On “The Candle Story”

The final section of our reading is entitled “The Candle Story”, no doubt a direct allusion to the story that Cleome tells Zinnia at one point over the course of their travels. I was intrigued by all the metaphorical resonances and implications that this story had to offer, particularly in light of our class discussion on demonic references and imagery. To paraphrase, the story goes that humans were once just skulls with candlelight burning within them, and they would often kill animals and fight over their carcasses in order to steal their bodies and their eyes. The “lord of fire” witnesses this and is disgusted by their savagery; he extinguishes their flames and constructs bodies for them, but over time, it is supposed that some of them regained the fire in their eyes.

What interested me most initially was the concept of the world being ruled over by a “lord of fire”. Particularly in a religious sense, fire is often associated with hell, sin, and evil, which seems applicable in the context of the skulls killing animals and fighting over the remains. The lord of fire (a being which, until this point in the story, one might assume to be the devil), however, is greatly displeased by this, to a point where he presumably wipes out the population and begins anew. More curiously, in constructing their bodies, he says “‘You are the people I meant’ (182)”, as if admitting that his prior creations were grave mistakes, that he had not intended for them to be so malicious – yet, afterwards, he goes to sleep in his palace, and some of them regain their flames. (“‘I saw those flames burning in [Linus Lancaster’s] eyes. That’s how he could see his way to us in the dark’ [182]”.)

I hesitate to say that fire is meant to have a direct correlation to evil in this case, given that the lord of fire seems much more of a protagonist than the beings he creates, yet I can see nothing else that the flames would symbolize, especially if gained back by some and not others. I have no trouble accepting that Linus Lancaster is said to have them, but with other characters, the line between “good” and “evil”, for lack of better terms, is harder to draw. In asserting her physical power over Cleome and Zinnia, does Ginny regain her flames, too? Does the reverse occur with Cleome and Zinnia when the power struggle is inverted (and, if so, are Ginny’s flames extinguished)?


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