Great Beaver or Kinbote as gnome in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Thu, 10/10/2019 - 13:48

According to Kinbote (in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962, Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla), he is known on the campus as the Great Beaver:


One day I happened to enter the English Literature office in quest of a magazine with the picture of the Royal Palace in Onhava, which I wanted my friend to see, when I overheard a young instructor in a green velvet jacket, whom I shall mercifully call Gerald Emerald, carelessly saying in answer to something the secretary had asked: "I guess Mr Shade has already left with the Great Beaver." Of course, I am quite tall, and my brown beard is of a rather rich tint and texture; the silly cognomen evidently applied to me, but was not worth noticing, and after calmly taking the magazine from a pamphlet-cluttered table, I contented myself on my way out with pulling Gerald Emerald's bow-tie loose with a deft jerk of my fingers as I passed by him. (Foreword)


On his deathbed Conmal (Kinbote’s uncle, Zemblan translator of Shakespeare) called his nephew “Karlik:”


To return to the King: take for instance the question of personal culture. How often is it that kings engage in some special research? Conchologists among them can be counted on the fingers of one maimed hand. The last king of Zembla—partly under the influence of his uncle Conmal, the great translator of Shakespeare (see notes to lines 39-40 and 962), had become, despite frequent migraines, passionately addicted to the study of literature. At forty, not long before the collapse of his throne, he had attained such a degree of scholarship that he dared accede to his venerable uncle’s raucous dying request: “Teach, Karlik!” Of course, it would have been unseemly for a monarch to appear in the robes of learning at a university lectern and present to rosy youths Finnegans Wake as a monstrous extension of Angus MacDiarmid's "incoherent transactions" and of Southey's Lingo-Grande ("Dear Stumparumper," etc.) or discuss the Zemblan variants, collected in 1798 by Hodinski, of the Kongsskugg-sio (The Royal Mirror), an anonymous masterpiece of the twelfth century. Therefore he lectured under an assumed name and in a heavy make-up, with wig and false whiskers. All brown-bearded, apple-checked, blue-eyed Zemblans look alike, and I who have not shaved now for a year, resemble my disguised king (see also note to line 894). (note to Line 12)


Karlik is Russian for “dwarf.” Among the dwarves mentioned in Völuspá (Prophecy of the Seeress), the first and best known poem of the Poetic Edda, are Bivurr and Bavurr:


10. Þar var Móðsognir mæztr of orðinn
dverga allra, en Durinn annarr;
þeir mannlíkun mörg of gerðu
dvergar í jörðu, sem Durinn sagði.

11. Nýi, Niði, Norðri, Suðri,
Austri, Vestri, Alþjófr, Dvalinn,
Nár ok Náinn Nípingr, Dáinn
Bívurr, Bávurr, Bömburr, Nóri,
Ánn ok Ánarr, Óinn, Mjöðvitnir.


10. There was Motsognir | the mightiest made
Of all the dwarfs, | and Durin
Many a likeness | of men they made,
The dwarfs in the earth, | as Durin said.

11. Nyi and Nithi, | Northri and Suthri,
Austri and Vestri, | Althjof, Dvalin
and Nain, | Niping, Dain,
, Bofur, | Bombur, Nori,
An and Onar, | Ai, Mjothvitnir.


Like Gradus (Shade’s murderer), Kinbote seems to be a gnome, even if he is a tall man. The gnomes are usually bearded.


Gradus is commissioned by the Shadows (a regicidal organization) to assassinate the ex-King. According to Kinbote, his name means in Zemblan “a king’s destroyer:”


Professor Pardon now spoke to me: "I was under the impression that you were born in Russia, and that your name was a kind of anagram of Botkin or Botkine?"
Kinbote: "You are confusing me with some refugee from Nova Zembla [sarcastically stressing the "Nova"].
"Didn't you tell me, Charles, that kinbote means regicide in your language?" asked my dear Shade.
"Yes, a king's destroyer," I said (longing to explain that a king who sinks his identity in the mirror of exile is in a sense just that).
Shade [addressing the German visitor]: "Professor Kinbote is the author of a remarkable book on surnames. I believe [to me] there exists an English translation?"
"Oxford, 1956," I replied.
"You do know Russian, though?" said Pardon. "I think I heard you, the other day, talking to--what's his name--oh, my goodness" [laboriously composing his lips].
Shade: "Sir, we all find it difficult to attack that name" [laughing].
Professor Hurley: "Think of the French word for 'tire': punoo."
Shade: "Why, sir, I am afraid you have only punctured the difficulty" [laughing uproariously].
"Flatman," quipped I. "Yes," I went on, turning to Pardon, "I certainly do speak Russian. You see, it was the fashionable language par excellence, much more so than French, among the nobles of Zembla at least, and at its court. Today, of course, all this has changed. It is now the lower classes who are forcibly taught to speak Russian."
"Aren't we, too trying to teach Russian in our schools?" said Pink.
In the meantime, at the other end of the room, young Emerald had been communing with the bookshelves. At this point he returned with the the T-Z volume of an illustrated encyclopedia.
"Well," said he, "here he is, that king. But look, he is young and handsome" ("Oh, that won't do," wailed the German visitor.) "Young, handsome, and wearing a fancy uniform," continued Emerald. "Quite the fancy pansy, in fact."
"And you," I said quietly, "are a foul-minded pup in a cheap green jacket."
"But what have I said?" the young instructor inquired of the company, spreading out his palms like a disciple in Leonardo's Last Supper.
"Now, now," said Shade. "I'm sure, Charles, are young friend never intended to insult your sovereign and namesake."
"He could not, even if he had wished," I observed placidly, turning it all into a joke.
Gerald Emerald extended his hand--which at the moment of writing still remains in that position. (note to Line 894)


According to Kinbote, he is a strict vegetarian:


A few days later, however, namely on Monday, February 16, I was introduced to the old poet at lunch time in the faculty club. "At last presented credentials," as noted, a little ironically, in my agenda. I was invited to join him and four or five other eminent professors at his usual table, under an enlarged photograph of Wordsmith College as it was, stunned and shabby, on a remarkably gloomy summer day in 1903. His laconic suggestion that I "try the pork" amused me. I am a strict vegetarian, and I like to cook my own meals. Consuming something that had been handled by a fellow creature was, I explained to the rubicund convives, as repulsive to me as eating any creature, and that would include - lowering my voice - the pulpous pony-tailed girl student who served us and licked her pencil. Moreover, I had already finished the fruit brought with me in my briefcase, so I would content myself, I said, with a bottle of good college ale. (Foreword)


In his memoir essay "Leo Tolstoy" (1919) Gorky says that Tolstoy (who was a vegetarian) resembled a gnome:


В жаркий день он обогнал меня на нижней дороге; он ехал верхом в направлении к Ливадии; под ним была маленькая татарская спокойная лошадка. Серый, лохматый, в лёгонькой белой войлочной шляпе грибом, он был похож на гнома. (“Leo Tolstoy” XXXVII)


According to Gorky, Tolstoy laughed when Gorky told him of his battle with General Kornet's wife:


Вчера вечером я рассказал ему о моей битве с генеральшей Корнэ, он хохотал до слез, до боли в груди, охал и всё покрикивал тоненько:

— Лопатой! По... Лопатой, а? По самой, по... И — широкая лопата?

Потом, отдохнув, сказал серьезно:

— Вы еще великодушно ударили, другой бы — по голове стукнул за это. Очень великодушно. Вы понимали, что она хотела вас?

— Не помню; не думаю, чтобы понимал...

— Ну, как же! Это ясно. Конечно, так.


Last night I told him of my battle with General Kornet’s wife; he laughed until he cried and he got a pain in his side and groaned and kept on crying out in a thin scream:

“With the shovel! On the bottom with the shovel, eh? Right on the bottom! Was it a broad shovel?”

Then, after a pause, he said seriously: “It was generous in you to strike her like that; any other man would have struck her on the head for that. Very generous! You understood that she wanted you?”

“I don’t remember. I hardly think that I can have understood.”

“Well now! But it’s obvious. Of course she wanted you.” (XXVIII)


When Gorky lived in Kazan, he entered the service of General Kornet’s wife as doorkeeper and gardener. Kinbote's gardener saves his master’s life by dealing Gradus a tremendous blow with his spade:


One of the bullet that spared me struck him in the side and went through his heart. His presence behind me abruptly failing me caused me to lose my balance, and, simultaneously, to complete the farce of fate, my gardener's spade dealt gunman Jack from behind the hedge a tremendous blow to the pate, felling him and sending his weapon flying from his grasp. (note to Line 1000)


Kinbote nicknamed his black gardener "Balthasar, Prince of Loam." Balthazar is the name of one of the magi. In Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin the Queen asks the gnome if his name is Balthazar:


"I will give you three days, time," said he, "if by that time you find out my name, then shall you keep your child."

So the queen thought the whole night of all the names that she had ever heard, and she sent a messenger over the country to inquire, far and wide, for any other names that there might be. When the manikin came the next day, she began with Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar, and said all the names she knew, one after another, but to every one the little man said, "That is not my name."


The characters in Gogol's play Zhenit'ba ("The Marriage," 1842) include Baltazar Baltazarovich Zhevakin, a retired lieutenant of the naval service who comes from the threshold of Sicily. According to Kinbote, New Wye is at the latitude of Palermo (a seaport in and the capital of Sicily):


February and March in Zembla (the two last of the four "white-nosed months," as we call them) used to be pretty rough too, but even a peasant's room there presented a solid of uniform warmth - not a reticulation of deadly drafts. It is true that, as usually happens to newcomers, I was told I had chosen the worst winter in years - and this at the latitude of Palermo. (Foreword)


In a footnote to his story Viy (1835) Gogol says that the Viy is nachal’nik gnomov (the king of the gnomes):


Вий -- есть колоссальное создание простонародного воображения. Таким именем называется у малороссиян начальник гномов, у которого веки на глазах идут до самой земли.


The “Viy” is a monstrous creation of popular fancy. It is the name which the inhabitants of Little Russia give to the king of the gnomes, whose eyelids reach to the earth.


The epigraph to Gogol's play Revizor ("The Inspector," 1836) is the saying Na zerkalo necha penyat', koli rozha kriva (It's no good blaming the mirror if the mug's crooked). In his Commentary and Index Kinbote mentions Sudarg of Bokay, a mirror maker of genius:


He [Charles Xavier] awoke to find her [Fleur de Fyler] standing with a comb in her hand before his - or rather, his grandfather's - cheval glass, a triptych of bottomless light, a really fantastic mirror, signed with a diamond by its maker, Sudarg of Bokay. She turned about before it: a secret device of reflection gathered an infinite number of nudes in its depths, garlands of girls in graceful and sorrowful groups, diminishing in the limpid distance, or breaking into individual nymphs, some of whom, she murmured, must resemble her ancestors when they were young - little peasant garlien combing their hair in shallow water as far as the eye could reach, and then the wistful mermaid from an old tale, and then nothing. (note to Line 80)


Sudarg of Bokay, a mirror maker of genius, the patron saint of Bokay in the mountains of Zembla, 80; life span not known. (Index)


Sudarg of Bokay is Jakob Gradus in reverse. On the other hand, Sudarg brings to mind Gosudar', the Russian title of Machiavelli's The Prince (cf. Balthasar, Prince of Loam).


In VN's novel Lolita (1955) Humbert Humbert mentions "Sam Bumble, the Frozen Meat King" and "Beaver Eaters, or whatever they are called:"


I have also a surprise for you, my dear. We two are not going to England.”

“Why, what’s the matter?” she [Charlotte] said, lookingwith more surprise than I had counted uponat my hands (I was involuntarily folding and tearing and crushing and tearing again the innocent pink napkin). My smiling face set her somewhat at ease, however.

“The matter is quite simple,” I replied. “Even in the most harmonious of households, as ours is, not all decisions are taken by the female partner. There are certain things that the husband is there to decide. I can well imagine the thrill that you, a healthy American gal, must experience at crossing the Atlantic on the same ocean liner with Lady Bumble - or Sam Bumble, the Frozen Meat King, or a Hollywood harlot. And I doubt not that you and I would make a pretty ad for the Traveling Agency when portrayed looking - you, frankly starry-eyed, I, controlling my envious admiration - at the Palace Sentries, or Scarlet Guards, or Beaver Eaters, or whatever they are called. But I happen to be allergic to Europe, including merry old England. As you well know, I have nothing but very sad associations with the Old and rotting World. No colored ads in your magazines will change the situation.” (1.21)


Describing Charlotte’s death under the wheels of a truck, Humbert Humbert mentions her “eternal heaven among an eternal alchemy of asphalt and rubber and metal and stone:”


She swam beside me, a trustful and clumsy seal, and all the logic of passion screamed in my ear: Now is the time! And, folks, I just couldn’t! In silence I turned shoreward and gravely, dutifully, she also turned, and still hell screamed its counsel, and still I could not make myself drown the poor, slippery, big-bodied creature. The scream grew more and more remote as I realized the melancholy fact that neither tomorrow, nor Friday, nor any other day or night, could I make myself put her to death. Oh, I could visualize myself slapping Valeria’s breasts out of alignment, or otherwise hurting her - and I could see myself, no less clearly, shooting her lover in the underbelly and making him say “akh!” and sit down. But I could not kill Charlotte - especially when things were on the whole not quite as hopeless, perhaps, as they seemed at first wince on that miserable morning. Were I to catch her by her strong kicking foot; were I to see her amazed look, hear her awful voice; were I still to go through with the ordeal, her ghost would haunt me all my life. Perhaps if the year were 1447 instead of 1947 I might have hoodwinked my gentle nature by administering her some classical poison from a hollow agate, some tender philter of death. But in our middle-class nosy era it would not have come off the way it used to in the brocaded palaces of the past. Nowadays you have to be a scientist if you want to be a killer. No, no, I was neither. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the majority of sex offenders that hanker for some throbbing, sweet-moaning, physical but not necessarily coital, relation with a girl-child, are innocuous, inadequate, passive, timid strangers who merely ask the community to allow them to pursue their practically harmless, so-called aberrant behavior, their little hot wet private acts of sexual deviation without the police and society cracking down upon them. We are not sex fiends! We do not rape as good soldiers do. We are unhappy, mild, dog-eyed gentlemen, sufficiently well integrated to control our urge in the presence of adults, but ready to give years and years of life for one chance to touch a nymphet. Emphatically, no killers are we. Poets never kill. Oh, my poor Charlotte, do not hate me in your eternal heaven among an eternal alchemy of asphalt and rubber and metal and stone - but thank God, not water, not water! (1.20)


A gnome is a diminutive spirit in Renaissance magic and alchemy, first introduced by Paracelsus in the 16th century. In his essay Komu u kogo uchit’sya pisat’, krest’yanskim rebyatam u nas ili nam u krest’yanskikh rebyat? (“Who Should Learn Writing of Whom; Peasant Children of Us, or We of Peasant Children?” 1862) Tolstoy compares himself to a man who suddenly discovered the philosopher’s stone (vainly looked for by the alchemists):


Я чувствовал, что с этого дня для него раскрылся новый мир наслаждений и страданий,— мир искусства; мне казалось, что я подсмотрел то, что никто никогда не имеет права видеть,— зарождение таинственного цветка поэзии. Мне и страшно и радостно было, как искателю клада, который бы увидал цвет папортника: радостно мне было потому, что вдруг, совершенно неожиданно, открылся мне тот философский камень, которого я тщетно искал два года,— искусство учить выражению мыслей; страшно потому, что это искусство вызывало новые требования, целый мир желаний, несоответственный среде, в которой жили ученики, как мне казалось в первую минуту. Ошибиться нельзя было. Это была не случайность, но сознательное творчество.


I felt that from this time a new world of joys and sorrows had been revealed to Fedka,—the world of art; it seemed to me that I was witnessing what no one has the right to see,—the unfolding of the mysterious flower of poesy. To me it was both terrible and delightful; just as if a treasure-seeker should find the lady-fern in bloom. The pleasure consisted for me in suddenly, unexpectedly, discovering the philosopher's stone, for which I had been vainly seeking for two years — the art of expressing thought.

It was terrible, because this art would bring new demands and a whole world of desires incompatible with the sphere in which the pupils live — or so it seemed to me at the first moment. There could be no mistake. This was not chance, but conscious, creative genius.

In Russian karlik means "dwarf" (like Fred Dobson in "The Potato Elf"), while gnom (gnome) is a fairy tale character. For instance, the Russian title of Schneewittchen und die sieben Zwerge is Belosnezhka i sem' gnomov.


Btw., I suspect that Shade ("almost man" in Spanish) is a gnome too. As Shade points out in a conversation at the Faculty Club, the King left Zembla dressed as an athlete in scarlet wool. The Polish word for "gnomes" is krasnolud (krasny means "red," lud means "people").


(I am, of course, aware of "The Scarlet Pimpernel.") 

Alexey, I had looked up "Karlik" in an two online dictionaries. One  only said "dwarf" and the other said both "dwarf" and "gnome," so I imagine, as in English, there are often crossovers or blendings of the types, as in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," where the Dwarves, since they are miners, might as well be considered gnomes or kobolds. 


From my Jungian archetypes point of view, I believe that Shade, as his name suggests, is actually a Shadow, and I would agree that he is gnomish in his grotesque looks.  Jung says that essentially all archetypes are shadows, as they all exist in the unconscious. Shade, I see as the "persona." That is, he is not all he presents (kind, faithful, etc.). Even Kinbote, contradicting his own praise of Shade, notes that his looks are the style of the modern-day bard, i.e. a bit of a pose, a mask.