So you’ve finished reading “S.” (If you haven’t, try the Beginner’s Guide to Reading “S” first).
Ye’ve got questions. ‘m I right?
Why Was the Ending so… Anticlimactic?
If you view a single pass of reading through “S” as finishing the book, you might think the “ending” is not all that great. But if you view “S” as something other than a chronologically organized, linear book – one that requires further investigation – rewards await. For example, remember that in the foreword of the book, F. X. Caldeira claims that she was not able to recover all of the pages of Chapter 10 of Ship of Theseus before V. M. Straka either died from a fall through the hotel window or vanished in some sort of staged death. She admits to finishing Chapter 10 the way she thought VMS would have – to the best of her abilities. Did you know that the real ending – the one that VMS wrote himself – has turned up? In July of 2014, author Doug Dorst tweeted that the original ending may have been found. Here is that original ending. It stands up well to comments in the marginalia about the real ending that Eric received from FXC in the mail from Arturo (p421-422,430,452). It also seems the most plausible of the other alternative endings. And even when you read both endings, you get the sense that there is much, much more to the story that requires going deeper to uncover it.
How Do I Tell What Order Jen & Eric Wrote in the Margins?
- Pencil. Eric wrote in pencil while taking notes during his early reading(s) of Ship of Theseus before he met Jen.
- Blue (Jen) and black (Eric). This is the first pass of notes between Eric and Jen after they “meet” in the margins.
- Green (Eric) and orange (Jen). This is the second pass of comments between Eric and Jen after their relationship has deepened.
- Purple (Jen) and red (Eric). This is the third set of comments between the two, after they have met in person.
- Black (both Jen and Eric). These are the final set of notes and include their comments after they move to Prague.
Knowing the colors will help you see not only how Eric and Jen’s understanding of Ship of Theseus changes over time, but how their character arcs evolve.
Am I the Only One Who Doesn’t Understand What’s Going On?
No. You’re not alone at all. A first pass of reading “S” leaves many unanswered questions. And those questions often seem deliberately left unanswered – at least at face value. But “S” seems to be a deliberate tease – a logic puzzle, if you will – with some information provided but some not, leaving it up to we readers to put the puzzle pieces together – to make associative connections that reassemble what really happened. For example, on p453 we have this discussion between Jen and Eric…
He really was there, right? When the projector went out?
I SWEAR I HIT HIM. SIX OR SEVEN TIMES AT LEAST. YOU HEARD ME HIT HIM.
So where did he go?
MAYBE SERIN HAD PEOPLE THERE, TOO.
Wish they’d told us. Also wish we could’ve stayed and watched the stars some more.
IT WAS YOUR IDEA TO LEAVE EVERYTHING AND GO.
How many parking tickets do you think my car has by now?
This fragmented, cryptic conversation makes sense to the two people who were actually there, but to us, we have to reconstruct what they are discussing from not only this conversation – but all of the other things we have learned in “S.”
What can we conclude – given that this incident is never discussed directly before or after this one exchange? A few things…
- Both Eric and Jen are there (Jen could hear Eric hitting someone).
- It took place on the campus of Pollard State University (the victim likely fled in the steam tunnels).
- It was very likely centered around Straka (why else would SERIN have people present?)
- There was a projector involved, and when the projector went out, no one could see (Jen could only hear Eric hitting someone).
- There were stars (Jen wanted to stay and watch them).
- Eric and Jen left for Prague shortly afterward (Jen wanted to leave everything and her car probably has parking tickets)
- Eric used to work at PSU’s planetarium, and learned how to use the equipment – which likely includes the projector (p209).
- The projector went out unexpectedly, and then someone showed up and did something in the dark that caused Eric to hit him. It is likely that this person deliberately turned off the projector and charged Eric in the dark, hoping for a surprise attack.
- The assailant might have fled using the steam tunnels, which had an access point just outside the west side of the planetarium (see p410 and the napkin map of the steam tunnels, originally included between pages 306-307).
The final conclusion from these pieces? Eric was making some sort of public presentation in the planetarium that related to his theory about the mystery of “Ship of Theseus.” Jen was present, as were others, some of whom may have been with SERIN. In the middle of the presentation, someone cut the power to the projector and charged Eric. Eric fought back, striking his assailant six or seven times. The mystery man (“him”) fled, perhaps into the steam tunnels, which had an access point outside the planetarium. This man was, in all likelihood, Moody. And he was probably upset over whatever Eric was presenting in the planetarium, because it discredited his own theories and ruined his chances of getting his book published. This example is just one of literally hundreds of places where we, the readers, must make deductions about the larger story using only the morsels we have been given. Here are a few more to get you pondering…
- On p328, FXC inserts a question not contained in the original manuscript of Ship of Theseus – “WHO IS SIGNE RABE?” On p361, we discover that Signe Rabe was a real person, born 11/4/1930 and later married to Jean Bernard Desjardins on 12/1/1952. The publication date of Ship of Theseus is October, 1949 (title page), and FXC’s foreword was not written until Sunday, October 30, 1949. This means the book must have published on October 31, 1949. The date of FXC’s foreword is significant – it is an anniversary. Can you tell what it is? And just four days after the book was published, something significant happened. Can you tell what, using only the clues mentioned in this bullet point?
- On p354, as S climbs through the dense band of forest along the hillside up to the governor’s mansion in the territory, he catalogs the sound of several birds that he hears that “sound out of place to him.” They include, in order: a merlin, a crow, an oystercatcher, and a magpie tanager.” There is something very significant about these four birds. Can you see what it is before you read further?
- If you look very closely at the postcard inserts (the ones that Eric sent to Jen on his trip to find FXC in Brazil), particularly the one that was inserted between pages 192-193, you can see that the address has been overwritten with a heavy, black marker. However, if you look closely, you can barely make out the actual location of Pronghorn State University. Look at it yourself. Then, go research that area and see if there is anything significant that might help understand “S” better. If you don’t have the patience, see for yourself here.
- Besides the name S__, several locations in Ship of Theseus are also left either unnamed (the city in which the book opens) or with only the first letter(s) provided: B__, G__, El H__, P__. P__ is mentioned on p321. It doesn’t take much research on Wikipedia to discover what the name of that city is. The others, though, are more of a mystery. And yet we seem to be challenged to discover them. For example, B__ and G__ are close to each other and both lie on the eastern coast of some country/island. We know this because, if you read the details in Agent X (Chapter 4), you will see that S, Stenfalk, Corbeau, Ostrero, and Pfeifer head south from B__ (obviously a coastal town since S washed up in it) to the small port town of G__, which is over the mountains. We know that the coastline is to their right as they look North because of p151-152. At the end of the next chapter, after S leaps into the sea from the cave with Corbeau, he descends into the water so deeply that he startles a school of black scabbardfish. These fish exist only in the Atlantic Ocean between the latitudes of 69° N and 27° N. These details narrow down the location of B__ enough to where, with enough detective work, we might be able to figure out the name of the city – and that may be a clue in and of itself to help solve the rest of the mystery.
What about the EOTVOS Wheel?
As you have noticed, there are ciphers encoded into Ship of Theseus by FXC with clues in the footnotes. Many of those ciphers are solved by Eric and Jen. Included in the very back of the book Ship of Theseus there is a code wheel that contains various letters (of which you can only see five at a time) and a wheel that lets you change which letters you see by choosing different geographical coordinates in latitude and longitude. Chapter 10 has no cipher solution as presented by Eric and Jen, but they mention that there must be one. If you pay careful attention to the footnotes, you will notice that each one contains a location on the earth that can easily have its geographical coordinates located. Given this, is it possible that the EOTVOS wheel could be used in conjunction with those coordinates in order to obtain a hidden message to VMS from FXC? Give it a try. When you are done, you can check your work here.
What Do I Do Now?
I encourage you to seek your own connections using the marginalia fragments, scattered facts within Ship of Theseus, and doing your own research and post about them on your own blog or in the comments below so that we can all work together and put the story together better. Here are a few ideas of things to ponder or resources to examine.
- On p403, Ship of Theseus mentions a woman drowned in wine and washing ashore in Cap de Bol. In the margins, Jen says this actually happened. A newspaper in Marseilles reported it happening on 3/19/1948. But if VMS wrote this long before his supposed death on June 6, 1946, how did he write about something that did not happen until two years later?
- There has been no known solution to the Interlude or Chapter 9 (Birds of Negative Space) ciphers, if there are any.
- The EOTVOS Wheel website is officially part of the story and contains more information about the various Straka candidates and Santorini man murders that may help you understand more.
- The McKay Magazine’s review of Ship of Theseus by Edsel B. Grimshaw, also official, is the review mentioned by Eric in the margins on p18 and p106.
- The Summersby Confession (also official) in audio format (transcription included) is the tape that Ilsa stole for Moody that helped him advance his book promoting the idea that VMS was Victor Martin Summersby.
- On p328, Jen repeats her conviction that there is some sort of code present in the “wall-writing” – the words that S cuts into the wood of his room on the xebec and the words he actually intended to write. No one has yet presented a solution.
- Now that you know roughly in what order Jen and Eric communicated with each other (the different color inks), you can reread their story somewhat chronologically and likely understand things better.
- What does the valise signify? And why is time so often mentioned in conjunction with it?
- What does follow the monkey mean?
Please feel free to include your own suggestions/questions about what to do next in the comments below. Or, even better, post some answers if you think you have some.