On p352 in Ship of Theseus, Anca tells S to Follow the monkey. Jen Heyward circles these words and writes sound advice. Shortly thereafter (p353), S finds knife-cuts in bark that suggest a grinning simian face. It marks the beginning of a path up the hill that is narrow and overgrown, more implied than there.
Keeping in mind Jen’s possible play on words (sound advice), we next see S cataloguing the sounds he hears along the implied path marked by the monkey carving. The first sound he hears is a howler monkey. The next set of sounds he mentions are rodents and insects along the ground. The final set are birds, specifically four birds: a merlin, a crow, an oystercatcher, an a magpie tanager (corresponding to Stenfalk, Corbeau, Ostrero, and S).
There is something very important here. It starts with the sound of a howler monkey and ends with clear allusions to our four main characters – all along the trail that S found while following Anca’s advice to follow the monkey. And, in a larger sense, S is following what Sola told him in the margins of his writing in the orlop that foretold this very trip: Keep going. Keep paddling and you’ll find yourself (p337).
Why use the howler monkey here? Here is a thought. In Mayan culture, there is a howler monkey god. The one shown in the picture of the statue above is in the ruins of Copán. These ruins received an explorer named Frederick Catherwood sometime before 1841. In the Daily Pronghorn article about the Lake Cormorant Boathouse, the Catherwood Cup sailing award is presented in 1949 to PSU’s men’s sailing team.
The howler monkey gods – there are often two of them – have been depicted on Classic vases in the act of writing books (while stereotypically holding an ink nap) and carving human heads. Together, these two activities may have constituted a metaphor for the creation of mankind, with the book containing the birth signs and the head the life principle or ‘soul.’ Variously described as wind gods and, more recently, as ‘were-monkeys’ and ritual clowns, these statues may actually represent howler monkeys in their quality of musicians.
Notice that the howler monkey gods are shown writing books, holding ink naps, and serve as a metaphor for the creation of mankind. And the monkey doesn’t make its first appearance in “S.” No. J.J. Abrams has the monkey in Felicity, ALIAS, LOST, and Fringe. See for yourself and follow the monkey through the works of JJ Abrams.
Is it possible that the reason the howler monkey is included in “S” at this critical moment to hearken back to this same symbolism? Writing. Ink. Creation. Soul. Music.
And if it is, what does it actually mean for we readers to follow the monkey? If we do, will we find the answers we seek? Will we find ourselves? What do you think?