To what degree is epilepsy Xanther’s “familiar” in this novel, and what would that mean? Considering the gulf between the twins and Xanther, Anwar notes (p. 127), “Perhaps on some level the girls consider Xanther’s condition a kind of companion…. It’s, after all,  always with her. About her.” And Astair agrees, thinking that for a year she had been trying actually “to locate and secure for her child a better companion” (128). How might this “companion” link Xanther to Tian Li, who also is mired in language and set apart? In what way does it connect her to Dr. Cas, who is physically disabled and is the only one who can communicate with the Orb? How will the status of this companion change when Xanther receives a new “familiar”?


About ajelias

Professor of English, University of Tennessee (Knoxville)

2 responses to “Epilepsy”

  1. kasey says :

    I think we will see the epileptic aspect of Xanther fade over time, at least the negative aspects of it. I think we are seeing it now in the dying moments, perhaps with our little kitten coming to act as the savior of the condition, or at the very least to act as a sort of early detection to any possible upcoming seizures. Perhaps the kitten will serve as a sentinel, a guard against these attacks? Xanther may be able to sidestep these episodes in part to the tip off of the kitten, much the way the dog was supposedly going to help out.

    I say the negatives, because some mental illnesses are closely related to epilepsy (I say this in relation to brain-affecting disorders and the shared maintenance via anti-seizure medications), one that comes to mind which has an attractive upside would be bipolarity, many sufferers describe the manic phases as seductive, extra-chronological stretches where their creativity (or sexuality/industriousness/comprehension) is boosted, where they are blind (or even aware of it but simply do not care as the manic phase is just too good to pass up) to the impending down, the impending crash that must follow such periods – see “Touched by Fire” or “An Unquiet Mind“ by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison. Might Xanther’s condition afford her such periods?

    I like the idea that her condition is sort of her twin. This fits in nicely with what many have described about any ongoing life-long incurable condition, their shadow, their twin, their companion, their constant – perhaps their familiar? If so, perhaps we will see a changing of the guard in that the kitten will, over time, replace the dark, soulless, discomforting and life-threatening twin of epilepsy with something warmer, softer, whiter and more life-affirming?

    As to the connections to other characters – the connection is undeniable in its existence, but not yet definable as to what specifically it is, or how it affects one another. Look back at how literature and cinema has portrayed (good or bad) those who share an affliction, how they know they all belong to a sort of “club” how they speak in a language that some on the outside don’t seem to get (just listen to the jargon used at an AA or NA meeting) – they speak of things we don’t deal with, perhaps even know exist. I still feel that at some point, given the chronological tags on the dog-ears, that all will come to some sort of meeting point in the future, and when all are identified as being epileptic to some degree (there are countless versions/stages/manifestations of this disease) we will see more clearly what the connection truly is.

    If you look at Li and Cas, you see that they are both expert at something beyond typical definition, beyond typical understanding, be it some sort of eastern medicine or next-level coding technology. Their authority in their respective fields is validated by the money and power that follow them and seek them out. Both are masters of a type of language few people know of let alone understand. Perhaps what we are seeing in Xander is that pre-enlightenment, that phase just prior to the big reveal. Maybe we will be along for the ride, where she begins her own mastery of a language few people know of let alone understand. Will she be a bridge to both eastern medicine and this new technology? As a product of Anwar and Astair, might there be clues to this in her parent’s thinking? Just a thought.

    One final point: in some cultures, mostly in the past, an epileptic was often described as being possessed.

  2. ajelias says :

    Is tian li also an epileptic? See p. 522.

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