First of all, the Narrative Construct idea fascinates me. While I don’t necessarily think it was the best name for them (for some reason they sound too explanatory for their actions, like naming a character who’s evil “bad guy.”) But, at the same time, I do not have a better name for them myself, so I cannot judge (maybe Architects? Wait…that’s been done before.) Regardless, it is interesting that in a fiction book we are constantly pointed to being reminded we are experiencing a fictional world, which is the exact thing professors tell you not to do in your own writing. I mean, it’s writing 101, “the suspension of disbelief,” was relayed to me over and over again in all of my writing classes. Yet here, MZD has drawn our attention to it time and again, the most powerful of which being set in the Narcon section. The Narcon is something that I think we can all conceptualize with decent aptitude. Their section has no page numbers, so they do not exist within the same realm as the story. They are written weirdly, like a play, taking them out of this genre (whatever this genre is.) They are formatted nothing like any other character, so they (if I’m reading the book correctly) don’t even share a similar universe or don’t occupy the same dimension as the other characters. They define their own rules, however, they date them back before their existence (whatever that means,) point being, regular fiction characters do not ever define their rules in a story. The author defines the rules for fictional characters to follow. It is interesting to keep in mind that, at least for me, the Narcons felt like they had more agency than the characters in the story. They felt like that because of the reasons I just mentioned.
But it’s not true! They have equitable if not less free will than the regular characters in the story. The Narcons must follow rules set by MZD and MZD has to make them follow the rules that they (Mark) has set for them, so their free will is really constricted to a few sentences (by comparison) to other characters. Narcons must be controlled, and if there is anything I know about characters being controlled, they tend to rebel.
I’ll flat out say it, I think the Narcons will turn out to be villains or something similar as the 27 volume series plays out. I would like to be proven wrong about this almost as much as I would like to be proven right. To me, it just seems like the natural order of things. In our class, it was mentioned by a classmate that Xanther is the only character that can hear the Narcons or at least the only character that we know can hear the Narcons. It was also mentioned that when Xanther hears the cat outside, it may be something more than just right-place-at-the-right-time action movie garbage. It could mean a little bit more.
After I heard the classmate (I believe it was you, Chelsea) my mind started to reel into analytic, speculation mode where I wanted to make connection upon connection (so, bear with me.) I think Narcon characters (overly oppressed characters, as mentioned above) want to enter to the fictional world like a reverse The Matrix situation. I think that cat may be Narcon incarnate as mentioned above. There’s also a little something something that cat does to Xanther that feels a little wacky and out of the realm of possibility for any other character in the story (soul stuff.) And, and! We don’t know (unless I missed it) what the cat’s name is. But what we do know is that TF-Narcon 3 has the font “Manticore.” Stay with me, I’m telling you, it’s worth it. Manticore is another name for “Man-Eater.” Trust me, I wish in my research that I had found there was some myth written thousands of years ago where the Manticore ate the kings ugly daughter named “Xanther,” but it didn’t exist, so I needed to speculate a bit more. In figurative terms, the cat may have eaten part of Xanther, it’s hard to say exactly but I’m going with it for the sake of my theory. The last thing we know is that no two characters share the same font in the story…except TF-Narcon 3 and some other thing called “G.C.” which is not, to my knowledge, defined or mentioned in Volume 1 at all. But it’s mentioned in the font? Pourquoi, monsieur?! To me, G.C. could be “good cat,” or “General Cathington,” or maybe it’s another one of Xanther’s misunderstood words.
Sometimes, when reading this book, I feel like I’m wearing a tinfoil hat. Anyway, thanks for following me down my rabbit hole. I really hope to see why that font is shared and, who knows? Maybe I am right.
Biblical imagery and allusions are abundant in The Familiar, and I’ve been struggling to integrate this into a more holistic vision of the text (and might get a little speculative and convoluted in the process, but bear with me). We have Luther as a fallen Christ figure, evidenced by the bullet hole through his palm and when he “show[s] off a whole different kind of cross, then steps forward and walks on water” (608). On the other side of the coin, we have Mefisto whose name alone sets off red flags. Mefisto, significantly, seems to be the (only?) link connecting Anwar’s narrative to Cas’s if we can make the leap that he is, in fact, Sorcerer. I anticipate (and I believe I saw a post from someone else on here exploring similar ideas) that Mefisto will likely somehow integrate Anwar’s AI code with the orb, giving birth to what are displayed to us as narcons. This could explain their ability to perceive almost all attributes of their subjects in much the same way Cas is able to observe the past through her Orb, as well as their distinctive personalities thanks to the AI.
Were this to be the case, I feel we would also be presented with a very poignant image of the devil (Mefisto[feles]) with an apple in hand (the Orb as the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), perhaps setting up a sort of parallel to the Genesis tale. I also picked up on a few other potentially Biblical hints surrounding the Orb; when Cas receives news of her conspirators via Parcel Thoughts, nine names are listed with strong mythological and religious connotations (646). Yet as we also know, nine never really equals nine. If we add Cas (Wizard), Deakin (Merlin), and Mefisto (Sorcerer?) to the list, we get 12 names; the twelve apostles of the Orb? Perhaps even Mefisto as a Judas character?
I’m not so quick to write Mefisto off as a villain though. Rather, I think Danielewski is more likely crafting an inversion of the Biblical tale, which could also help account for Luther as a malicious Jesus figure and the failure of Astair’s thesis, “Hope’s Nest: On the Necessity of God.” Moreover, in a lecture given by Danielewski called Parable No. 9 which seems to be largely interwoven with The Familiar (and which I’ve linked and written more on here), he makes the bold assertion that cats are “Christianity’s mortal enemy.” This would place Xanther particularly in opposition to the notion of Biblical morality, but we all know that Xanther is the furthest character from any sort of evil or sin. Instead, I foresee MZD inverting this Derridean dichotomy born of Christian ethics as a means to challenge the assumption of the supremacy of man— to reveal the strife engendered by granting to man the “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” in Genesis 1:26. Xanther’s relationship with all life suggests that she has already transcended this hierarchy of man over animal and is poised to challenge some very foundational aspects of the Western world.
I’d love some more thoughts on how the other narratives could be better integrated into this theory, particularly Luther and Jingjing.
I’m aware that the Narcons have possibly been discussed to death here, and for good reason too, they’re really fascinating as a far as the entirety of The Familiar goes. They seem to exist outside of the story itself but still nestled into the material, if only in a very literal way by means of physically residing within the book. Long after I read the TF-Narcon 9 section, it still resonates with me for reasons I can’t really explain. Perhaps I find enjoyment in Meta commentary.
The biggest questions I have about the Narcons is whether they just exist outside the narrative or do they reside outside of the novel altogether, because these are two different things even if they are related. By existing outside of the narrative, they still reside within the novel itself, there to comment and translate and shed light on certain parts of the narrative but never changing the story itself. Though I guess that can be argued that they do this simply by inserting themselves in the middle of the emotional climax of the story. Or do they exist outside of the novel altogether and have the knowledge that they exist in a book. They are programs and seem to be aware that they are programs but how far does their self-awareness extend?
Another thing that caught my attention about the Narcons is that they have their own myth system. They have an idea of ‘older’ Narcons as well as a pre existing rumor that they can communicate with each other even though that shouldn’t be possible, “(Though rumor has it we can sometimes hear each other.) (I can’t.)” (571). A sort of preprogrammed superstition that doesn’t seem like it should exist because how can there be a rumor that involves only one entity? It seems to suggest a sort of culture that the Narcons live within (or perhaps only Narcon 9 does, since the other two Narcons lack the large narrative inclusion that Narcon 9 does). This leads me to believe they exist in a narrative of their own, just one that runs parallel to The Familiar. I’m not sure about this, however, so any additional thoughts on the matter of Narcons having their own myths and legends would be appreciated.
My last thought has something to do with Xanther’s kitten, and one of the first questions I wanted to ask is: is the cat a Narcon? In a very literal sense, it obviously is a narrative construction that Danielewski has come up with, so in that sense it absolutely is a Narcon. But I’m talking more about Narcons as Danielewski has defined them, as meta-like beings the reside over The Familiar. What leads me to believe that the kitten might be some sort of Narcon is that at some point in the novel TF-Narcon 9 mentions that,
“Narcons may even appear as animals. Say a killer whale, boar, hyena, even a markhor, or an owl. This is often the case when personality factors determined to be significant are compressed in order to preserve future rendering of character.” (576)
The cat also nearly sucks the life out of Xanther (though whether this can be taken literally is up for debate) and seems much more powerful in that sense than something that small has any right to be. Xanther is also the only character in the novel that both heard and responded to its call when it was so far away (not to mention a call that echoes through the entire story) and we already know that she is close to actually hearing the Narcons themselves, “Um, like there are these voices that know everything *so close* Like voices that don’t really live and can’t die and have been around forever…” (193). So my thinking is that the cat is definitely a Narcon, I’d like to hear the rest of your thoughts on the matter.
So those are my questions: Do the Narcons exist inside or outside of the material itself? What do we make of the Narcons having their own myth system? And is the cat possibly a Narcon? I apologize if this came out as a rambling mess, I’m still trying to gather my thoughts on the matter. It’s really interesting, though, and I’d like to see what you guys think.
Within this novel there are many interesting names for the various characters. With the exception of Bobby, there was not a name that I had come across in my personal life before. However, while I was interested in why Danielewski may have chosen certain names for the principal characters, I was much more intrigued in the list of characters that occurred on page 646. In this passage which deals with Cas and the Orb, the names of other people involved in their projects who had either been found dead or been arrested in various places around the world. I thought the names of these characters and I wondered that if the significance of these names could inform the reader about the nature of the Orb and what it involves since throughout the novel it is very shrouded in mystery.
Thanatos: In Greek mythology Thanatos is considered the Lieutenant to Hades and the personification of Death.
Thaumaturge: A Greek word meaning a worker of wonders or miracles, or a magician
Artemis: In Greek mythology Artemis is the goddess of the Hunt.
Pythia: Also a character of Greek mythology, Pythia is the name given to any priestess who took on the role of the Oracle of Delphi, who had the gift of prophecy from the god Apollo (twin brother of Artemis)
Endoria: In the computer game “Kings Bounty” Endoria is the planet where most of the action takes place. It is described as being “a largely unexplored planet full of wonders and astonishing discoveries”
Circe: In Greek mythology, Circe is the goddess of magic and is also seen as an enchantress or sorceress
Lilith: A character in Jewish mythology, Lilith is believed to be a descendant of ancient female demons
Treebeard: The name of a character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s middle earth stories, he closely resembles a talking tree
Sibyll: Again, a character in Greek mythology who is thought to have prophetic powers
Overall I think that the names of these characters give the reader a glimpse of what the Orb deals with: prophecy, the future, death, and the supernatural.
In Ancient Greece, the Greek God Apollo was the God of the Sun, healing, music and prophecy. In “The Familiar” Mark Z. Danielewski uses font in a purposeful way to display hidden character traits and character meanings. One character he does this with is Cas. Cas’s font is Apolline, a french name originating from the Greek masculine name Apollo, meaning the sun or God of the sun.
The fact that Cas’s font is referencing Apollo and the sun are siginificant for two reasons. One, the sun is a spherical, orb-like, planetary object that is the center of the our galaxy. It gives life and light to all living beings in our galaxy. Cas’s narrative references an orb that she can see into and gain information from. She and Bobby also get into many situations where there are fires involved because of the technology being used. This fire destroys rather than gives life, like the sun does. The sun could be a reference to both the spherical shape of the orb and the heat and light that these fires cause. Second, Cas is receiving information from the orb and therefore could have special, mythical medium powers. The God Apollo was the God of prophecy because he would gift certain human women with the gift of sight and they would become his oracles. In a sense, Cas has become one of Apollo’s oracles.
In Cas’s chapters there is also reference to other ancient Greek characters like Circe and Artemis, who happens to be Apollo’s sister. I wonder how Cas is connected to Circe, Artemis, Treebeard, Merlin and the other characters. Are they involved in this project as well? Cas’s name is also “The Wizard.” Why do you think it is significant that she be called “The Wizard” instead of something like “Apollo” or “The Oracle”?