I see the illustration of the Orb found on page 640 as being a series of IOIOIO repeating rather than 101010. To clarify, I mean that I recognize the characters as both the Greek letters I (iota) and O (omicron) and and their corresponding relatives in the modern alphabet.
Here are some thoughts about this interpretation (with information pulled directly from Wikipedia):
- I/O as input/output – “the communication between an information processing system (such as a computer) and the outside world, possibly a human or another information processing system.”
- The letter iota represents:
- “the index generator function in APL (in the form ⍳)”
- APL “is a programming language developed in the 1960s by Kenneth E. Iverson. Its central datatype is the multidimensional array. It uses a large range of special graphic symbols to represent most operators, giving very concise code. It has been an important influence on the development of concept modeling, spreadsheets, functional programming, and computer math packages.”
- “the orbital inclination with respect to the line of sight, used when describing gravitational wave sources.”
- “the index generator function in APL (in the form ⍳)”
- The letter omicron is not used in math/science/engineering because it too closely resembles the letter O.
- “In mathematics, big O notation describes the limiting behavior of a function when the argument tends towards a particular value or infinity, usually in terms of simpler functions.”
- You could also look at Io one of Zeus’ lovers, Zeus as the nephew of Oceanus, Oceanus as the father of Xanthe, and make up some crazy theory about Xanther being “related” to the orb, but I don’t see that going very far.
We know that the Orb is a man-made computer(-like device), so I think all of this information could be helpful in interpreting the Orb (at least as much as is possible at this point).
Personally, I think it’s helpful to view the orb as an input/output device, as it allows the user (Catherine, in the narrative) to communicate with the world/universe in a unique way. Similarly, I like the potential correlation with APL, as it uses special characters to represent things, as the author does throughout the text.
Because the pages of the book are not very high quality, I include below an enhanced version of illustration alongside a more artistic interpretation in which I overlaid the image of the Orb over the moon Io. (I don’t think it has anything to do with the moon besides the name, but it looks nice.)
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”?