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In the climax of S, we find S kneeling down on the ground and placing his finger in the moist earth where the black wine and the ground meet. And when that moment occurs, all at once, the mad chorus of voices in his head goes silent. 

Settled….And this is the key…

The etymology of the word settled includes the following…

  • Come to rest
  • Long bench, seat
  • Alight (like a bird)
  • Decide (make a choice)
  • Sink down, descend, cave in
  • Setting of a heavenly body

Let’s look at where these etymological connotations surface in Ship of Theseus. They occur in conspicuously important moments, and most interestingly, in every case in the book where a key is involved, along with references to the ground.

  • S first sees Sola while sitting on a long bench that runs the length of the room in the tavern of the Old Quarter (15-16)
  • S first sees Khatef-Zelh as she goes to retrieve a portrait and then “settles herself onto the floor” and begins to cut the canvas free of the frame. The face in the portrait is Sola’s (242-243).
  • The first time S is with Sola in the orlop of the ship, he settled himself into the chair and reached for the hourglass (407).
  • Birds. Just…birds.
  • The descent into the caves. The way out was down. Is down.
  • The setting of multiple heavenly bodies in The Drifting Twins.
  • Choices. Think Obsidian Island and The Lady.
  • When the soon-to-be fugitives approach Stenfalk’s house, it has a mossy roof that looks on the verge of caving in. Stenfalk reaches up into a window box and produces a key” (109). The window box, which would be made of wood and have dirt in it, is also directly beneath the window where later S notices the S symbol and a mirror image of it in the scrollwork cuts of the shutters (131).
  • He kneels down and touches a finger to it, and all at once, the mad chorus of voices in his head goes silent. Silent. Settled. Returned to the earth and settled. Voices and narratives, re-absorbed into the ground on which we walk. And this is the key, he realizes, the thing that makes the purpose of all that work on the ship and in El-H— and on the Obsidian Island and in Budapest, Edinburgh, Valparaíso, Prague, Cape Town, Valletta, the Winter City, and a thousand others come into focus. All that ink, all that pigment, all that desperate action to preserve that which had been created—it is valuable because story is a fragile and ephemeral thing on its own, a thing that is easily effaced or disappeared or destroyed, and it is worth preserving. And if it can’t be preserved, then it should be released and cycled.To write with the black stuff is to create and, at the same time, to resurrect. We write with what those who’ve come before us wrote. Everything rewritten. Part o’ the tradition (450-451).
  • In the alternate version believed to be the “real” end to Chapter 10 written by V.M. Straka, S is struck by Vevoda’s bullet in the collarbone – the clavicle (which means little key). It is not until the pistol fires and pain rakes his collarbone that he realizes what his instantaneous reconnoitering did not reveal. Where is she? The bullet sails beyond, carrying his skin and blood. It ricochets off an earthen wall, punches through a barrel, and comes to rest in the liquid inside. 

All of this continued settling could be a reference to the ground of being – which is synonymous with Spinoza’s substance and gets at the core of identity. J.J. Abrams does not use keys often, and when he does, pay attention. Even our primary mandate to follow the monkey may be an intended pun.

What do you see in all of these unsettling thoughts? Comment below to get the discussion going. Together we might just find what mystery box that key unlocks.