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Descent into the Maelstrom

I don’t think we can get anywhere near the truth about Straka if we don’t take some leaps. – Jen (p 161)

On p38 (19×2), S. names Maelstrom. Eric’s pencilled margin notes ask POE REF.? This leads us to Edgar Allen Poe’s Descent into the Maelstrom, a story within a story. Maelstrom, the apparent man in charge of S.’s ship, implies then that S. is on a journey of descent. Below are just some of the many references that echo this theme – a theme instrumental in solving the mystery of “S.”

The Descent of Vaclav Straka
As the book opens, S. is wandering through the streets of an old city, wet, with a faint memory that he has fallen from significant height into the water. Later, right after the bomb explodes on the wharf in B–, S. has a vision of a boy from the past on the same wharf (p106-108). The boy, devastated by the apparent rejection of a girl, puts weights in his pocket and prepares to leap over the railing into the sea to kill himself. Both of these scenes are a strong reference to the leap of Vaclav Straka from the St. Charles Bridge in Prague on October 30, 1910, as indicated not only by the similarities, but by the marginalia discussion between Eric and Jen.

It is in the descent of Vaclav Straka into the water that our story begins.

The Descent of the Voices “All Through the Strata of Civilizations” (p10)
S. repeatedly hears voices. The first time we become aware of this, we read…

He imagines he can hear the whispering voices of people who have met their ends in this place where river meets sea, in this city and in the maze of tunnels runnings just below its streets, in the former trading-post village buried beneath the maze, in the catacombs below that, and in the mud-hut settlement buried still deeper, all through the strata of civilizations.

It is in the descent of the voices that S. hears the stories of those who have come before him.

The Descent of S.’s Ship
On p30, S. deduces that his ship is headed south. There are also numerous connections throughout Ship of Theseus to the South Pole – a place very similar in climate to the Winter City.

It is in the descent of S.’s ship that S. begins to discover the story of who he really is.

The Descent of S.‘s Wall-Writing Inside the Ship
He has made several revolutions around the room, etching his words into the wood in a spiral that now descends halfway to the floorboards. (p217)

S’s wall-writing begins on p206 with the word I as he attempts to record his thoughts with a nail in the wood of the bulkhead in his room. Over time his writing circles around the room in steady descent halfway to the floor until it culminates with a single question on p329…


The Descent into the Caves
Chapter Five is titled Down, and Out. In this chapter, S. and his newfound friends must escape the approaching posse by descending into the caves of the K– where they discover awe-inspiring cave paintings. Corbeau and S. are the last two survivors, and in attempt to escape death, they leap from an opening in the cave to the sea below. VMS writes on p197…

They are falling, they are falling, they are falling.

Jen Heyward points out a discrepancy in this passage with the original manuscript…

Just noticed this – another change from Straka’s MS. The original: “they are falling, they are falling, they are together and falling.”

VMS describes the entire escape attempt like this (p197-198)…

The way out was down. Is down.
Down through the caverns,
down through the air,
down through several thermoclines
to a depth in the ocean no person should see…

Once S. survives this maddening descent, he discovers that his ship is still intact – even though it seemed destroyed by the waterspouts.

It is in the descent into the caves that the K– recorded their stories.

The Descent into the Orlop
S. spends much of the book desiring to discover “the working'” that take place below the main deck in the orlop (the lowest deck of the ship). He finally does so and becomes “part of the tradition.” In the orlop, S. writes words on paper. These papers, along with those of the other crew members, are stored in crates in the hold of the ship (the very bottom) and eventually taken to a warehouse on Obsidian Island.

S. descends into the orlop for the first time only after descending the volcano on Obsidian Island and after falling on the knifepoints of stone and lacerating himself.

It is in the descent into the orlop that S. and the sailors record their stories.

The Descent into the Storehouse at El H—

The Storehouse at El H— is an important place in the story of S. It is here that, during the impending invasion of El H—, that the resistance movement attempts to take books, manuscripts, artworks, and other precious objects down into a basement below the building in hopes that they will survive. It is from this basement repository that S.’s valise comes – the valise with the pen that S. will use to write many stories of hate and death.

It is in the descent into the basement of the storehouse that the people of El H— attempt to permanently record their stories.

The Descent of Defenestration
Throughout “S.”, we discover that many important people died because they were thrown out of (or fell mysteriously) out of a window. The foreword of “S.” reveals that V.M. Straka apparently dies after falling from a window in the San Sebastian Hotel in Havana, Cuba. We discover in the marginalia on p108 that Jean-Bernard Desjardins dies from some sort of fall. In the Interlude (Toccata and Fugue in Real Time), Agents #9 and #41 plan on murdering S. and his accomplice in P– (the city of defenestration) by throwing both out the window. Our favorite mysterious character Arquimedes de Sobreiro dies of defenestration while in the Winter City (p410).

It is in the descent of defenestration that the stories of our heroes appear to end.

The Descent into Vevoda’s Cellar
S., while in the orlop after his sojourn in the Winter City, attempts to write the story of how he will defeat Vévoda. He sees every future scene perfectly, except for the final confrontation. After a long struggle to write it down, he finally realizes that…

He must descend into the dark maze himself, before he will find Vévoda, this man who has had more influence over S.’s life than S. himself, find him and write the ending. (p412)

And descend he does. S. and Sola both enter the winding tunnels with the intent to destroy Vévoda. It is in the cellars, though, that S. has a change of heart. He decides to write a new story. And it is here in this new story that the true story is in question. Did VMS write these words? Or did FXC change them to suit her choice of endings? What exactly is the story?

It is in the descent into the cellar that S. and FXC and VMS all write their own version of the story.

The Descent in Eremelinda Pega’s Letter to Eric Husch and Jen Heyward (p416-417)
Eremelinda Pega, aka Filomena Caldeira, writes…

 I will tell you what matters most
(although you must know this
already, as you know my story): it
is love. When you fall in love, friends,
let yourself fall. It is my fondest
wish that this note finds you both
happy, healthy, and falling.

The very last known written word of Filomela Xabrega Caldeira is falling. Her final words are an encouragement to two young people to “let yourself fall.”

The Fall Line

They will now move as the crow flies whenever possible. When they crest, Corbeau points out that they’re on a line of geological demarcation: while they’ve been climbing up granite, the rest of the way they’ll be moving over limestone. (p153)

This line of geological demarcation is known formally as the Fall Line. Once the group crosses the Fall Line, the ground of granite gives way to limestone – where the caves are found.

The Descent of the Cormorant
On the map of the steam tunnels that Eric Husch provides to Jen Heyward (p306-307), we discover that Pronghorn State University has on its campus Cormorant LakeCormorants dive underwater to find their food. Some cormorants can dive as deep as 45m. This appears to be an indication that Eric and Jen, as well as we the readers, must dive deep into the waters of “S.” if we are to discover its true meaning.

It is in the descent into the waters in the manner of the cormorant that we will discover the story of what begins there, and what ends there.

Jen Heyward’s Final Margin Note

Hey, put the book down.
Come in here and stay.