I was immediately struck with the poignant religious imagery that winds its way through Cleome’s story she tells Zinnia. At first, I began to regard it as any other creation story. Yet, the beings and world created by this “G-d” sound far different from the ones we are usually greeted with when reading religious texts.
I think that these skulls represent demons, or daemons, or any other etymologically traceable word that leads to “disembodied spirit”. They suffer from anger, and jealousy at having not been given bodies. However, it is specific in the course of the story that there are no good spirits here. This rules out, I believe, the traditional benevolent Christian deity as the “Lord of Fire” Cleome speaks of. More evidence to this is that the story says nothing about this Lord of Fire creating the handsome animals with green eyes, which gives an almost imperceptible shred of hope in this dark envisioning that covers only two short pages. Furthermore, even in the most childish and “cute” sentence of this story we are gifted with more disturbing imagery of daemonic-skull-spirits that must “hop” bodies, like possession.
In various pre-Christian or early Christian writings (maybe in obscure texts by Francois Rabelais) many demons or things “not human” are described as being jealous after human beings. The commonly known story of Satan being jealous of God’s love for Adam is possible, as well as the story of the Grigori, or fallen angels, written in the book of Enoch and other apocryphal texts.
The animals that the skulls choose to butcher and inhabit are important symbols as well. First, we have the lion. I think that this lion represents the Lion of Judah, or a Christ-like figure. I think that this animal in particular is “torn to bits” because of the amount of bloodshed or strife that has been caused over the world’s arguments on Christianity. I think the deer was next included to represent Pan, perhaps, or the wild pagan beliefs that have also been persecuted or destroyed by worldly forces in history. Importantly, both of these animals are described as “beautiful.” In some way, that word suggests that these skulls want to see beauty, or life removed from the world. And finally, we reach the elephant, who I believe stands in for the Hindu god Ganesha, a remover of obstacles and a Deva, one of the prime benevolent forces in Hindu religious practice. Again, we see the image of a positive religious being who these skulls wish to rip apart and become.
The sentence suggesting that the skulls “paraded around in” the skins of the animals, suggests that they are making a mockery of the previous being of the animal, perhaps the same that any ill-spirited men or people who are really these “skulls rekindled” either before or after the Lord of Fire blows them out, who parade religion around yet commit atrocities that are just the same, if not worse.
This may be either Cleome, or Laird Hunt speaking through Cleome’s indictment on religion or “G-d” himself as a being of callous nature who has created these terrible things (evil men, or demons) and have left them loose on the world to treat innocents with brutality on a spiritual and existential scale, which many of the characters in this novel suffer. And, who else would or could possibly represent or even literally embody one of these demons better than Linus, who not only behaves monstrously, but also is “possessed” by visions of a Paradise he feels compelled to create? I think this story is specifically nodding to Paradise Lost again, because just in John Milton’s epic, we are again presented with a most unusual and unexpected “protagonist”.
And as to who this mystery “protagonist/creator” is, it is here I refer to the title of this post, as Satan is traditionally linked with the meaning of Adversary. Lucifer, on the other hand, has a more specific etymological link with “light bringer”. I am sure that there are apocryphal or disputed texts that might connect more with Cleome’s story, but I am not more than an amateur theologian. I thought that my suspicion that the Lord of Fire represented either Lucifer or Satan was confirmed by the way he chooses to end the lights of the skulls. In Ephesians 2:2, one of the powers of Satan/Lucifer/The Devil is power over the air.
This story is not only a terrifying glimpse into what traumatized form Cleome’s understanding of the world may be, and a look at the grim, woefully empty existence she had to endure, but also suggestion that with the amount of unchecked evil in the world, Satan himself may as well be the creator. At least, to Cleome it may be that way, and presented only to the reader with a theme and these hallow images, not deliberate explicit belief.
And yet, despite the anti-religious themes, the Lord of Fire has, according to this tale, returned to slumber, and perhaps he was unable to know that the lights in the skulls would rekindle.
I still know not what to think of this. Only that these images are repeatedly presented in the book.