What is Baldanders?
After three readings, and midway through a fourth, Baldanders remains one of the most baffling enigmas in the entire Book of the New Sun. Until recently, I was not aware of the long history behind the name Baldanders, or that the name actually referred to a kind of mythological monster. Starting with this Wikipedia article, we learn that THE Baldanders is "a creature that is symbolic for the continual change in nature and society as well as the importance of familiarizing oneself with the common from another perspective. Its name is derived from the combination of German words for Soon (Bald) and Another (Anders)." Given the physical and personal evolution of Wolfe's own Baldanders, this becomes more interesting still. From that same article, we learn that none other than Jorge Luis Borges, a writer whose enormous influence Gene Wolfe has acknowledged again and again, included the Baldanders in his unusual tome The Book of Imaginary Beings.
Borges describes the Baldanders as "a successive monster, a monster in time; the title page of the first edition of Grimmelshausen’s novel bears an engraving that portrays a being with the head of a satyr, the torso of a man, the outspread wings of a bird, and the tail of a fish; with one goat’s foot and one vulture’s claw it stands atop a mound of masks, which might be the individuals of the species. On its belt there hangs a sword; its hands hold an open book with the figures of a crown, a ship, a chalice, a tower, a baby, a pair of dice, a fool’s-cap with bells, and a cannon."
So again, there are concepts of change, growth, adaptation, mutation, and so on. It was dificult to find many visual representations of the Baldanders, but there is a bit out there. First, from Grimmelshausen's novel Simplicius Simplicissimu comes the aforementioned engraving.
That idea has also been interpreted intriguingly by an artist named Bill Porta.
Strangely enough, in the Italian, Spanish and German editions of the videogame Final Fantasy XIII one of the final enemies, named Barthandelus in the English translation, is named Baldanders.
All of this is intriguing, and provides some interesting background, but what, exactly, is Wolfe's Baldanders? In The Solar Labyrinth, Borski makes much of the idea that Baldanders is, along with Severian, a candidate for becoming the New Sun. This is strange to me, and I have to unravel the mystery, because I was under the impression that only an Autarch could travel to Yesod and be judged as the New Sun. To the best of my memory, despite his monstrous and terrifying power and ambition, Baldanders shows no signs of even desiring the Autarchy let alone attempting to win that title. But I'm getting ahead of myself, so let's backtrack a bit.
Wolfe gives us a Baldanders that, more or less, looks like this.
A veritable giant. Severian first meets this Baldanders in an inn in Nessus in chapter 15 of The Shadow of the Torturer, as he is leaving the city. In a scene no doubt intentionally reminiscent of The Spouter Inn, chapter three of Moby-Dick, Severian and Baldanders, like Ishmael and Queequeg, are forced to share a bed. There, Severian is plagued by strange dreams and later it is revealed that apparently Baldanders and Severian actually exchanged dreams. Or perhaps they each received a dream meant for the other, as there seems to be some indication that these dreams are prophetic and were directed toward the sleepers by extrasolar agencies such as the Hierodules. Severian's dreams are of him falling deep into an ocean where "Far off loomed great shapes - things hundreds of times larger than a man. Some seemed ships, and some clouds; one was a living head without a body; one had a hundred heads. A blue haze obscured them...". Falling deeper, he sees the brides of Abaia, the undines, "immense figures, white as leprosy." Taking hold of Severian, they show him the wonders of the depths and eventually deposit him before a kind of stage where a bizarre pantomime plays out. First he sees "the tiny figure of a man of sticks. His limbs were twigs, still showing bark and green bud. His body was a quarter-span of branch, big through as my thumb, and his head a knot whose whorls formed his eyes and mouth. He carried a club (which he brandished at us) and moved as if he were alive." Although it will not become clear until later, this figure represents Baldanders.
Shortly another figure with a tiny sword enters the stage, a "marionette as finely finished as the other was crude - it might have been a real child reduced to the size of a mouse." This is Severian.
The two puppets engage in a dazzling duel filled with huge leaps and great blows. Eventually, the tiny figure triumphs over the wooden giant, but before he can seal his victory (by standing on the giant's chest), the wooden giant slowly floats away leaving behind the boy, the broken sword and the broken club. All of this is spectacularly skilled foreshadowing, almost blow for blow, of the final clash between Severian and the now-monstrous Baldanders in his tower on the shores of Lake Diuturna in the third book, The Sword of the Lictor.
The two are awakened by the almost spastic Dr. Talos, a slender dandy of a man with red hair and a vulpine face. Dr. Talos appears in every way to be the master of Baldanders, whacking the slumbering giant on the back with his cane to wake him. When he is finally roused, Baldanders is described: "The monstrous shape of his partner lay revealed. He was even taller than I had supposed, nearly too tall for the bed, even though he slept with his knees drawn almost to his chin. His shoulders were an ell across, high and hunched. His face I could not see; it lay buried in his pillow. There were strange scars about his neck and ears." Later "His face was large and coarse, but sensitive and sad as well." In every way, it is easy for the reader, especially the first time reader to see this Baldanders as a gentle giant, a kind of Frankenstein monster created by the brilliant but possibly mad Dr. Talos as a kind of slave. Little could be farther from the truth.
In the course of time, Severian is separated from Baldanders, Dr. Talos and their band, and they are reunited on the grounds of the House Absolute in chapter 22 of The Claw of the Conciliator. Despite the little time that has passed, Baldanders has changed a great deal. "I seemed to feel the weight of those dull eyes on my face, and thought in my ignorance what a terrible thing it would be if Baldanders possessed energy and the will to anger. Later, "He shook his head slowly, and I noticed that his thatch of coarse black hair was touched with gray."
Again, while rich with foreshadowing, none of this seems to indicate just how Baldanders may be a candidate for the New Sun, nor does it shed much light on Baldanders' true nature. However just near the end of the second book, details begin to emerge. Baldanders, having been badly burned by the lasers of the cacogens the evening before during his berserk rage at the conclusion of Dr. Talos' play Eschatology and Genesis is sitting silently. Dr Talos speaks first.
"The doctor nodded. 'Actually, Baldanders was fortunate. The Hierodules dialed down their beams and tried to turn him back instead of killing him. He lives now through their forbearance, and will regenerate.'
Dorcas murmured, 'Heal, you mean? I trust so. I feel more pity for him than I can say.'
'Yours is a tender heart. Too tender, perhaps. But Baldanders is still growing, and growing children have great recuperative powers.'
'Still growing?' I asked. 'His hair is partly gray.'"
Finally, as the party is splitting up, one final exchange between Severian and Baldanders and the reader becomes almost shocking aware that things are very different than they seem.
"'Doctor, I only wish to help your friend - or your slave, or whatever he is.'
Quite unexpectedly, Baldanders's deep voice issued from beneath his swirl of bandages. 'I am his master.'
'Exactly so,' said the doctor."
So Baldanders is NOT the Frankenstein construct of the brilliant Dr. Talos. Quite the contrary, Baldanders is the master and Dr. Talos is either the slave or the homunculus. Possibly both.
Still, what is Baldanders? He is clearly not human, and yet he is almost certainly not a cacogen. His massive size, his abode near the water, his ambitions, and his lack of compassion and empathy seem to connect him to Abaia, Erebus, the undines and the rest of the megatherians, but how? And just how is he in competition with Severian to become the New Sun? Some of the answer, I think, lies in that first meeting, in the shared bed and the shared dreams of the two. Before sleeping, Severian hears Baldanders apparently talking in his sleep, but I believe this reflects some of what Baldanders is beginning to perceive about his new bedmate. Baldanders says "Never." "Baldanders." "You - strike off." and "Tomorrow, then." And in these seven words he frames the nature of their relationship.
"Never." In other words, Baldanders does not accept Severian as even a legitimate candidate for the New Sun. "Baldanders." He reaffirms that it will be he and he alone who will master the New Sun. "You - strike off." To Severian, leave. Go away. And finally "Tomorrow, then." We will settle this another time, presaging the fight at Baldanders' tower.
Bit by bit, the nature of Baldanders' seems to be revealed. As the horrors in his tower show, Baldanders is a self-made monster. A being of pure will and science, driven to become the New Sun through hubris and ambition. Perhaps this ambition, and his great intellect and power, are noted by Abaia and the undines and they subtly aid Baldanders realizing that in doing so Abaia will either control the New Sun or be able to prevent it from arriving, thus winning a final victory over the forces of life itself. Baldanders, again hearkening back to the Frankenstein connection, is in many ways a Byronic "hero." Arrogant, adaptable, distant, mysterious, an outcast, self-destructive, bipolar, brilliant and rebellious against social norms. Baldanders could almost be seen as a third faction in the mighty struggle between the Hierodules and the Autarch and their enemies Abaia, the Ascians and Vodalus.
I'm still not sure I understand this all completely, but it's getting clearer. I'll see what more I learn in the third book, when Severian faces Baldanders for the final time.