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Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2002 15:56:01 -0800
From: Michael Andre-Driussi 
Subject: (urth) Free Live Free: Liberty Four

Adam Stephanides wrote:
>This response is way late, but...

It is not that late, really!

I'll start with the last bit first:

>And if the four will not become the quadrumvirate of Madame Serpentina's
>prediction, what was the point of including the prediction at all?

It is a common staple of myths, fairy tales, and genre to have prophesies
come true, but with a surprise twist -- that is, they come true, in a
sense, but not exactly as everyone assumed they would.  This is different
from sacred writings, where prophesies come absolutely true with no
ambiguities.  I believe I can think of examples where Wolfe uses prophesies
that come true with a twist, but I cannot remember a single case where a
prophesy comes absolutely true with no ambiguities and no twists.

If Madame Serpentina's prediction comes absolutely true with no ambiguities
and no twists, then it would be as you say -- they would be, let's call
them, the Liberty Four.  Allow me to develop the idea further.

>Having reread the end of FLF (from the man in the duffel coat's speech), I
>see that I'd gotten the circumstances of Free's death wrong, and that the
>U.S. government is no longer being run from the High Country.  But
>nevertheless I think my reading still holds up.  When the man in the duffel
>coat arranges to have the four's dreams crushed, he is acting (he thinks) as
>an agent of Big Government; granted, it's the Big Government of 1942, but I
>very much doubt that Wolfe thinks the federal government has improved since
>then.  And the man in the duffel coat's speech, it seems to me, establishes
>Big Government as the book's philosophical antagonist, whether or not he
>believes it himself at this point.
>I see the revelation that Whitten who will become Free is on the High
>Country, and that he has been "conspiring" to help the four (unknown to his
>past self as well as to his subordinates), not as undermining the anti-Big
>Government position, but as Wolfe's way of giving the story a fairy-tale
>happy ending -- like Dorothy learning that she can still get home even
>though the balloon is gone, if you will.

When Stubb asks duffle-coat why he had "tried to take all of you [four]
down as far as we could," duffle-coat answers, "Because those were our
orders from on top" (end of chapter 54, p. 365).  I assume this is what you
are referring to.

Opinions will differ as to where he thinks he is getting those orders from;
whether he is lying or not; etc.

Before this, duffle-coat has described HC as a government above the president:

"The President's not one of the key people.  Never has been.  Basically a
front man.  These were the decision makers" (p. 357).

Technically the key people could be members of Congress, but there is a
definite "non-elected" sound to what he is saying, which suggests, imho,
that HC is living up to its image as Laputa: a sky-castle of illuminati
puppet-masters.  Or we could be more pedestrian and call them the
military/industrial complex.  In any event, HC is an emergency shadow
government established in time of terrible war and not entirely dismantled
40-odd years later.

Now sure, if you like you can say Wolfe is attacking FDR and FDR's legacy,
but I think you have to say that it is an oblique attack, since it isn't
some vague FDR-thing in the text, it is a specific not-real thing, the High
Country cabinet.  Wolfe is not talking about income tax, or welfare state,
or makework programs, or any of that stuff in Archie Bunker's song: he is
saying that the governing of the country had been taken over by a secret
plutocracy.  It is less "Big Government" than it is conspiracy theory; it
is less FDR's programs than the fact that as a president he made this
choice to protect the country from Hitler (who had his own weird powers
thing going, according to the text) and presumably even a Republican or
Socialist president would have done the same.

Look, duffle-coat paints a downbeat picture of American from the moment the
Europeans arrive -- the arrival of FDR's government is hardly the worst (in
fact, it doesn't even seem to rank at all)!  But the take-over of the
elected government by a plutocratic cabal is that nightmare scenario shared
by far-Left and far-Right, as well as the entertainment media: if this is
the source of the curse that has turned 1980s America into a dreary Kansas,
then yes, the Liberty Four can expose the shadow government, putting the
fat cats into prison and releasing political prisoners, and restore "Ozma"
(democratically elected government) to the throne.  (Gee, that sounds more
and more like Oz book #2!)  Making the prediction come true.

(Duffle-coat seems a bit disillusioned with things at the time of that
speech.  His break with the HC command may be starting with these weird
orders to torment a bunch of nobodies and send them up to HC.)

Furthermore, if this is the case, then the four must represent not just
individuals but American society: Candy does not represent abstract
Gluttony but American Gluttony/Obesity; Ozzie is American satyrism/deadbeat
dads; the witch is American occultism; and Stubb is American cynicism.
That is to say, they must each exihibit a facet of "what is wrong with
America," and thus as they are healed, America is healed/balanced/made
right again.

The answer then is not "return to the frontier" but "return to the republic."



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