In this 3rd installment of my (admittedly mediocre) analysis of Gene Wolfe's The Sorcerer's House, I'm going to take a close look at letter #31: "Get Out - And Got Out". I find this letter particularly interesting because it involves one of the more mysterious characters in the book: the malevolent dwarf, Quorn.
First, note that this is a letter addressed to Millie from Bax. As such, we should be suspicious of its content. Bax paints himself to be extraordinarily brave, powerful, and heroic (even referring to himself as such, via Doris), and may be doing so as part of his plan to seduce his brother's wife.
A brief synopsis (assuming truth): Bax returns to his house from his Chinese dinner with Jake and Dorris (described in letter #28), prompted in part by a phone call from Winkle. Winkle tells Bax that a fat blond girl had arrived, started exploring the house, and now was lost. This girl is the newspaper reporter, Cathy Ruth, whom Bax had agreed to meet that night for an exploration of the house's cellar. Doris and Bax enter the cellar and begin looking for Cathy. A rat "that looked larger than her head" attacks Doris (or, at least, is "clutching her hair") and Bax clubs it away with his flashlight. They attempt to back-track to leave the cellar but fail to discover the original staircase. They come across a different staircase and hear a dog yapping (Toby) and a woman scream (most likely Pogach). Bax busts down the door and they see Quorn grappling with Pogach. Bax commands Quorn to leave, and the dwarf complies. They find Cathy also in the room, who has been raped by Quorn. Winker appears and presents an ancient sword to Bax. Winker leads them back through the house. Doris decides to take Cathy to the hospital. George suddenly arrives, thrusts open the trunk on the back of Bax's limousine and releases the vampire, Nicholas. Nicholas, with George in pursuit, runs into the house and disappears. Bax ends the letter to Millie by saying that he searched for his brother for hours, could not find him, and eventually went to bed.
An action-packed letter to be sure. I assume the title of the letter refers to the following events:
- "Get Out" - part of Bax's command to Quorn.
- "And Got Out" - the escape of Nicholas from the trunk.
- (however, it is possible that "got out" refers to George getting out of jail)
The cellar may also serve as a crossing point between worlds, much like the window in Bax's bedroom. When Bax and Doris climb the 2nd staircase and confront Quorn, they could be within Faerie at that point. Could this be relevant? Perhaps. It might explain why Quorn reacts so strongly to Bax's command, after his initial disdain.
When Bax first confronts Quorn, the dwarf is unafraid of his gun.
"They call me Ironskin." He advanced, still grinning, and I pulled the trigger.
Perhaps Quorn knows that, in Faerie, he is invulnerable to the weapons of our world. Bax drops his useless gun...
... and pointed both index fingers at him as though I held modern revolvers. I intended to shout, but perhaps I screamed - I cannot be sure. "Get out of here, you devil! This is my house! Out! I don't want you here!" With much, much more in the same vein.
The blood drained from his face, leaving it a dirty gray. He backed away. "Sorry, sir! I meaned no harm! No harm at all!" He took a few more steps backward, knuckling his forehead, and fled. I ought to have been amazed, but I was raging and there was no room for it.
In Faerie, Bax's wizardly powers emerge, especially since he wields magic rings ("weapons of sorcery"). Recall that in letter #41 ("The Riverman"), Martha tells Bax, "Magic is diplomacy. It isn't just saying the words. It's who says them, how he says them, and when he says them." The voice of command that Bax adopts, in his rage towards Quorn, is imbued with mystical strength - Quorn instantly recognizes Bax as a legitimate sorcerer and a dangerous man.
Quorn's role in The Sorcerer's House is vague, at best. We first encounter him "chained to a staple in the door frame" of Ieuan's room in letter #17 ("A Tramp"). I suspect that Quorn may serve as Ieuan's familiar. At least two other characters within the narrative have familiars: Bax has Winkle, and Old Nick/Zwart has Toby. Interestingly, in both of these latter cases, the familiars are shapeshifters. Does this suggest that Quorn also is a shapeshifter? Does he make another appearance in the book, as an alternate character? I can't think of a reasonable possibility, off-hand.
Symbolically, this scene could simply serve as evidence that Bax's powers are evolving and that he has vast potential to become a powerful force in Faerie, like his father. I suspect it is his father, in fact, who sends Winker into the room soon after this confrontation with the magical samurai blade.
"This is a new reign. There's a new emperor now.... Once in each reign we present the Fox Sword to a hero friend."
Wolfe certainly has a fondness for magic swords in his novels. Severian had Terminus Est, Able quested for (and lost) a magic sword, Latro discovers a magic sword in a river within the first couple chapters of Soldier of the Mist, etc. In part, I believe, this is because Wolfe likes to utilize (and play with) genre tropes. Heroes in fantasy novels have magic swords. They're fun. Period. But also, these swords tend to serve symbolic purposes in the text. What is the narrative function of the Fox Sword? Bax wields it in the final battle (described in #41) on the Skotos strip against the werewolf, Lupine, and her pack. The strip, like Bax's house, falls on a ley-line and is another location where his magic powers can make themselves evident. If we assume his father granted him this sword, it is given to both aid in victory and help secure the continued dominance of the Black family line.