S.’s valise seems central to the story in Ship of Theseus. An entire chapter – over 50 pages – centers itself around the acquisition of this case. Once S. arrives at the storehouse at El H—, time seems to slow down as we wait for the valise’s arrival. This post is about the details that surround this waiting period, which seem to be deliberately placed here for our rumination.
The Invasion of El H—
As S. waits for the valise, we hear the sounds of the aeroplanes above. We experience the tremors of nearby explosions and see dust coming down from above.
The Storehouse at El H—
The valise appears to rise from the lowest level of the storehouse. Osfour refers to the storehouse as the place where you meet the people you’re here to meet and a safe place for beautiful things (p240).
We meet and hear the name Khatef Zelh for the first time. Eric’s margin notes ask Signif. of name? and Jen comments No clue. This, of course, is a challenge for us to discover the meaning of the name ourselves. @Osfourscage seems to have done just that, revealing that Khatef Zelh is the Pied Kingfisher bird. Khatef Zelh means, literally, “shadow snatcher.”
The Ancient Picture of Sola
S. sees a picture of Samar, but he knows that this is indeed Sola. “While the painting may be hundreds of years old, this is Sola looking up at him through the web of cracks in the varnish.” (p243)
Immediately prior to the valise’s presentation, Osfour says Time twice. On the surface, this appears to be because Osfour is impatiently waiting for Abdim to arrive with the valise. However, Time is capitalized often throughout Ship of Theseus and seems an important word here. It is the last spoken word we hear before the valise arrives.
Osfour led S. all the way hear from the water’s edge, and dies trying to return S. to his boat. It is Osfour that utters the words Time twice before the valise arrives. Osfour, in Arabic, means simply bird.
The person who actually brings the valise to S. is named Abdim. This seems a direct reference to Abdim’s Stork. Is this a stork delivering new life to S.? Additionally, Doug Dorst tweeted a mysterious chord which appears to be known as ABDIM (A flat diminished).
Here music is connected to the gift of the valise.
Is this Stenfalk’s Valise?
As the explosions get closer, S. ponders the similarities between this valise and Stenfalk’s. S. has a “Ship of Theseus” moment as he questions whether or not this valise could possibly be the same valise.
S. remembers Khatef Zelh telling him that the woman in the old picture (Samar, or Sola) ran off with a sailor. S. asks Khatef Zelh if the sailor’s name was Sobreiro. Khatef Zelh replies He was, in some of the books anyway. In addition, Sola is pictured alongside a book that S. suspects is The Archer’s Tales.
The Archer’s Tales
The book appears to be in the picture with Sola/Samar. And as S. leaves, he shouts back to Khatef Zelh to be on the lookout for the book – to keep it safe – because it is so important.
Inside the valise is a “black fountain pen inlaid with mother-of-pearl.” Ironically, S. uses the pen as a weapon to deliver poison. S. notices that “In bright light, it would be beautiful.” But it is not yet in bright light, so it is not yet beautiful. S. goes on to use the pen to deliver poisons. Only later, we think, does S. learn to use the pen for words instead of poisons in order to change the world. It is then that the pen finds the light and becomes beautiful.
The pen and its use parallels Vevoda. Vevoda uses the substance to make weapons and kill. Once S. begins to write in the orlop, the buckets of ink provided may very well be made from the same substance. Instead of killing, though, the substance becomes the ink where everything is rewritten. Reborn.
As we wait on what otherwise would be a simple suitcase, we have many important characters, events, and items of interest. The recently reveals p268 of The Winged Shoes of Emydio Alves refers to his valise as His soul, his work. Throughout the book, S. struggles with whether or not he has the free will to make his own choices. Yes, the valise full of photographs and instructions and poisons and darts and the pen were given to him, but no one told him what to do with them. As The Lady on Obsidian island told him, You have choices to make about how – and even whether – you will live.
The valise somehow represents S. himself – his very soul. He can choose to take the substances of the earth and use them for evil – or he can make other choices. What we see in Ship of Theseus are the choices S. makes.
(Continue to Whatever the Case May Be – Part 2)
P.S. for LOST Fans
LOST has an episode in Season 1 entitled Whatever the Case May Be. It is all about a (strong) suitcase that contains several items, including something mysterious belonging to Kate Austen. We discover that the case represents Kate’s soul.
In the margins on p240, as Osfour says This is the place where you meet the people you’re here to meet, Eric underlines these words and asks Jen to meet him at the movie Shadow of a Doubt. This movie was both set and filmed in the city of Santa Rosa, California. In LOST, Hurley spends time in the Santa Rosa Mental Health Institute where he meets Leonard. Leonard gives Hurley “the numbers” – 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42. Santa Rosa (the rose) seems to be used by J.J. to indicate important places where important things are bestowed on another.