porcelain” of a cup “brave with gilt and holding a painted Scylla as well as coffee” (51) (the term ‘gilt’ of course refers to a gold finish—what Pig describes as “yeller”—and ‘porcelain’ is coextensive with ‘china’). And moreover, Pig says to Hound at one point that “he kenned who he [Silk] was an’ he [Silkhorn] dinna” [knew who he was and he didn’t], which he admits is “lucky fer Pig” (Return to the Whorl, 82-83), which would make sense if Pig was concerned that Silkhorn would seek revenge upon his own killer. Finally, the conversation between Silkhorn and the first people he encounters after his awakening is suggestive that it was a (small) godling (i.e. Pig) who inflicted the cuts on Silk’s arms (Ibid., 32), but it’s worth noting that Silkhorn himself does not assent to anything more than the fact that it was a knife that caused the wounds. Later, we learn that Pig killed the augur with his sword, which is quite a different weapon—and would leave quite different wounds—than a knife.

[72] Return to the Whorl, 200-201.

[73] Ibid., 203.

[74] The Long and the Short of It, 130.

[75] Return to the Whorl, 13, 15.

[76] See e.g. the very intense scene with Silk (and Horn) on the gondola of the Trivigaunti airship in chapter 15 of Exodus.

[77] Return to the Whorl, 13.

[78] Ibid., 85; my alternative interpretation of Pig-at-the-tiller: Pig is meant to invoke Charon, psychopomp and ferryman to Hades, in the context of Horn’s dream. The end of the dream centers around Horn’s semiconscious understanding that he is dead—notice how the other people he speaks to, Spider the blond girl, and the dark girl are both dead, as confirmed by the blond girl who states that they are both “down there” where Hyacinth is (who we know is dead) (Return to the Whorl, 85). The girls are likely Fava and Mora (cf. In Green’s Jungles, 36). That Pig (with Silk’s face) performs the role of Charon may be meant to symbolize both Pig’s containment of Passilk (the reader does not know about this yet; this dream sequence occurs early on in Return) and the fact that Silk has, in a sense, led Horn to his own death, as the papermaker’s demise on Green occurred during his quest to find his Patera.

[79] See again Seawrack’s case for Babbie’s personhood (On Blue’s Waters, 339); there is also a suggestive moment in the same book where Babbie “[squeals] at the tiller”, (ibid., 160) which may imply that he was capable of and did man the tiller of the sloop at times.

[80] The Sheep-Pig, adapted into the film Babe in 1995, four years before the publication of On Blue’s Waters.

[81] The Long and the Short of It, 121.

[82] Ibid., 122.

[83] Return to the Whorl, 175.

[84] On Blue’s Waters, 381.

[85] As Beiting points out, “one of the few times in the text where any of the Vanished People speak about their religion in a positive way, or approve of Horn’s inquiries into it” is in context of a “particular altar” (“The Divine Interregnum in Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the Short Sun”) at which, Horn comes to suspect, the Neighbors worshiped the Outsider (In Green’s Jungles, 273, 381). So it can be deduced that the Outsider was one of the Neighbors’ gods, at some point—perhaps the only god with which the species has been disillusioned—and thus that he qualifies as one of the “Vanished Gods”.

[86] Cf. Straight’s objections to Aramini’s theory:

[87] On Blue’s Waters, 108.

[88] Return to the Whorl, 345; though this may just be a joke on Wolfe’s part:

[89] On Blue’s Waters, 368.

[90] The Shadow of the Torturer, 241-243.

[92] And who may or may not be the Mother of Blue.

[92] Return to the Whorl, 360, 362.

[93] Ibid., 392.

[94] On Blue’s Waters, 377.

Works Cited

Aramini, Marc. “Beast with Three Horns / Pike as Father of Blood,”

————. “Tree-Corn, Silk-Horn, and the Word-Whorl Riddle of the Short Sun.” (part 1)

————. (part 2)

Armstrong, Philip, and Metzroth, Andrew. Alzabo Soup.

Beiting, Christopher. “The Divine Interregnum in Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the Short Sun.” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture.

Borski, Robert. “Je m’appelle Jean Loup.”

————. “This little piggie went to market (muckle spoilers).”

————. The Long and the Short of It: More Essays on the Fiction of Gene Wolfe.

Dasgupta, Shamik. “Metaphysical Rationalism.” Noûs 50 (2016): 379–418.

Gevers, Nick. “A Magus of Many Suns: An Interview with Gene Wolfe.”

King-Smith, Dick. The Sheep-Pig.

Millman, Mark. “Re: (whorl) for joe- horn in babbie.”

Noonan, Chris (dir.) Babe.

Spinoza, Baruch. Principia philosophiae cartesianae.

Straight, Michael. “Re: (whorl) Beast with Three Horns / Pike as Father of Blood.”

TURDY_BLUR. “Book of the Short Sun. Horn falls into a pit. A “Neighbor” helps him, but…”

Wolfe, Gene. The Fifth Head of Cerberus.

————. Peace.

————. The Shadow of the Torturer.

————. The Sword of the Lictor.

————. Caldé of the Long Sun.

————. Exodus from the Long Sun.

————. On Blue’s Waters.

————. In Green’s Jungles.

————. Return to the Whorl.

Wynn, James, and Brewer, Craig. Rereading Wolfe.