Monday, May 16, 2011

An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe, Explained


your guide to Gene Wolfe's An Evil Guest

as always, please help me out by posting in the comments and I'm more than glad to credit your wisdom

The distinctions we draw between past, present, and future are discriminations among illusions.

ALEXIS CABANA: The original star of The Red Spot as Jane Simmons, she reappears as a waitress after Cassie's magic fashions her out of existence. She formerly employed Margaret, although she never admits it, and Margaret tells us that Alexis owes her back wages, ones she'll likely never see.

ALCHEMY: Reis makes gold, a process he learned while he was ambassador to Woldercan. He stores it in little bars in the ocean. His divers dig some up when he needs it. The gold is radioactive. When Wallace Rosenquist meets Cassie in Takanga, he admits this. Gideon Chase covets this process, which apparently is not available to him despite his connection to Woldercan. Or perhaps he also wants to stop Reis on behalf of the Wolders, who do not want Reis using their process. Given that one crime Reis is accused of is blackmail, it would not surprise me if he truly cannot produce gold alchemically, but that the reality is he brings it back from Woldercan little by little.

ARTHUR THOMAS FRANKLIN: The ATF agency. They hire Cassie's second husband Scott to find her and threaten her into giving up Gideon Chase. They want him so that they can find William Reis.

BAT PEOPLE: A group of winged beings who present themselves at various points in the narrative. One is present during her transformation on the mountain. They first frighten Cassie when they appear outside her
window, but she mentally ensures she's unable to let them in. They consider Cassie their "cub", probably because they made her what she is. Gideon tells her that he could make her a star anywhere, but prefers to operate in a hospital, so to speak - in other words, where the bat people can be present without risking themselves. They visit her again in Tankaga, and then save her from her fate with the people
of Cthulhu.

I believe they are Wolders in a different form. Their goal is Gideon's goal: to make the half-Wolder the ambassador to Woldercan. Gideon tells us that Wolders "cannot transform as we do. Not at all." They simply hybridize with lower animals, in this case, bats.

BRACELETS: Cassie receives two, both from William Reis. They are also tracking devices. It is still unclear to me why Reis gives her the first bracelet, other than as a warning to Gideon Chase and a desire to destroy what he cannot possess. He gives her a diamond bracelet as well, which is put in the bank after Margaret is kidnapped by the FBI. When she returns to the U.S. after her time in Takanga, it is her only possession, and it makes her the wealthiest woman in the state. She uses the money to buy a hopper to travel to Woldercan.

BRIAN KEAN: An actor in The Red Spot, he plays Reverend Brownlea in Dating the Volcano God.

BRIAN PICKENS: A paralegal who lived above Cassie in her apartment building. He calls her after she sings with Margaret and tells her he'll never forget it. Diana Diamond says she killed him.

CARLOS: William Reis in disguise as his own chauffeur. He never appears in the same place as Reis, and he also has a different appearance when Cassie first sees him up close than he did when she sees him from her apartment window. There may also be a real Carlos, or perhaps it's only Reis. 

CASSIE CASEY: The protagonist and heroine of An Evil Guest. She is a middling actress who possesses glimpses of star potential. She agrees to help Gideon Chase for $100,000 by seducing William Reis. He puts a glamor on her which he is not invulnerable to, because it also works on him. He tells her that he loved her before the glamor. After she is altered on the mountain, she begins to change her reality, most noticeably in the changes to her apartment. She goes from a walkup to a doorman building and even ascends to a higher floor.

At first she is frightened of Reis, but she grows to love him. Chase suspects as much. At Reis' command, he brings her to Takanga. She kills King Kanoa, and the Wolders drop her on an island. She is rescued, perhaps by herself. She goes to Woldercan to find a way to go back in time to save Bill Reis.

DATING THE VOLCANO GOD: The musical Reis co-writes the book for and casts Cassie in it. He later tells Cassie had a co-writer who did the grunt work for him. Reis is himself the Volcano God, of course, and the play is a thinly veiled metaphor for the real story.

DIANA DIAMOND: An agent of the Storm King who tries to turn Cassie. Is she also Donny Duke? Dave Tallman suggests she is:

The case for Donny Duke's connection with the assassin is good:

1) "In real life Donny Duke was small and swishy..." p. 53. He is later described as "not a man."

2) The assassin is a "little bit of a thing." p. 256.

2) Duke plays an assassin in "Red Spot" p. 63.

3) The actor who played the King Kanoa character in "Dating the Volcano God" played a character who hired Duke as Cassie's assassin in "Red Spot".

3) He likes thick green drinks (63,64). The assassin has thick green spit (252).

4) The common initials equals common identity game: both are known by D.D.

On the other hand:

1) "Diana" she has never tried to "tread the boards" as an actor.

2) "Diana" says she didn't see Cassie's performance in which she danced a hornpipe in a scanty costume (250). Cassie's partner in that dance was Donny Duke (131). One of her fellow cult members did see that performance, and that could well be Duke.

The assassin could be lying, of course. The connecting clues are so good that I hate to give up the theory on her say-so alone. Duke's face had red pimples, and the assassin's was very white, but this could be the result of cultish transformations.

DOUBLES: Cover identities are used by Gideon Chase at various times. There are usually doubles in most of Wolfe's books, and here the doubles are really constituted by the roles the actors play. There are a few, though less than his usual amount:

William Reis/Wallace Rosenquist
Margaret Briggs/Mariah Brownlea
Gideon Chase/Gil Corby
Donny Duke/Diana Diamond
Tiny Penniman/King Kanoa

DR. SCHOONVELD: Reis' doctor on Takanga.

EBONY WHITE: India's assistant director. She is working for someone, and there are a number of possibilities. She's present in a lot of places she doesn't really have to be, and she sticks close to Cassie.

She refers to asking Reis a question for her job, which indicates the person she's working for isn't William Reis. She's been with the case before Reis took an interest in them, although he later hired India Dempster. However, her name implies moral ambiguity and it makes sense that Chase has someone on the set at all times, so I suspect he is her master. Chase also reports that she showed him the photo of himself as Gil Corby. Why else would she have done that if she did not trust him?

FBI: They abduct Margaret on Gideon Chase's say-so. They have hired Gideon Chase to get to William Reis. They claim he has committed extortion and blackmail, but they really desire him for the powers he obtained in Woldercan and they want to know more about his plan for world domination.

FLORENCE MCNAIR: An Australian tourist who is consumed by Cthulhu as a threat to Cassie.

GIDEON CHASE: The wizard, and second choice for the evil guest of the novel's title after Cthulhu. He is half-Wolder, or part-Wolder. He is also potentially a spy for Woldercan; it is certainly where he got some of his powers. His mission, as described in the first chapter of the book, is to put an end to Reis' plans of world domination. To get close to Reis, he glamors Cassie. Reis hires him to figure out how to get the Navy to attack the Storm King, explaining that he spends most of his time finding the right people for the job he wants done and letting them do their work. Chase tells him to put his gold in R'lyeh. As a reward for a job well done, he is appointed Ambassador to Woldercan.

His father received the news he had a son and the name of his child from Earth before Gideon was born. Gideon was still very young when the family was recalled to Earth. He is known to many people as a philosopher, whose moral credo consists of amorality. 

GREEN GODDESS: The dressing that Reis suggests Cassie will enjoy at Rusterman's. She is identified with the Green Goddess throughout. When Reis sees her in the car with Aaberg, she is wearing green.

HANGA: The Shark God. He has pointed teeth. He befriends Cassie on the beach at Salamanca House. He originally appeared in Gene Wolfe's story "The Tree Is My Hat", where he is the antagonist.

HAROLD KLAUSER: The former ambassador to Woldercan, and a friend of William Reis. Gideon Chase unnerved him as a child. In his only scene, he advises Cassie on how to behave once she reaches Woldercan. He warns her against venturing into the forests alone, or fishing and allowing the fish to live. This suggests that the Wolders, like Gideon himself, can assume many forms. In an old picture of him and Reis that Cassie sees, he is huge, 300 hundred pounds or more. When she visits him later, he has been ill and is a frail little thing. Like her, he may have lost his Wolder-glamor.

Klauser gives Cassie a gift of a photo of himself and William Reis. Since we know that photographs are used as tracking devices, it is likely that is the meaning of his sinister present. Reis makes a big deal out of the idea that Klauser won't be able to attend their wedding, and his plan in doing so was to get Cassie to visit Klauser should anything happen to him.

HERBIE: Cassie's first husband. He appears to have been rewarded by the events of the novel, since he has a position in the Department of Education and a friend in the state department by the time Cassie needs his help to reenter the country.  He is most probably someone else in the novel as well, most likely Gideon Chase, who suggests he has been in love with her for years. He may not be Chase by the time he helps Cassie; he could easily be Ian.

HIAPO: A Takangese who serves Cassie.

HOPPER: A traveling device. Powerful ones are expensive and can go to other planets through a series of hops. Zelda Youmans has a small pink one. Gideon Chase's black car/Batmobile is also a powerful hopper he received as payment for a job from a military contractor. Hoppers have to warp several times to travel off-planet, but while on Earth it is as easy to hop to Berlin as it is to Shanghai.

IAN: Cassie's building's handyman. An employee of Gideon Chase, unlikely to be Chase himself since Ian smuggles his master out of a box to elude detection at one point. 

INDIA DEMPSTER: The director of both plays in the novel. She openly works for Bill Reis, who discusses her recruitment. Her assistant director is Ebony White, who doesn't appear to working for Reis. She is a large woman and a lesbian.

IULANI: A maid wounded by a shot fired by Diana Diamond. 

JIMMY WARSHAWSKY: A stagehand who dies under mysterious circumstances. It is suggested that Reis is the one who murdered him, having frightened him terribly in trying to get Cassie to meet him in his limousine in an alley. It is also plausible that Cassie herself wished him out of existence, for he demonstrated the fear of William Reis that she held in her heart. Another possibility is that he is killed by Margaret Briggs. 

JOHN FERGUSON: A presidential attache who works with the FBI. He is very desirous of getting Gideon Chase to work with him, offering first $17 million and then $50 with strings according to Chase, both offers
he turned down. He is a fat man.

KING KANOA: An Oxford-educated representative of Reis on Takanga. After the destruction wrought by the Navy in their attack on R'lyeh, he and the rest of the islanders turn on Reis. Cassie kills him with her gun after Reis is sacrificed.

KU'ULANI: One of Cassie's Takangese maids. 

LARS AABERG: Reis' double agent in the police. He initially accompanies Cassie to meet Gideon Chase for the first time, allowing Reis to get his first glimpse of her through the car's vidscreen. He follows Cassie on Reis' direction. Later, he questions her about Margaret's abduction. His resemblance to Cassie's second husband Scott suggests there is at least the possibility that he is Reis himself.

MADAME PAVLATOS: Wolfe scholar Roy Lackey has theorized that Pavlatos is Cassie. She is potentially a clone of Cassie, suggested by the mirrors she possesses. She is Reis' previous wife, and possibly the mother of Rian Reis, which would explain how Sharon Bench knows Rian is brave and so much about what happened to the boy.

MARGARET BRIGGS: She is Cassie Casey, returned from Woldercan, where she has become a werewolf, presumably. She is gray with a colorless face. She bobs when she walks, which matches Gideon's description of how werewolves move. She reports Sharon Bench's name as "Shirley Ladydog" so she can avoid saying the word 'bitch.' She tries to kill Chase when he returns to his apartment building but catches a cleaver in the face for her troubles. Chase gets the FBI to arrest her.

As pointed out by Dave Tallman, when Cassie says,

"Have you ever wanted to help out somebody you loved, and known that the only thing you could do for him was some tiny stupid thing that was a lot of trouble? And done it anyway? Any of you?" (p. 112), we can now see a world of pain in the two-word sentence: "Margaret nodded."

But why exactly does she try to kill Gideon Chase? She does it after he glamors Cassie, so she supports that part of the plan, the part that will bring William Reis to her doorstep. Yet she tells Cassie she has been scared by Reis, which is a good explanation for why she gave the bracelet to him, and also true as far as Reis goes. She is potentially trying to eliminate him before Chase has the FBI abduct her, and before Chase has a chance to bring Cassie to Takanga. The idea that Margaret is Cassie is detailed at length here.

NELE: Manager of Salamance House.

NORMA PEIPER: Bill Reis' second wife, who went with him to Woldercan. She plays Jane Brownlea in Dating the Volcano God. She may have worked for the ATF and been betrayed by them, since we know that they use ex-husbands and wives in their plots. This explanation is proffered by Cassie's ex-husband Scott, and lacks some credibility. There are other reasons for someone to want Norma dead, given that she has also been to Woldercan. 

OKALANI: The Takangese who carries Cassie's parasol.

PAT GOMEZ: A private investigator who joined a Cthulhu cult in Oakland and disappeared. She was killed and resurrected by the Storm King, and Cassie finds her being treated by Reis' doctor in his palace. They touch hands, and her experience is transmitted to Cassie as vivid as a dream. She later accompanies Diana Diamond to bring Cassie to Reis' sacrifice.

PORTER "TINY" PENNIMAN: The actor who plays the chief in Dating the Volcano God. He is modeled after the actual chief of the Takangese, King Kanoa. Cassie tells him at the cast party that he always appeared sinister to her, onstage and off. Perhaps she has reshaped her reality in order that he appear not so sinister, a hint that she might also be managing a similar trick with the real King.

PRESIDENT: He believes that Reis is spying for Woldercan, which is likely wrong. He wants Chase to find up what Reis is up to and how he eludes law enforcement. He suspects Reis of blackmail, alchemy, and worse. The president does not want Chase to replace the current ambassador to Woldercan, he simply wants to send him there as a special representative as a reward, according to what Chase tells Cassie. To Gideon, this would be a failure. It is important the Chase have the power to negotiate with the Wolders, presumably so he can become a fully empowered double agent for the Wolders. 

RIAN REIS: Bill Reis' 16-year-old son by Norma. Something is wrong with him - it is said to be a defective heart valve, but it was not - and Gideon is brought in to fix him. We can reasonably assume that Gideon Chase was perhaps the cause of Rian Reis' ailment, but Reis later reports that he is a fine and a successful high school quarterback. Bill has seen all his games. It is likely he is someone else in the novel, but I have no idea who. If he was born on Woldercan, it is possible that his "defect" is related to his heritage in some way.

ROBERT CHASE: Gideon Chase's father. He gives his son the watch he never looks at. It is inscribed To RC from HLC. Klauser reports that Robert Chase has been dead for years, although he does not say exactly how long. We do not know how he died, but it is at least possible that Reis killed him. Klauser asks Cassie a strange question about Gideon's appointment as ambassador. He says, "Is this some kind of nepotism?" This suggests the possibility that Chase's father is still alive somehow, on Woldercan, and that his son wishes to return to him. From this, I suspect that Robert Chase became a Wolder on Woldercan.

RUSTERMAN'S: Reis' restaurant, under the nom de plume Wade Rusterman. "It's a chain now."

SHARON BENCH: A reporter for the Sun-Tribunal. She has connections to William Reis, but Gideon Chase claims he does not know her, and describes trying to track her down and finding the wrong Sharon. He certainly may be lying about this, since he also says he knows all the reporters on one of the smaller papers (presumably the Massachusetts paper near his university). She tells Cassie she has a source on the play. There are a variety of candidates for this informat, but the most likely is Reis himself. He may own the Sun-Tribunal.

SILENT WOMAN: An inn near Chase's mountain. A magical place featuring a waiter with pointed ears. Chase brings Cassie there on a date, but more seems to be going on than meets the eye. On the trip back, Cassie begins to openly distrust him for the first time.

STORM KING: Cthulhu. King Kanoa tells us "he dens in the tower from which he ruled before the first man walked." Gideon tells Reis to drop gold bars into his underwater city of R'lyeh, and when he does, the Navy attacks the city, causing a terrible storm.

TABBI MERCE: The actress who replaces Norma Peiper in Dating the Volcano God. She is also in The Hot Spot. It's possible that Norma Peiper is killed so that Tabbi can get closer to Cassie Casey, which might suggest she is an operative of the Storm King.

THE TREE IS MY HAT: Wolfe's short story set in the same universe, where Hanga is introduced.

VINCENT PALMA: The actor who plays the Volcano God. He appears to Cassie when she is stranded by the bat-Wolders on an island. He helps her build a fire that saves her life.

WALLACE ROSENQUIST: He is certainly William Reis, although it is possible he is also a temporal clone of William Reis. He is the public face of Reis who has set up a variety of businesses. He appears first at the cast part for The Red Spot, where he presents Cassie with a gold bracelet.

WEREWOLF: It is Gideon Chase who brings up the notion of werewolves. He explains that women can be them, and that they're humans. He hints to Cassie that Margaret is one. But who is the werewolf who kills Cassie's ex-husband Scott? Margaret is supposedly being held by the FBI, although by the end of the book she is free and walking around. It could certainly be her, but then why is a man handling her like a dog? Also, the wolf is described as massive. He is just another one of Reis' employee's, and not Margaret.

WILLIAM REIS: As Wolfe himself put it, "a villain who wants to rule the world." He can make himself invisible. He is also a shapeshifter, taking on the identity of a federal agent who presents himself as Agent Martin in order to find Gideon Chase. Reis was named ambassador to Woldercan during the previous administration. He got some of his powers on the planet, or at the very least it is where he learned alchemy, if he is capable of it at all.

WOLDERCAN: An alien planet, the only one humanity has discovered, although others have discovered them. It's hard to get tampons there. Worms are a vegetable. It is a dangerous place, as Klauser recommends Cassie take two hundreds rounds of ammunition and two firearms. In many ways, it is reminiscent of Faerie.

Gideon tells the president that he has heard they are behind us technologically, but ahead of us in other areas, like biology. Physicists on Woldercan could also possess different knowledge than those on Earth, Gideon explains, an oblique reference to time travel. Klauser tells Cassie that the laws of physics aren't the same there. Why does Cassie return to Woldercan? She wants to save Bill, but how does she hope to accomplish it? Wolfe scholar Dave Tallman has suggested three possible reasons:

But I wonder if she isn't going to Chase for some other reason.

There are three things he might do for her:

1) Help get her glamour back. She says that's one of the reasons she is going.

2) Help her travel in time, or get a message back in time, to save Bill's life.

3) Die, if she suspects Chase of having some hand in Bill's death.

Whatever motivation she has for going in the first place, once she gets there, she may conclude that killing Chase in the past would prevent Reis' death, which it likely would. 

WOLDERS: They look something like humans if you don't look too closely. They can hybridize with other life forms, even humans. They seduce human women.

ZELDA YOUMANS: Cassie's agent. She owns a pink hopper. She's unavailable to Cassie when she is in Takanga. What happened to her? She may have gotten wind of the trouble her client was involved in, and stayed away. Because Dating the Volcano God never hits Broadway, she is denied a substantial sum of money, however it is possible her association with Cassie led her to a different class of clientele.


  1. I think King Kanoa is the bad, bad Will Reis.
    The man killed in the cave is nice Wally Rosenquist. Cassie is very aware that although the same person, they are quite different personalities:
    "Who'd want to kill you, Cassie?"
    "Nobody! Nobody at all."
    But now, as she prepared for bed she wondered whether that answer had been the right one. Bill Reis was a murderer and Wally Rosenquist was Bill Reis. But her? Did you give diamond bracelets to women you meant to murder?
    Someone had tried to murder Gideon Chase, and she was working for him, supposedly. And for Wally, who was really Bill."

    I think Bill gave her the poison gold bracelet. Wally gave her the diamond one and retreived the gold one.

  2. There are lovely little bits and pieces here and there. The sentient mountain whose wife is a laundress? From Cory Doctorow's "Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town". The protagonist has a father who is a mountain and a mother who is a washing machine.

    Rusterman's -- a famed New York restaurant frequented by Nero Wolfe.

    I'm sure there is more, but I just started the book.

  3. Thanks for the interesting thoughts, gentlemen. Keep 'em coming.

  4. Dear Sir,

    I invite you to join the new Gene Wolfe collaborative blog, The Third Head of Typhon ( We would appreciate your input and your prodigious knowledge! Please contact me as soon as possible.

    Always, etc.,

    Ross Arlen Tieken

  5. Fascinating, even if many of the statements here are a "fiction" of their own not supported by the text. Then again, the text doesn't support much, particularly since Wolfe got lazy with the ending, which seems to be a habit or flaw of his.

    Forrest D. Poston