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S Explores Himself


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Karst & Son is the publisher of Straka’s first 18 works. A fellow S enthusiast, Adam Laceky, noticed a tombstone with the name Carstensen and pointed out the similarities to Karst & Son.

This led me back to Jan Carstenszoon, a 17th-century Dutch explorer who is referenced by code in the TV show LOST. And why? Because in 1623 he landed in Australia, which until that time had been sparsely glimpsed, not known to be a new continent, and yet to be included on any map of the world available to the general public. It was his exploration in 1623 that led to this first widely available map of the world to show any portion of Australia – a 1630 map by Hendrik Hondius.

The search for Terra Australia Incognita and its cartography is a metaphor for self-discovery. S’s journey is exactly that – the search to discover who he is. And our very first footnote from FXC points us back to that metaphor.

The second footnote in the book may also lead to a map. Turn the page and let’s see.


Le Monde did not exist in 1935. It was founded in December, 1944. So just what is FXC trying to say? Typically when she mentions something that is obviously false, it is a clue.

In the December, 1935 issue of National Geographic a map was included. The title of the map is The World (or Le Monde in French).


National Geographic says in this issue of this map…

Moreover, this World Map is the first to be issued showing with certainty that Antarctica is a single continent, not two islands – the epochal conclusion reached by Admiral Byrd after a series of flights and surveys made on his expedition of 1933-35.

Two maps, both pertaining to the search for Terra Australis Incognita, and both the first of their kind to reveal or confirm a new continent.

The first map also leads us to 1623 (remember the LOST numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42?). S seems to be filled with references to Shakespeare, and in 1623 Shakespeare’s First Folio was published. It is considered one, if not the, most influential books published in the English language.

The second map points us to Antarctica, which has many possible references in S.

And Hemingway? There is no evidence that he and Straka and the relationship that FXC suggests. So is Hemingway a clue? If so, here’s one idea. Hemingway had a deep focus on physical locations in his works – literary cartography?

This seems to be a deliberate design, and there must be much more to uncover.

Given that JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst have called the book S a “love letter to the written word”, it is very possible that this footnote is hinting to us that Shakespeare and/or Australia and/or Antarctica and/or cartography is a key to deciphering the mysteries of S.


Is this our Clue for the Code?


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Some time ago, we discovered that the sum of the numbers of the agents mentioned in the Interlude was 171 (19×9).

Some other time ago, Adam Laceky told me he was convinced that the major mnemonic system was somehow afoot within the Interlude and perhaps more of SoT. I had never heard of the MM and was reluctant to believe.

He pointed out that if you take the numbers of the first two agents mentioned in the Interlude (4, 34) and apply the MM, you get the word RUMORIntriguing, given the emphasis on that word in the footnotes and the alternative title to Ship of Theseus (Principality of Rumor), but still. Is there more?

On p307, Adam insists, we discover the 5th Fn of the Interlude, and it focuses heavily on music. In the MM, 307 = music.

Apophenia! I challenge. To which Adam points out that Sola = 05, and there is a conspicuous absence in the agent numbers of either 5 or 0, as there is a conspicuous absence of Sola in the Interlude.

At this point, Adam had me delving into the world of the MM and searching to corroborate his insistence that it had something to do with the Interlude code. Whereas I have always been convinced that the key was the title of chapter: Toccata and Fugue in Free Time – just as Jennifer Hayward writes herself directly beneath the title.

What if both are true?

Toccata = 171 – which happens to be the sum of our agent numbers.

Fugue = 87 – the sum of agents 4, 34, 47, and 2.

Free = 84 – the sum of the remaining agents 26, 8, 9, and 41.

Toccata = Fugue + Free?

What about time, you say? Where does it fit in?

Time = 13 – the number of footnotes in the Interlude.

I’m now convinced. The MM is somehow a key, if not the key, to the interlude cipher. Adam and I are calling on the rest of you who are still working on S to join us in ferreting  out the Interlude cipher and its solution. Together, we should discover it in time.


SToRA KArlso?

The following is an interesting theory by Adam Laceky. It’s a sequel of sorts to his theory that the Toronto Review (one of the inserts) is actually a secret message from FXC to VMS.

It appears that Straka left a message in chapter 3 telling Caldeira his location.

Here’s the evidence:

“The Zapadi Three” were workers at Vevoda’s factory. They disappeared after accusing Vevoda of malfeasance. Later in the chapter, we learn their names:


In Straka’s native language of Czech, “zapad” means “west.”
In FXC’s native language of Portuguese, “obrado” means “I have worked.”
Ledurga is a municipality of Latvia.

Ledurga is due south of Tallinn, Estonia. You might recognize Tallinn as the home town of Ragnar Rummo. (See ch.6, fn. 5)

Tallinn is due east of Stockholm. (See the above post)

Stockholm, Tallinn, and Ledurga define three corners of a nearly-perfect rectangle.

The fourth corner of this rectangle is due south of Stockholm, and due WEST of Ledurga: Stora Karlsö. It’s a tiny island (~1 square mile) off the coast of Gotland, itself an island of Sweden. It’s the oldest national park in the world, after Yellowstone. It’s mainly known for its rich birdlife. And its name contains, unsubtly, another name: STRAKA. Just drop the first “o.”

SToRA KArlsö

It looks like Straka was telling Caldeira “I have worked [my way] west from Ledurga.”

Where did he work his way to? SToRA KArlsö. The fourth corner of the rectangle.

The island was inhabited until the 1970s, when its status as a bird sanctuary forced permanent residents off the island. Today, it has a hotel and a restaurant and other accommodations for tourists, but no permanent residents.

Is the Toronto Review a Secret Message?


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Longtime “S” fan Adam Laceky has pointed out the following intriguing theory that the Toronto Review article on The Burning Word is actually a secret message from FXC to VMS.

This insert originally appears between pp 20-21 in Ship of Theseus. Jennifer Heyward provides the insert for Eric Husch to convince him that The Archer’s Tales is a real book (see marginalia on p21).

Note the publication’s title at the bottom of the page: Toronto Review for History and the Humanities, Vol. 1:1 1954. This is the first volume and first issue. Possibly the only issue. And it is published in Toronto.

If you note the title page in Ship of Theseus, FXC notes that Winged Shoes Press has two locations – one in New York City and the other in Toronto, Canada. In 1954, FXC would have been five years into her promise to VMS that she would wait ten years for him before she returned “home” to Maraú, Brazil (see symbols and marginalia on p184). Her only means of communicating with him, if he were indeed still alive, would be in the hidden messages of Ship of Theseus published five years earlier and in other public messages that would capture his attention. An article published in a previously nonexistent publication on The Archer’s Tales from a location where FXC is known to have an office would do just that.

To lend further credence that the author of the Toronto Review article is FXC, Adam points out that the footnote is in the same style as FXC’s work in Ship of Theseus.

So what is the hidden message?

FXC (assuming this is her) mentions a variety of dates and locations. Her dates are interesting. The 1759 fire that destroyed San Tadeo, according to the review, could be an allusion to the fire in Stockholm, Sweden, that occurred on July 19, 1759, that injured 19 people and destroyed the spire of the Maria Magdalene Church there.

Stockholm also had another major fire in 1625 – on September 1 (9/1). This date is 9/1/1625. In Europe, it might be annotated as 1/9/1625. Now where have we seen that date before?

In Ship of Theseus, when S goes missing in the Winter City, Sola comes looking for him. She finally finds him because it was the only place left (p391). On p387, just before S finds Sola on the ninth floor of the building in front of which he now stands, he discovers a plaque buried in ice on the sidewalk.

January 9, 1625, is 1/9/1625. But in Europe, as Adam points out, this could represent September 1, 1625. Since the marginalia gives no indication that this plaque was not represented in the original manuscript written by VMS, we can conclude that VMS is the one who created this.

This could mean that VMS was trying to tell FXC that, should he ever be missing, that he would reconnect with her in Stockholm, Sweden – mostly likely on September 1 – the anniversary of the 1625 fire.

But if she is to meet him in Stockholm on 9/1 of any given year, where is she to meet him.

In the 1759 fire, the spire of the Maria Magdalene Church was destroyed. In the Bible, Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus alive – even though she thought he was dead. Perhaps then FXC is to be the first to recognize that VMS is alive when he is otherwise thought to be dead – at this sacred place.

Perhaps FXC wrote the Toronto review to say that she recognized VMS’s call for a reunion in Stockholm – and that she would be there in 1954.

And what final clue do we have that FXC may have known about the Stockholm connection all along?In the Chapter 10 cipher, all of the locations that FXC left us work out perfectly in the EOTVOS wheel to reveal her message – except one.

The letters from the missing column correlate to the sixth footnote (Calais, France) and give us the letters XBTUP. But those letters do not work in the cipher. Only the letters LONOE, which lead us to Maraú, Brazil – FXC’s final destination. But surely XBTUP still means something? Not only does it point to Calais (it all goes back to Calais), but the same letters arise when we punch in the GPS coordinates to Stockholm, Sweden, on the EOTVOS wheel.

Was FXC trying to communicate that she understood the Stockholm message from VMS in Chapter 9 (Bird of Negative Space) and the plaque in the Winter City? And, more importantly, is it possible that FXC reconnected with VMS in Stockholm sometime between 1949 and 1959 and the two were able to reunite?

Adam Laceky did a fantastic job uncovering these possibilities. And they are definitely worth considering.

The Musical Cipher in “S”

It is no secret that “S” is filled with ciphers. Jen and Eric identify and solve all but one of the known ciphers. Readers quickly followed a month or so after the book’s release with the solution to the Chapter 10 cipher using the EOTVOS wheel.

The question remains – are there more ciphers yet to be identified? Surely the answer is yes. Why lay such groundwork and leave only one cipher for the readers? And yet another question that remains – is there one or more musical ciphers in “S”? Given the number of musical references, and the fact that one Chapter remains unnumberd

  • Doug Dorst once tweeted a clue – it was nothing more than the image of fingers forming a chord on a guitar. That chord turned out to be A-flat diminished, often written as AbDIM.

    This turns out to be the name Abdim, musically encoded. Abdim is the character in Ship of Theseus that handed S the valise (p244-245).

  • We meet our monkey first (or our first monkey, at least) tethered to an organ grinder returning his barrel organ after a day playing in the streets.
  • Cruzatte (the name of the park where Jen wandered away from her parents when she was young) is certainly named after the fiddle player who accompanied Lewis and Clark as they traveled around their world of North America in search of a water route to the Pacific Ocean. The Territory, as S climbs the monkey path up to meet the Governor, is compared to Cruzatte on p351 by Jen. On that path that S travels, he catalogs many sounds, including a monkey and several birds: a Merlin (Stenfalk), a crow (Corbeau), an oystercatcher (Ostrero), and a magpie (S).
  • Birds play a major role in “S”, and one of their primary functions is, of course, to sing.
  • One chapter is entitled Interlude: Tocatta and Fugue in Free Time. Toccata and fugue: two separate types of music woven into one work. This seems to explicitly refer to Bach’s Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor, which of course has its own authorship controversy. Here is an entire post devoted to thoughts of a cipher contained within the Interlude.
  • The Archer’s Tales (Los Cuentos del Arquero) was known interchangeably as The Book of S (El Libro de S). It was destroyed in a fire at a Spanish abbey known as San Tadeo de la Tejera in 1759. The abbey was located somewhere near Bilbao, Spain on the northern coast. There were 19 monks at the abbey at the time of the fire, and all but one perished. The brother who survived managed to save and transport a sack of books to the Santiago Cathedral in Bilbao, but he was unable to save The Archer’s Tales.

    The name San Tadeo de la Tejera means, literally, Saint Heart of the Yew Tree (tadeo = heart, tejera = yew tree).  The yew tree has a perfect wood for creating longbows for archery. It is also prized for use in the construction of musical instruments, such as the lute.

  • Fn6, p26, mentions that Straka was a violin prodigy.
  • The sailors on “S”‘s ship communicate through wooden whistles with “songs.”
  • The first word on p26 is Rest. The paragraph that follows, when S first awakens on the ship, is filled with musical references describing S’s experience.
  • There is a theory that S’s name is encoded musically using GPS coordinates gleaned from the story and visualised on a musical staff of latitude and longitude.
  • Another theory looks to the Glass Bead Game as a basis for “S”. The game is heavily based on connecting music to everything else.
  • On p352, Jen circles the words Follow the monkey and comments Sound advice. Is this a clue that the cipher we are looking for involves sound? Music?

Okay – your turn. There are many more musical references, clues, and maybe solid indications of a cipher we could work on together.

What do you seee musically in “S”? Go.


Await What the Stars Will Bring

On p319, there is a single red dot at the top of the page. Back on p87, Jen jokes with Eric that she could put a single dot anywhere in the book and Eric would notice. He responds “Like on p319.”

It stands to reason that this could be a way of telling us to focus more on p319. But on what?

My favorite quote from the book is on this page…

But you ought to understand, too, that there’s an attrition that takes place inside, one in which options and choices and even desires are ground ever smaller until finally their existence can no longer be confirmed by observation or weight or displacement but only by faith. Until desire is a ghost.

Juxtapose these two sentences with the following from pp372-373…

What is the story he tells himself? That he is a man in a boat on the edge of civilization? That he is a man floating on the edge of a life that should never have been his? That there is nothing? There is nothing. The woman who could save him, who could explain, is gone. His other selves are gone. His stitches are gone. His opinions are gone. His pages are gone, lost underwater or turned to ash. He has only this empty vessel of himself. He is a ghost.

S is compared to desire.

A quick look at the etymology of desire shows us that the word likely descended from the Latin de sidere, which means literally, from the stars and carries the connotation await what the stars will bring.

Perhaps we are being teased with this on p319 because there are four asterisks that follow the phrase Until desire is a ghost. An asterisk is a “little star.”

And then of course we have S‘s experience with the constellations drifting on pp46-49. He desires to make sense of himself and his world, but the drifting stars only make things worse. He then notices two other lights from a ship. A ship that he later dubs the ghost ship.

When S finds himself a ghost on p373, his next moment of awareness is in the Winter City, where he and everyone in it are ghost-like – transparent and untouchable.

It is not until the Sola finds S in the Winter City that desire returns to S. Sola asks him on p391 Do you still want to find Vevoda?S realizes that any time before now he would have struggled to answer this question. But now, with Sola present, desire returns to him. He replies, Yes. Definitely. And then he leaves the Winter City and his ghost-like state and returns to the ship.

In the climactic scene as S pauses when poisoning the wine…

This is not what he wants to do. Does it matter what he wants? Especially now, at this moment, a moment of opportunity that might justify decades of flight and struggle and terror and blood? Can it possibly matter what one man wants? It does, he decides. It does now, and perhaps it always has.

S‘s desire is what matters here. And when S decides that his desire matters, everything changes.

On the final page of the book, p456, S takes Maelstrom’s spyglass (discovered under the blanket on which the monkey sleeps) and looks through it. What he sees…

is not a ghost ship, no; she is a ship with flags flying and sailors working on deck, sails trimmed and humming in the wind, a glorious wake churning out behind her, and what looks like two people sharing the wheel. He can’t see their faces through the glass, can’t really see much about them at all, but he slides the glass closed and tells Sola that the ship is one of theirs, and as for the identities of the two people at the wheel, well, both Sola and he will let their imaginations fill in their features.

When desire is lost, life is empty and ghost-like. When it is awakened, life is full of purpose.

S is desire. And desire is waiting what the stars will bring.

On p69, we begin the chapter The Emersion of S. Jen writes two definitions of emersion and she and Eric discuss the second option…

2) (Astron) the reemergence of a celestial body after eclipse or occultation.


I don’t know. I haven’t seen him.

((((RIM SHOT))))

I just think it’s intriguing, given what happened w/stars in Ch. 2.

This would also help explain the climax of the story in Eric and Jen’s world, which takes place in the margins on p453. The setting is the PSU Planetarium, and it appears that Eric is running the projector before Moody cuts the power and scuffles with Eric in the dark. Jen comments I wish we could have stayed and watched the stars some more.

S‘s name, I think, is Sidere (an anagram of desire). His life represents a group of stars – each star representing a choice – a decision based on a desire resulting in an act. How these stars connect tells the story of a life. Our desires – our passions – result in acts – or deeds. And they are all connected, forming one constellation, that reveals who we are.

Exasperatingly Endless

This footnote has a number of words with the same letter next to or in close proximity to each other. Here is the footnote arranged to emphasize those. Perhaps it will spark some thoughts on solving a code that will get us somewhere in this exasperatingly endless search.

Is This the Original Cover to the Night Palisades?

Karen Royer (@ArundelainDumar) stumbled onto this book cover image on a single Czech website that has since been deleted. Using, a copy of the page (with the image missing) shows that the image was posted on 11/21/2013 – just a few weeks after the release of “S”. You can see Google’s cached copy of the image by doing a google image search for “Night palisades – V.M. Straka – 1934”.

What it Means to Follow the Monkey


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Here is a beginning framework of what it means to follow the monkey.

It is only that. A framework. A beginning. An armature. We still need to work together to solve the remaining mysteries of S. It is my hope that an explanation of this armature helps us do just that.

To orient ourselves, here are a few previous blog posts that help set the stage.

It would also help before we continue to make sure we all understand the basics of  cybernetics (from the Greek word kybernetes, which means steersman or governor)along with its most basic concept: the feedback loop. The best summary on this subject I have seen is from a Wired Magazine article that says…

A feedback loop involves four distinct stages. First comes the data: A behavior must be measured, captured, and stored. This is the evidence stage. Second, the information must be relayed to the individual, not in the raw-data form in which it was captured but in a context that makes it emotionally resonant. This is the relevance stage. But even compelling information is useless if we don’t know what to make of it, so we need a third stage: consequence. The information must illuminate one or more paths ahead. And finally, the fourth stage: action. There must be a clear moment when the individual can recalibrate a behavior, make a choice, and act. Then that action is measured, and the feedback loop can run once more, every action stimulating new behaviors that inch us closer to our goals.

In summary, a feedback loop’s four stages explained in a way that are contextualized for S are

  1. An individual gathers new information.
  2. The irrelevancies of that data are stripped away and what matters is emotionally conveyed to the individual for rumination.
  3. Insights – creative leaps (as the author of Godel, Escher, Back would call them) – from the new information drive the individual to continue to write his/her  story with the new paths of choice that are illuminated.
  4. The individual selects one path of illumination, recalibrating his/her behavior accordingly. Then the feedback loop repeats.

Communications between two people always include feedback loops. The act of writing creates a feedback loop between author and reader. What we witness in the marginalia of Eric and Jen’s writing is a concrete example of cybernetics at play: continuous feedback as both Eric and Jen learn more about each other and about themselves with each new message between them.

There is a very special kind of feedback loop, though, that does something more that just illuminate paths that might be taken in the future. Sometimes information introduced to an individual – a new truth – forces what we call an epistemological crisis. An epistemological crisis occurs when new information – a new truth – arrives in the feedback loop that challenges everything we already thought we believed to be true, forcing us to rewrite our former story with a new schema.

Most of us who watched Sixth Sense experienced an epistemological crisis. We watched a story unfold and began forming a framework of understanding that story. And then, at the climax, we were presented with a truth that forced us to completely rewrite our understanding of the story we had just witnessed. All the events of the story were exactly the same, but their meaning changed entirely. It was a true Ship of Theseus moment. We had to ask ourselves, is it the same story, even though I just had to replace most if not all the parts of how I built the story in my head with completely new parts that integrated the new truth?

Probably the first story to every penetrate the modern psyche with the idea of epistemological crisis was Hamlet (which has many references in S), by William Shakespeare. As Alisdair MacIntyre explains in Crisis, Narrative, and Science, Hamlet is searching for a true and intelligible narrative that explains the death of his father, but he is overwhelmed with too many possible schematics that can explain it. He then embarks on a quest for the truth. MacIntyre goes on to explain…

When an epistemological crisis is resolved, it is by the construction of a new narrative which enables the agent to understand both how he or she could intelligibly have held his or her original beliefs and how he or she could have been so drastically misled by them. The narrative in terms of which he or she at first understood and ordered experiences is itself made into the subject of an enlarged narrative. The agent has to come to understand how the criteria of truth and understanding must be reformulated. He has to become epis- temologically self-conscious and at a certain point he may have to come to acknowledge two conclusions: The first is that his new forms of understanding may themselves in turn come to be put in question at any time; the second is that, because in such crises the criteria of truth, intelligibility, and rationality may always themselves be put in question – as they are in Hamlet – we are never in a position to claim that now we possess the truth or now we are fully rational. The most we can claim is that this is the best account which anyone has been able to give so far, and that our beliefs about what the marks of a “best account so far” are will themselves change in what are at present unpredictable ways

With all of this in mind, I believe that to follow the monkey is to embark on a journey as readers to identify the feedback loops that lead to epistemological crisis – to discover the new truths that cause us to rewrite our current understanding of S – until, after multiple iterations, we arrive at the best possible account – a true and intelligible narrative. Our Ship of Theseus is undergoing continual changes, sometimes with complete destruction and reconstruction, as we do our best to form the ship that S sees through the spyglass at the end. This is evident to us as S himself witnesses the ship undergo its changes, construction, and deconstruction. It’s also bared before us as S sits down in The Lady‘s cabin to read The Book of S and struggles to understand why it contains schematics for the ship’s construction along with a catalog of its changes.

The changes S’s ship endures are the changes our understanding of S goes through with each new truth we discover. Our schematics for explaining the story are continually changing.

Below is a catalog of the appearances of our monkey and a likely incomplete ilustration of how feedback loops and epistemological crises are hidden before us in plain sight to keep us following. (Keep in mind, all forms of communication between two people involve feedback loops).

The monkey spots S as he walks by the organ grinder and tone-deaf immigrant (8-9)

  • The tone-deaf immigrant and barrel organ owner struggle to communicate through their language barrier.
  • The barrel organs are ground – organ grinding – turning loops to make sounds.
  • The immigrant hides a truth about the money in the monkey’s pocket that will rewrite his peaceful escape.
  • The barrel organ owner hides a truth about which stack of money is more valuable.
  • The barrel organ owner suspects the truth about the immigrant holding out on him and that he intends to attack the immigrant later to determine the truth that the immigrant is hiding. All of this leads to S seeing the monkey later as he passes out.
  • In Fn2, p8, FXC reveals the truth about the note pinned to the monkey that accepted Straka’s award from Bouchard. This new truth requires rewriting the story of what everyone else thought happened before FXC’s reveal.
  • The marginalia reveals Jen and Eric attempting to determine the truth about Bouchard and the S organization. The truths are elusive.
  • This first time that we see the monkey, he is in a room full of barrel organs. The last time we see the monkey, he is releasing wine from barrels back to the earth.

S spots the monkey as he is about to pass out after being drugged and says Run, monkey. Run. (24-25)

  • S is obducted while attempting to communicate with Sola and arrive at truths that will help him successfully construct the narrative of his life – his identity.
  • Two life-long pursuits are born in S: Sola and The Archer’s Tales.
  • The Archer’s Tales – an archer uses literal feedback loops (the bull’s-eye target) to readjust his aim with the feedback he receives from the previous shot.
  • The drug makes it impossible for S to understand communications.
  • In the pocket of the monkey’s tattered red coat is money (truth) that would serve as a feedback loop to the suspicions of the barrel organ owner. The barrel organ owner’s sons are chasing the feedback they need, and S encourages the monkey to keep running. We, the readers, are chasing feedback to help us understand S. But that monkey is running ahead of us, with S’s encouragement, and therein lies the game we are all playing right now.

The monkey is rescued from the ghost ship and come’s aboard the xebec (54-56).

  • The feedback loop we long to know – is this the same monkey?
  • Maelstrom mentions the monkey. Maelstrom’s name means mill stream. A mill stream is a special diversion of water to drive a waterwheel – loops of water. Maelstrom once says that all I means t’ steer the ship. The word cybernetics means, literally, the one who steers.
  • S undergoes a brief epistemological crisis. He thinks the monkey is a baby for a moment, his heart sinking, and then he looks closer and realizes the truth.
  • Eric’s pencilled marginalia suggests the monkey is an iteration of S. To iterate is to repeat. A loop.
  • The insert in these pages is a telegram from Straka to Karst & Sons with new information – a feedback loop to the publishers. FXC is to take over henceforth as translator. Fn6, p55 references a Spider Prince and the marginalia has a drawn spider web. Spiders create their webs with loops.

The monkey flees the approaching waterspouts and goes down the hatch (62).

  • S’s vision of the waterspouts has a mysterious feedback loop (that we don’t yet understand) to Sola in the tavern drinking her drink. In the present, the monkey runs “down the hatch” – is this a deliberate connection?
  • The ship is destroyed by the waterspouts, but S survives. Here we have a metaphor for our schema of understanding being destroyed and later reconstructed after we undergo new experiences.
  • In the marginalia – Eric’s uncle doesn’t know the truth of why Eric backed out of the trip on the boat.
  • Jen writes that she knew something Eric said earlier here wasn’t the whole story. So it needs to be rewritten.

S spots the monkey on the resurrected xebec after his leap from the cave (200-201).

  • S undergoes a much larger epistemological crisis the moment he sees the ship: how is the ship all put back together? So soon? But it’s different now, but still the same ship.
  • S started in the water after leaving the ship and emerged in B__. Now he leaps from the cave and returns to water, where he once again finds the ship – one large loop.
  • The monkey is swinging loops in the halyard.
  • The postcard insert here presents us with a feedback loop inducing another important epistemological crisis: Not only is FXC alive – but Eric FOUND HER. FXC will give many new insights (feedback loops) to S to aid him in the story. Her words, her letters, and eventually her personal copy of the alternate ending to “S” that help Eric and Jen rewrite their narrative tha they are piecing together about FXC and Straka, about S and Sola.

S hears the monkey laugh after Maelstrom explains to S that he will willingly return from El H__ after he disembarks (219-220)

  • There is a feedback loop and epistemological crisis symbolized in S’s round trip to El H__. Before he leaves, he cannot possibly imagine returning, but Maelstrom explains that he will and you’ll be ‘hap to. It turns out to be true, but only after S experiences what he does in El H__ and sees why.
  • In Fn6, p219, a new truth (reinforced by Eric’s notes) explains confusion caused in Straka’s communications.
  • Maelstrom takes S’s nail, telling him not to deface the ship. S insists that the truth of the story about the nail and his carving is not defacing.
  • S struggles to rewrite the story of what is going on with his life when Maelstrom informs him that Vevoda “cogs yer venin.” This new truth is disturbing to S.
  • Jen secures a meeting with Ilsa but is concerned that she won’t understand the truth.
  • In the marginalia we witness several discussions of nended truth: what happened in Havana and when MacInnes left S.

The monkey runs circles around the female sailor (266-267)

  • S and the woman struggle to communicate.
  • The woman and the monkey struggle to communicate.
  • The monkey is running around the pouting sailor in loops.
  • S seeks Maelstrom: the one who speaks, the one whose name evokes thoughts of looping water, and who steers the ship (cybernetics).
  • We have an epistemological crisis in understanding whether or not the pouting sailor is also The Lady of Obsidian Island? And if she is, how?

The monkey is sitting on top of a barrel in the middle of the deck tossing pieces of ship biscuit into the wind. (272)

  • A barrel is made up of wooden loops formed by a cooper. Corbeau’s father was a cooper (123).
  • The crew is struggling understand Maelstrom’s communications. They pause, waiting to be sure they heard correctly. After the feedback loop is complete, they change their plans and head for Obsidian Island.
  • Whistles operate on the principle of feedback loops to create sound.
  • Lewis Looper is mentioned in the Fn on p270 as al this happens.
  • In the marginalia, we witness the very first mention of Eric/Jen having met in person. A brand new feedback loop is introduced.
  • Jen mentions a specific feedback loop that creates one of her own epistemological crises: she runs into her old college roommate and discovers that she was much more like her than she thought, but Jacob distracted her from noticing.

The monkey is sitting on top of the ghost-ship boy as S becomes part o’ the tradition. (297)

  • We see a crystal clear feedback loop and epistemological crisis for many. Maelstrom and his crew have one when they find S down in the orlop writing.“‘Ah, hell,’ Maelstrom seems to be saying, ‘it dint ness t’go li’ this.’ But now it does.” New information rewrites the story. S once hated the idea of even thinking of becoming on of the crew, and now he finds himself becoming one. Everything rewritten.
  • S’s lips are sewn together with loops of black thread.
  • The pouting sailor who was the one in the last monkey sighting with the mop, and may very well be The Lady of Obsidian Island, provides the fishhook with a snarl to Maelstrom, who sews S’s lips.
  • In the marginalia we find several small instances of feedback loops.

The monkey shrieks as Vevoda’s planes make the first actual entrance into the apparently hidden world of the ship at sea. (338)

  • Now that Vevoda’s planes have penetrated where ships like us were formered safe, the direction of the story must change. S gets his wish to go to The Territory after all.
  • Jen finds out her sister and Jacob are the reason Mom and Dad are coming for a visit. This new information enrages her.

On his way to assassinate the governor, S dreams that he is paddling in the stern of a steel canoe. In the bow, with a monkey on her back, is Sola. (341)

  • S struggles to communicate with Anca and Waqar.
  • S is in the middle of a loop between leaving the ship to find the Governor (cybernetics), realizing who the Governor is, and returning to the ship to find it destroyed.
  • Eric circles Nemec and writes discrepancy with original manuscript. This new information changes the story that Straka wrote. FXC changed the original to Nemec to reflect the new truth of who the traitor actually was.

Anca tells S to follow the monkey to find the governor, which turns out to be a symbol carved into a tree that leads him to the path. As S contemplates what it means to follow the monkey, he remarks to himself, Of course there is a monkey. There is always a monkey. Near the end of the path, S hears a howler monkey cry out in the distance. (352-353)

  • S, upon hearing birdsong that seems out of place, loops back through the thought of his friends when he catalogs the sounds (a Merlin, an Oystercatcher, a Raven, and a Magpie Tanager).
  • The monkey leads S to the biggest epistemological crisis of his life: the governor is Pfeifer. S has gone from the man who would risk his life to save Pfeifer to the man who would choose to end his life. Who S thought he was change in this loop from cave to hilltop. As he runs to escape the rifle of the guard, a magpie dies from a bullet wound. This and the destruction of the ship force S to rewrite his own narrative – he is who he is because of his actions, not because of his past that he does not remember. A man is no more and no less than the story of his passion and deeds (see insert on page 361).

When S is finally with Sola after his solace in the Winter City, he returns to the ship with her. There he finds the monkey, which seems much older now, curled up asleep. It awakens and makes a noise before returning to sleep. (401)

  • S completes the loop between the ship’s destruction, his time in the Winter City, and returning with Sola.
  • The ship is reconstructed. The monkey still alive. We don’t know yet but Maelstrom’s spyglass is underneath the blanket where S sees him sleep.
  • Jen completes the feedback loop with Jacob over his “betrayal” in involving her sister/parents.
  • Another Santorini man occurs, changing the story of whether the S is still active and the enemy is still in pursuit.

In the climax, the monkey is darting among the wine barrels, pulling out the bungs and draining the black wine. (452-454)

  • The feedback loop of the wine being “recycled” – settled.
  • S has a positive epistemological crisis with a feedback loop. After he feels the voices in his head go silent and settled when the wine in the barrels is released back into the earth and recycled, he no longer wishes to destroy his enemy. He rewrites the ending.
  • We hear the squeal of feedback from Edvar Vevoda VI’s microphone as he is apparently shot and dies on stage – while presenting truth to the crowd in an unscripted speech. Draw near, gentlemen, draw near, do not miss any of these words for this is Truth and it is a miraculous thing (445).
  • This is where FXC takes over with her version of the ending – where she rewrites the narrative based on her perceived truth. Jen says on p455 See. This whole final sequence was hers. From the monkey’s appearance on.
  • In the marginalia, there are discussions about the temperature of the apartment in Prague. They mention how cold it is, which hearkens back to page 447 when they talk about the thermostat – one of the most basic cybernetic systems with a feedback loop.
  • In the marginalia, we are presented with the unfinished narrative of what happened at the planetarium before Jen and Eric left the country for Prague.

S envisions how he will obtain Maelstrom’s spyglass from its hiding place in the chart room – under the blankets where the monkey sleeps and under the table from where Maelstrom examined his maps for feedback from the red color changes. (455-456)

  • The spyglass reveals another ship. The way things can and will be when the full truth is finally clear. Maelstrom often studied the maps, acted on the feedback loop of growing redness, and looking through the spyglass for more feedback.
  • Eric/Jen discuss how they now know FXC’s alt version started from the monkey’s appearance on.
  • Eric thinks FXC’s ending is ambiguous. Jen disagrees.
  • We now have the question of whether or not Jen/Eric are ok. OK is scratched out and we have the copy of their book.

Straka’s Original Ending

  • The monkey uses a raw piece of substance to release the wine from the barrels. The sounds are loud.
  • The monkey might as well be one with S.
  • The monkey kills Vevoda with the piece of substance.
  • The story ends from the perspective of the monkey. It knows Vevoda is dead. It knows S is transparent – and knows that S is unaware of this. It feels like there is something essential about the man that it has failed to understand. We are left with the search for the truth of understanding what essential something will help us rewrite the narrative, discover S’s name, understand Eric and Jen’s story, find out what really happened in Havana, whether Straka lived, etc.

Where do we go from here? We continue to follow the monkey – to search for those hidden truths that help us rewrite our current understanding of the story so that we can create the most true and intelligible narrative that we can.

Your Feedback

There are countless other examples of feedback loops, needed truths, and epistemological crises in S that either provide seed for thought in advancing the quest or illustrate the follow the monkey principle. Please leave your feedback in the comments section. Here are a few examples to get us started…

  • The first time S finds himself on the ship and wanders around to gain a sense of where – and what – he is, Jen writes in the margins that she has discovered a new truth: that FXC is a woman. Eric writes this changes everything (29).
  • In the chapter, The Drifting Twins, S watches in horror as the constellations drift in such a way that the stars no longer have meaning. New meaning must be made. New narratives created.
  • When S discovers the truth of the bomb in B, in advance of its detonation, this feedback forces him to abandon his quest to follow Sola and return to his newfound friends and explain the truth. Despite this, the townsfolk believe the newspaper accounts that these very same people who tried to stop the bomb are actually responsible for it. This false narrative, created by Vevoda and given momentum by fear, changes the story and makes our friends fugitives fleeing for their lives.
  • What begins at the water shall end there, and what ends there shall once more begin. This is a good way of describing a cybernetic system.
  • What else do you see?

Is Sola Deliberately Hiding Her Identity?


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Sola appears to be cloaking her identity (intentionally?) throughout Ship of Theseus. This presents an interesting counterpoint to S’s situation: S is searching for his lost identity, while Sola appears to be concealing her known identity.

Here are clues that seem to indicate this. Please discuss your own observations in the comments…

  • She goes by different names (Sola, Szalome, Samar)
  • She costumes herself as a man in El H__
  • She changes roles repeatedly
    • Wealthy traveler on the liner Imperia, appearing as a casual reader in the tavern
    • Factory worker in B__
    • Part of the resistance in El H__
    • Companion to The Lady on Obsidian Island
    • Traveler on a ship like S’s
    • She is the girl in the century-old picture in El H__. And Khatef Zelh, when describing Samar, describes at least six separate roles she was known to have possibly played. Is it because she played all of them and different people are describing the Samar that they knew at the time?
  • She somehow seems to keep up with S’s valise in an undercover manner.
    • Someone seems to have obtained Stenfalk’s valise between B__ and G__. S left it at the base of the limestone wall but notices that the agents don’t have it when they arrest and murder Stenfalk. Sola was last seen in B__. Did she follow the group and recover the valise?
    • After S receives what appears to be the same valise in El H__, he is stripped of it briefly by a would-be assassin. Sola returns it to him, costumed as a man.
    • Sola recovers the valise that S left in The Territory after his encounter with the Governor and returns it to him in The Winter City.
    • Sola ensures that all of S’s supplies in the valise are in order before he takes it to Vevoda’s chateau.
  • She somehow seems to be aware of and secretly spying on and/or working against Vevoda before S even knows who Vevoda is.
    • She is in the tavern in the Old Quarter, appearing to casually read a book but probably watching one of Vevoda’s agents/detectives who is there taking notes. (16)
    • She secures a job in Vevoda’s factory under the name Szalome, doing some sort of book work that Pfeifer didn’t think needed done before. (116)
    • She leads S to the two detectives next to the Central Power plant so that he can witness the bomb exchange. (100)
    • She (probably?) is the one who rescues Stenfalk’s valise from the posse of detectives. (172)
    • She obtains the map to Vevoda’s chateau, along with the intelligence about the gala nine months away and find’s S in the Winter City in order to help him confront Vevoda and write the ending. (401-402)
  • She and S both conceal their identities together while on Vevoda’s estate as they prepare to confront him and his guests.

Is Sola concealing her identity? If so, why? And why conceal it from even S, as in El H__ when she is costumed as a man when returning the valise? What are your thoughts?

Jen’s Blue Square on p10


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On p2, as Eric and Jen birth their marginalia relationship, Jen believes she has discovered the identity of Eric – Thomas Lyle Chadwick, PSU ID#3946608. By p5, however, Jen has investigated Chadwick further and discovered he is an undergrad in geology, which doesn’t line up with Eric’s story. Jen confronts Eric over this, and once Eric admits he allowed Jen to believe he was Chadwick, Jen gets upset and tells Eric to go to p10 for her response to this atrocity. And it is there that we find Jen’s response – a carefully drawn square with the thick borders in the upper left-hand corner. Eric struggles to understand her response, and we readers, like Eric, are left without a definitive answer.

What you will find here is also not a definitive answer, but a list of observations about the conversation leading up to and about this square that seem to carry a few common themes: nothing and three.


  • On the page where Jen “discovers” that Eric is Thomas Chadwick (p2), the page is blank. There is no print from the book. Just to the right of that, we are introduced to “S” – a man with no identity.
  • After Jen confronts Eric, she stops writing in the book for awhile. On p5 Eric says, It’s really disappointing to pick up the book and find nothing from you.
  • Jen tell’s Eric about the square on p5 by saying, Dear Mr. Not Chadwick, see p10 for my response.
  • Next to Jen’s square, after Eric first finds it, he writes, That’s your response?? Um, there’s nothing there.
  • When Jen finally does respond to Eric, she asks Aren’t you a student? Eric responds with I was. I got “expunged” in January. To be expunged is to be made nothing – erased completely from existence.
  • V.M. Straka’s third book is entitled The Square. It is first mentioned in Ship of Theseus on p70, where the main character Franzl is described by FXC in Fn1 as a man with no possessions. The last word in the text on p70 is nonetheless.
  • Eric’s pencilled marginalia refers to The Square on p75 and below that, bottom left, Jen says about a code she is trying to track that I’m getting nowhere with this.

Three (admittedly, this applies more to Straka’s book The Square than specifically to Jen’s drawing)

  • The Square is the third book in V.M. Straka’s bibliography of nineteen works.
  • On p75, when Eric mentions in pencil that a line has been taken verbatim from The Square, we are first introduced to the Zapadi Three.
  • The only footnote on p75 discusses three possible products manufactured at the factory where Vaclav Straka worked.
  • Eric highlights a section on p88 that these details were drawn from the square (a pun on a drawing of a square?) Within that section a clock strikes three separate hours: twelve, one, and two. The next hour, implied, is of course, three.
  • Again on p88, Pfeifer challenges the police with three men are missing! Probably dead! Why don’t you do your jobs and investigate? These three sentences are italicized in the book.
  • Again on p88, we are reminded that three men are walking along (Pfeifer, Ostrero, and S).
  • Again on p88, Jen underlines three words in a row for emphasis: I don’t need.
  • On p95, Eric notes in pencil that a scene in Ship of Theseus mirrors one in The Square. He also notes three pages from The Square and writes Three different views of the same gesture.
  • Again on p95, Jen underlines three words in a row for emphasis: special collections archive.
  • Again on p95, S spots Sola. S notes she is square-shouldered and while struggling to believe she could possibly be here thinks to himself Concidence be damned.
  • The entire scene that concerns the protest over The Zapadi Three takes place itself in a square (see p86) and closely mimics the central event in Straka’s book The Square over what happened in Haymarket Square in Chicago on May 4, 1886.

What do you see when it comes to these, or even other, themes surrounding Jen’s blue square? If you need some ideas, here is another blog post about how truth may be connected to Jen’s blue square. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Agent #4 and His Travels


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All of Agent #4’s travels seem to occur just prior to major conflict in that area. It appears that the Agents of Vevoda are tasked with being an instigator or at least a catalyst to conflict in order to drive sales for Vevoda.

For example, Agent #41 (see p324)

  • He sent one of S’s wharf-rat confederates plummeting into a gorge (O, poetry!). (B–. October, 1906). See p175.
  • He torched the library at Leuven. (Leuven, Belgium. August, 1914)
  • He sold the Japanese on the Mukden plan. (Mukden – now Shenyang – China. September, 1931)
  • He has performed dozens of S-dispatches, spanning three decades.

It’s safe to conclude that all of the Agents may have travelled in order to ensure conflict that would drive sales of the Black Vine.

In addition to all of the sightings of Agent#4 we are about to examine, we know for certain that he was part of the conspiracy to assassinate Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 (see pp299-304). He was in Sarajevo shortly before the assassination, sitting in Schiller’s Delicatessen, urging a member of the conspiracy to get the job done. He then boarded a train for Budapest, where he met his untimely demise at the hands of S and his bottle of plum rakija.

With this in mind, let’s analyze the other known locations of Agent #4 and the potential conflicts he may have had a role in birthing. See pp261-262.

  • Danzig – Berlin, October, 1908. This particular notation relates to the photograph itself on the back of which the locations are written. Agent#4 is traveling from Danzig to Berlin, Germany. It was in Berlin in October 1908 that the Bosnian Crisis began. We can safely conclude that Agent #4 was there to ensure this crisis occurred.
  • Tangier, June 1905. The First Moroccan Crisis began in Tangier, Morocco in March of 1905 and peaked in mid-June of the same year, likely thanks to our friendly agent.
  • B—, October 1906. We have yet to discover the location of B—, but it seems clear that Agent #4 was present to ensure that the bomb provocation incident on the wharf (a plan the other agents knew about for days – see p104) took place. See p100-101 for S’s eyewitness account of Agent #4 handing the bomb to the Agent in the boiler suit, followed by p261 when S recognizes him as Agent #4 from the photograph.
  • Los Angeles, December 1910. The Magonista Rebellion surged after the release of The Magon brothers from a Los Angeles jail in 1910. Their rebellion, centered at this time from Los Angeles, is considered a large spark which began the Mexican Revolution.
  • Tripoli, September 1911. The Italo-Turkish War began in September, 1911, beginning as the Italian Fleet arrived at Tripoli and began bombing the port.
  • Salonika, March 1912. Salonika, today known as Thessaloniki, is the capital of Macedonia. In 1912, Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia abandoned their then differences with Macedonia and formed a coalition against the Ottoman Empire. This helped spark the First Balkan War, in which Thessaloniki had to surrender in October, 1912.
  • Sarajevo – June 28, 1914. Agent #4 is a conspirator in the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, igniting World War I.
  • Budapest, June 28, 1914. Agent #4’s lifeless body arrives on the train.

We can conclude then, that wherever B— is/was and whatever happened there in and shortly after October, 1906, was a major conflict – or simply Vevoda protecting his “venal self interests.”

Where on Earth is El-H—?


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Another one of our mysterious locations to discover is El-H—, an obviously Arabic city but with few other clues to help us find out where on earth it actuallly is. Below is a list of characteristics that may help us triangulate its location.

  • It borders open water/ocean on one side and desert on the other. Attacking armies must cross that desert in order to attack it by land.
  • It has ancient stone walls surround it, making it an ancient city.
  • There is a night suq – an Arabic marketplace.
  • The local currency is purple and blue.
  • Possible child charmers being sold for the amusement of one pasha or the other (see p147). Ostrero told a cautionary tale he was told when young about disobedient children that were carried across the straits to the Arab markets where they would be stuffed into baskets and charmed by flute players – just like what we see happening on p236 in the night suk. This seems to strongly imply that El-H– is across “the straits” from where Ostrero grew up, likely in Spain. So it seems there is a strong possibility that we need to concentrate our search in Morocco near the areas where it is closest to Spain. Maybe.
  • It’s not in Europe, because Samar might have fallen in love with a European sailor.
  • The name Khatef-Zelh is Arabic for the pied kingfisher. (Thanks, Osfour).
  • Musical instruments: drum, oud, spike fiddle.
  • Insects: locusts.
  • Flora: Date palms.
  • Fauna: finch, feral dogs, cats,.
  • Clothing: checheya, kaftan.
  • Food: lamb, cumin, cardamom, pepper.
  • Archaeology: Moorish archway, minarets.

Anyone else notice anything about El-H– that might help us pinpoint its name and location? Or see anything in those things mentioned that stand out?

The Name and Location of B–


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Below are details culled from Ship of Theseus that provide details about B– and its surrounding area that might help us discover its name and location. Please add your own additional details in the comments and perhaps we can discover B– together.

  • It is in a country with a capital city far away, accessible by train. (130)
  • It is a “modest burg” (73)
  • The country has a prince (152)
  • It is on an Eastern shoreline close to a mountainous region. Our fugitives head south out of B– toward G– (123) and when they later look northward, the coastline is to their right (151-152)
  • It is has a strong French influence. The newspaper refers to Pfeifer and Ostrero as Messrs. (119). Corbeau’s family is one of the oldest in the city of B–. (89)
  • The port town of G–, an 8 to 9-day walk to the south (123), is nestled inside a range of mountains shaped like a horseshoe that the fugitives must climb over from the other side (148).
  • It is south of where Stenfalk is grew up, probably Sweden – stenfalk is Swedish for merlin (145).
  • Flora: white oak, wild apple tree, pine, aspen, linden, hornbeam, silver birch, silver fir
  • Fauna: pine marten, chamois, jackdaw, vulture, blackscabbard fish, tree creeper, squirrels, chipmunks, fox, hawk, deer, bat, horse
  • Geology: granite, limestone suitable for a vast network of caves
  • Climate: capable of a light frost in late October
  • Available foods: licorice, salami, beer cheese, cranberry
  • A source of a major world conflict instigated by Agent#4.