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Nov 06, 2006



Before I read Firmin, my favorite literary rat had been Templeton from E. B. White's "Charlotte's Web". Templeton, if you remember, was a slob and a complainer, but he came charmingly to life once a year when the State Fair came to town. He waited until dark, when all the people left, then threw himself into a nightly orgy of food scraps. Humans meant nothing to Templeton, except that they brought food.

Like Templeton, Firmin is all rat. The two creatures have little in common and would not have been friends, but both are distinctly non-human, even though Firmin yearns to be human while Templeton just yearns to eat like one. I agree with Jessica that the "goodbye zipper" scene was one of the best moments in "Firmin", and this scene shows how lost Firmin is in the world of humans, because he hilariously fails to understand that the phrase "goodbye zipper" (which he chose because it is easy for a rat to sign-speak) does not mean anything and will not help him make friends with strangers in the park.

Likewise, despite the fact that he is in love with books, his understanding of these books seems limited (despite the fact that he rhapsodizes -- sometimes unconvincingly -- about them). He reminds me of Helen, the intelligent computer network in Richard Powers' "Galatea 2.2" -- both Helen and Firmin are voracious readers, but they both seem to miss a lot of the meaning of what they read.

All in all, I agree with Jessica that while Sam Savage's rat is a fascinating metaphor for a human, it does not help the book to understand the character as some type of actual human. Maybe the whole equation should be reversed -- in several scenes, such as the tragic incident with the rat poison or the final vision of a destroyed neighborhood in downtown Boston, the question may be whether or not humans are rats.

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The Round Table takes on new dimensions in the romances of the late 12th and early 13th century, where it becomes a symbol of the famed order of chivalry which flourishes under Arthur. In Robert de Boron's Merlin, written around the 1190s, the wizard Merlin creates the Round Table in imitation of the table of the Last Supper and of Joseph of Arimathea's Holy Grail table. This table, here made for Arthur's father Uther Pendragon rather than Arthur himself, has twelve seats and one empty place to mark the betrayal of Judas. This seat must remain empty until the coming of the knight who will achieve the Grail. The Didot Perceval, a prose continuation of Robert's work, takes up the story, and the knight Percival sits in the seat and initiates the Grail quest.The prose cycles of the 13th century, the Lancelot-Grail cycle and the Post-Vulgate Cycle, further adapt the chivalric attributes of the Round Table. Here it is the perfect knight Galahad, rather than Percival, who assumes the empty seat, now called the Siege Perilous. Galahad's arrival marks the start of the Grail quest as well as the end of the Arthurian era. In these works the Round Table is kept by King Leodegrance of Cameliard after Uther's death; Arthur inherits it when he marries Leodegrance's daughter Guinevere. Other versions treat the Round Table differently, for instance Italian Arthurian works often distinguish between the "Old Table" of Uther's time and Arthur's "New Table."


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Part I of the novel is a long monologue to an invisible audience which explains how the Underground Man came into existence. It is a masterpiece of Existentialist fiction and has been the cornerstone for many later writers including Freud and Camus. The ideas expressed in this part of the novel deal with the character's interactions with himself. This is also the mother of all anti-hero literature. Through the Underground Man's speech we identify him as an over sensitive man of great intellegence. We begin to identify with the character and understand him. While this part of the novel is idea laden it presents one of the great characters of modern fiction.

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