Wednesday, October 30, 2013

October 31: A Night in the Lonesome October-fest

#Zelazny #LonesomeOctober

This is Halloween, this Halloween!

(Halloween, Halloween!)

Sorry, I got carried away.

The big day arrives. Snuff returns to Larry's grove to find it empty. Then he seeks Graymalk, and when he finds her, they walk and discuss things, perhaps for the last time.

We hiked for a long time in silence before she said, "You and Jack will be the only closers there." 
"It looks that way," I said. 
"I'm sorry." 
"That's okay."

The story has so many moments like this, and that exchange is one of my favorites. Snuff and Gray both wish things were different, but they're not, so the only thing you can do is comfort your friend as best you can and go on living in the world as it is.

They discuss events, Gray offering Snuff some wisdom she had learned from the Dreamworld Cat. They then part ways, with Gray leaving for a strategy session with the other openers and Snuff heading home.

However, he is intercepted by Quicklime, who passes on some information. He tells Snuff that the vicar killed Rastov, but the Count killed Owen in retaliation. Snuff thinks Quicklime is confused, because Owen was killed after the Count died.

Au contraire, Quicklime tells him. The Count merely faked his death, and has been lying low with the gipsies ever since. Snuff is happy to have the information, but isn't sure what to make of it at the point.

Later on, he talks with Bubo, who laments that he wasn't able to do anything important, like the rest of them. Snuff reassures him that all the little things add up to make the difference.

Then, finally, it is time for the ceremony. Jack and Snuff approach the hill to find the vicar and Morris and MacCab feeding the fire. He gives a little background on it.
The banefire is a necessary part of our business. It goes all the way back into the misty vastness of our practices. Both sides require it, so in this sense it is a neutral instrument. After midnight, it comes to burn in more than one world, and we may add to it those things which enhance our personal strengths and serve our ends. It attracts otherworldly beings sympathetic to both sides, as well as neutral spirits who may be swayed by the course of the action. Voices and sights may pass through it, and it serves as a secondary, supportive point of manifestation to whatever the opening or closing object may be. Customarily, we all bring something to feed it, and it interacts with all of us throughout the ritual. I had urinated on one of our sticks, for example, several days earlier. There are times when players have been attacked by its flames; and I can recall an instance when one was defended by a sudden wall of fire it issued. It is also good for disposing of evidence. It comes in handy on particularly cold nights, too.

This passage always reminds me how tremendously influential Roger Zelazny has been on the way that I think and write. I encountered his works at the point in my life when I was deciding the person I would be as an adult, and the line I bolded (edit: now actually bolded), which is characteristic of his writing, always struck me as particularly brilliant. Zelazny was superb at understanding the intersection of the magical and mundane, and thereby investing his works with verisimilitude. The most beautifully realized fantasy world is great, but it's only half the story. If you want me to believe in it, the way I do with Lonesome October, it has to be grounded in the real world.

The participants position themselves, and Jill shows up and joins the circle. Snuff and Gray converse, Gray tells them that they raised an objection to Lynette's sacrifice, but they were overruled. Gray asks how they'll know when it's time to begin, and Snuff replies, "When we can talk with the people." So it looks like I was wrong about that, and all the familiars share the same midnight to one window for conversation.

"Jack, can you hear me?" I called.  
"Loud and clear, Snuff. Well-met by moonlight. What's on your mind?" 
"Just checking the time," I said. 
Suddenly Nightwind was talking to Morris and MacCab, Tekela to the vicar.

(Though it seems somehow wrong that a reference to a quote from Oberon occurs outside the Amber books). The players begin readying their gear, and then there is another arrival.

Then the moon went out. We all looked upward as a dark shape covered it, descending, rushing toward us. Morris shrieked shrilly as it fell, changing shape as if dark veils swam about it. And then the moon shone again, and the piece of midnight sky which had fallen came to earth beside Jack, and I saw that vision-twisting transformation of which Graymalk had spoken, here, there, a twist, a swirl, a dark bending, and the Count stood at Jack's side, smiling a totally evil smile. He laid his left hand, the dark ring visible upon it, upon Jack's right shoulder. 
"I stand with him," he said, "to close you out." 
Vicar Roberts stared at him and licked his lips. 
"I would think one of your sort more inclined to our view in this matter," the vicar stated. 
"I like the world just the way it is," said the Count. "Pray, let us begin."

I love that passage. The Count gets barely more exposure that Rastov or Owen, but his passages are some of my favorites. (Probably, at least in part, because he's used so sparingly.)

They begin, Larry appears, darts in and begins pulling Lynette away with the same method he employed with the constable's corpse. Before he can get far, however, the vicar shoots him with a silver bullet. When Larry drops, the vicar orders Morris and MacCab to put her back to the altar. This is obviously not the Count's first rodeo, as he objects.

"Stop!" the Count said. "Players are forbidden to move a sacrifice once the ceremony is in progress!" 
The vicar stared at him. Morris and MacCab halted, looked back and forth from the vicar to the Count. 
"I never heard of such a restriction," the vicar said. 
"It is a part of the tradition," Jack stated. "There must always be a small, even if only symbolic, exit open to a sacrifice in this. They may go as far as they can. They may be stopped. The place where they fall becomes the new altar. Do otherwise and you destroy the pattern we have created. The results could be disastrous." 
The vicar pondered for a moment, then said, "I don't believe you. You're outnumbered. It's a closer's bluff, to make things more awkward for me. Morris! MacCab! Put her back!" 
The Count stepped forward as they advanced. 
"In a case such as this," he said, "the opposing parties are permitted to resist the desecration." 
I heard heavy, clumping footsteps in the distance, but they seemed to be passing the hill rather than approaching it. 
Morris and MacCab had hesitated but then they moved forward, reaching for Lynette. 
The Count flowed forward. No single limb seemed to stir, but suddenly he was there beside them. Then he raised his arms, out to the sides, his cloak dependent therefrom; and he moved them forward, completely engulfing the men within its folds. He stood thus for only an instant, arms across his chest, before a succession of snapping sounds could be heard. 
He opened his arms and they fell to the earth, to lie at odd angles, blood emerging from their ears, noses, and mouths. Their eyes were wide. They did not breathe. 
"You dare?" the vicar cried. "You dare to touch my people?" 
The Count turned his head slowly, raising his arms again. 
"You presume," he said, "to address me so."
The interesting part of that, to me, is that the salient point seems to be that players are forbidden to move the sacrifice. Larry was working very closely with the closers throughout October, and he was influential enough that Snuff considered him a player for the purposes of calculating the site of the ceremony. However, since he didn't meet the criteria of a player for the purposes of the Game, he wasn't bound by the restrictions placed on players either. Is there any reason for players NOT to have at least one such unofficial cohort, exactly for situations such as this?

The Count advances on the vicar, but the vicar casts something towards him that causes him to stop.

"Dirt from one of your own caskets," the vicar replied, "mixed with pieces of my church's altar stone relic, left over from more papish times. Fingerbone of St. Hilarian, according to the records. You require your consecrated soil, but overconsecration is like the difference between a therapeutic and a debilitating dose of strychnine. Do you not agree?"

I like this a lot. I believe it's something the vicar improvised, because vampires have a large number of easily exploitable weaknesses, and there is not a lot of point of whipping up some ridiculous Rube Goldberg anti-vampire powder when you could simply use one of them instead. In my head-canon, the vicar had no reason to suspect that the Count would be returning, and had prepared the superconsecrated dirt to employ in the Game, and happened to have it on hand when the Count arrived unannounced.

Here's a link to St. Hilarian, who was a real Saint, but of no special significance to Halloween.

This encounter served as a distraction to allow the Great Detective to complete Larry's task, and slip away with Lynette. When the vicar notices she's gone, his first act is to blame Jill, which cements him as a dickhead.

The players undergo several transformations. Snuff had been hearing heavy footsteps throughout the night, and as Jill and Jack ready their wands, the experiment man lumbers up to them and scoops up Gray, despite her protests, and settles down to pet her. ("Pret-ty kit-ty.") Snuffs observes tentacles within the gateway. He hears Bubo's voice observing that things aren't working out quite as he intended. Snuff asks him what he means.

"I fixed it so they'd defeat themselves after they'd disposed of you," Bubo said. 
There were great masses of tentacles now, all of them writhing toward the Gateway. 
"I sneaked about last night," Bubo said, "and I switched the wands." 
I seemed to hear the odd sounds of a cat's laughter. It's so hard to tell when they're smiling. The old cat hadn't been telling me to fetch a stick. . .
Carpe baculum: Seize the wand.
I sprang into the air, catching it in my teeth, twisting it out of Jack's grip. I could see the astonished expression on his face as I did so.

Larry leaps at the vicar, which carries them both through the gateway. Jack chucks the wine bottle containing the slitherers after them, ( "Any port in a storm," he observed) and then it's over. The closers have won again.

The book ends with

Jack and Jill went down the hill. Gray and I ran after.

Which is wonderful. (Zach Shephard calls back to it with his own Lonesome October story, something I very much appreciated)

Final thoughts: I'm surprised that there were as many survivors and potential survivors as there were. Zelazny remarks in the Introduction to 24 Views of Mount Fuji that others had observed that he rarely kills his characters, and he said he wrote that story in part due to that, as well as the observation that he rarely wrote female characters. I never thought about that tendency one way or the other, though, though I do note that it's in evidence here. The Count survives, the Good Doctor probably did, even Tekela gets away. I'm not complaining (indeed, that happens to be my preference as well)

The whole book is outstanding. I've said that before, and I'm running out superlatives to describe it, but it's great. All of it. The concept, the plotting, the dialogue, the pacing, the fakeouts, the writing, it's difficult to pick out what I like best about it. Roger Zelazny is at the top of his game, and every one of those elements combines and synergizes with the rest to make A Night in the Lonesome October a Halloween classic.

October 30: A Night in the Lonesome October-fest

Snuff opens the chapter by telling us that there is not a great deal to the day before Halloween in the years the Game is held. He gives an account of the building and function of the banefire:

There was not a great deal to do today. And tomorrow will likely be the same. Till night. Those of us who remain will gather atop the hill at midnight. We will bring kindling, and we will cooperate in the building of a big fire. It will serve as illumination, and into it will be cast all the bones, herbs, and other ingredients we have been preparing all month to give ourselves an edge and to confound our enemies. It may stink. It may smell wonderful. Forces will wrestle within it, play about it, giving to it a multicolored nimbus, and occasionally causing it to produce musical sounds and wailings amid its crackling and popping.
He goes into a bit more detail and concludes with the outcome.

Disasters may follow. Players may fall, or go mad, catch fire, be transformed. The Gateway may begin to open at any time, or it may await the invitation of the Opening Wand. The resistance will begin immediately. The Closing Wand will be employed, and any ancillary forces that may feed it. Eventually, at the end of our exercises, which may take only a little while, though conceivably they could last until dawn (and in such a stalemated case, the closers would win by default), the matter will be decided. Bad things happen to the losers.
Snuff sets out to find Larry, to tell him about the Great Detective, as well as what the vicar has divined. He finds Larry drugged, meditating and unresponsive. Unable to give his message, he howls and departs.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

October 29: A Night in the Lonesome October-fest

I believe this chapter is my friend Jen's favorite, and I can see why. 

     Following lunch at Jill's place, to which Bubo was also invited, having finally acknowledged Graymalk to be a cat of a different category, I took a walk back to the ruin of the Good Doctor's place.  The meal had had an almost elegiac quality to it, Jack having asked outright whether she'd consider switching, Jill having admitted to a conflict in her sympathies now, but being determined to play the Game through as she'd started.  It felt odd to be dining with the enemy and to care that much about them.  So I took a walk afterwards, more for something to do while being alone than for any pressing purpose.  I took my time in going.  The charred ruin still smelled strongly; and though I circled it many times, I could see no bones or other signs of dead humans within.  I wandered over to the barn then, wondering whether the experiment man might have returned to it to hide.

"Elegiac" is the adjective form of elegy. I don't know if I've ever seen it written down before. (Other than the two dozen or so times I've read it in Lonesome October, of course.) It refers to something that has the characteristics of an elegy, being mournful, melancholy and contemplative. 

I'm also pleased that the Good Doctor and his assistant might have survived. 

While investigating the barn, Snuff comes across Needle and learns a little bit

      "Now I've learned that the Good Doctor was never in it, I've found the point of manifestation, the big hill with the fallen stones."
   "Really.  Now that's interesting.  What else is new?"
     "Rastov and Owen are dead.  Quicklime and Cheeter went back to the woods."

     "Yes, I'd heard that."

     "So it seems someone's killing openers."
     "Rastov was a closer."

     "I think Owen talked him into switching."

     "No, he tried but he didn't succeed."
     "How do you know that?"

     "I used to get into Owen's place through Cheeter's attic hole and listen to them talk.  I was there the night before Rastov was killed.  They were drinking and quoting everybody from Thomas Paine to Nietzsche at each other, but Rastov didn't switch."

     "Interesting.  You sound as if you're still in the Game."
     There came a faint sound from below, just as he said, "Oh, I am, Get down!  Flat!"

 It's the vicar with his crossbow and he has Snuff dead to rights, but before he can execute him...

   And then there was a shadow in the doorway at his back.
  "Why, Vicar Roberts, whatever are you doing with that archaic weapon?" came the wonderfully controlled falsetto of the Great Detective in his Linda Enderby guise.

  The vicar hesitated, then turned.

   "Madam," he said, "I was about to perform a community service by dispatching a vicious brute which even now is preparing to attack us."
 I began wagging my tail immediately and put on my idiot slobbering hound expression, tongue hanging out and all.
 "That hardly seems a vicious beast to me," the voice of the lady stated, as the Great Detective moved in quickly, passing between the vicar and myself to effectively block a shot.  "That's just old Snuff.  Everybody knows Snuff.  Not a mean bone in his body.  Good Snuff!  Good dog!"

  The old hand-on-head business followed, patting.  I responded as if it were the greatest invention since free lunch.
 "Whatever made you think him antisocial?"
  "Madam, that was the creature that almost tore my ear off."
 "I am certain you must be mistaken, sir.  I cannot conceive of this animal as behaving aggressively, except possibly in self-defense."
  The vicar's face was quite red and his shoulders looked very tense.  For a moment I thought he might actually try angling in a shot at me, anyhow.

That's so wonderful. I think it's another one of those perfect passages, such as the ending of the chapter with the vivisectionists, where there's no way at all to improve it.

This is also the scene that makes me think that William H. Macy could do a good job as the vicar. As a friend noted, he'd have to gain weight for the role, but this scene makes me think of Macy's tantrum  Fargo, where he demolishes his office because he can't fleece the old couple. I could imagine him smothering impotent rage as the vicar, who really is a small, sad little man.

Unable to kill Snuff, he sulks off. The best part is when he tells Linda Enderby that he enjoyed the cookies she baked for him, and Linda asks him if his daughter also liked them, and you just know that he ate all the cookies himself. That cad! I think that's why he's such a great villain, because he's so petty in much of his villainy. 

After the vicar leaves, the Great Detective drops all pretenses and tells Snuff that he knows what's going on. Snuff plays dumb.

     I sat down and scratched my left ear with my hind leg.
  "That is not going to work with me, Snuff," he said.  "I know that you are not just a dumb dog, a subhuman intelligence.  I have learned a great deal concerning the affairs of this month, this place, the people engaged in the enterprise which I believe you refer to as 'the Game.'"

     I paused in my scratching to study his face.
 "I interviewed both the inebriated Russian and the equally distracted Welshman on their ways home from the pub one night, in my guise as a jovial traveler in commercial sales.  I have spoken with the Gipsies, with your neighbors, with all of the principals involved in this matter of purported metaphysical conflict, yes, I know it to be that, and I have observed many things which permitted me to deduce the outlines of a dark picture."
  I yawned in the rude way dogs sometimes do.  He smiled.
 "No good, Snuff," he said.  "You can dispense with the mannerisms.  I am certain that you understand every word I am saying, and you must be curious as to the extent of my knowledge of the ceremony to be conducted here on All Hallows' Eve and my intentions concerning it."

Snuff gives him the nod and the Great Detective outlines his intent. 
"...A great number of crimes have apparently been committed by nearly everyone involved in this 'Game,' as you call it.  Many of them would be virtually impossible to demonstrate in court, but I have neither a client who requires that I find a way of doing so, nor inclination to pursue such matters for my own amusement.  Technically, I am here only as a friend of the Yard, for purposes of investigating the likely murder of a police officer.  And this matter will be dealt with in due time.  Since my arrival in this place, however, I have been more and more impressed by the unusual goings-on, until, at length, largely because of Mr. Talbot's strange condition and that of the one known as the Count, I have become convinced that there is something truly unnatural involved.  While I dislike such a conclusion, recent personal experiences have also led me to accept its validity..."

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

I like the voice Zelazny gives the Great Detective. He tells Snuff that the vicar plans to sacrifice Lynette, but Snuff informs him, through letters in the dust, that Larry Talbot will be attempting her rescue. The Great Detective is still concerned, because he's not sure that Larry has his dosage down properly and might be mindless on the full moon, and the vicar also knows that there is a werewolf is involved, so he stole that the silver candlesticks back from Jean Valjean and melted them into silver bullets. He says that the only role he can see for himself is a backup for Larry, but that he needs to know where the ceremony will take place. And Snuff shows him. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

October 28: A Night in the Lonesome October-fest

Chapter 28 fills in a couple of the remaining blanks, as Bubo tells Snuff what he had learned of the Game when pretending to be a player.
And he proceeded to tell me the story of how a number of the proper people are attracted to the proper place in the proper year on a night in the lonesome October when the moon shines full on Halloween and the way may be opened for the return of the Elder Gods to Earth, and of how some of these people would assist in the opening of the way for them while others would strive to keep the way closed. For ages, the closers have won, often just barely, and there were stories of a shadowy man, half-mad, a killer, a wanderer, and his dog, who always showed up to attempt the closing. Some said that he was Cain himself, doomed to walk the Earth, marked; others said he'd a pact with one of the Elders who secretly wished to thwart the others; none really knew. And the people would acquire certain tools and other objects of power, meet together at the designated spot and attempt to work their wills. The winners walked away, the losers suffered for their presumption by a reaction from the cosmic principles involved in the attempt. Then he named the players and their tools, adding an awareness of the calculation, of divinations, of magical attacks and defenses.

My friend Frederick says that he thinks that Snuff isn't Jack's first familiar, that another died in some earlier game. That seems right to me somehow, the idea that Snuff is old, but Jack is older.

The chapter ends with the pair discussing this Game and Games gone by.
"I trust your instincts. We must be ready for anything. Too bad about Jill and Graymalk." 
"I've decided I will stay friends with them to the end," I said. 
He squeezed my shoulder. 
"As you would." 
"It's not like Dijon, is it?" I asked. 
"No. Many odd things have happened this time around," he said. "Stiff upper lip, friend." 
"That's how I smile," I said.

I like that passage, and the trust, respect and friendship that Jack and Snuff share, which Zelazny gets across with just a few lines.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

October 27: A Night in the Lonesome October-fest

Gray is waiting for Snuff when he emerges through his doggy door. (And it occurs to me that this must be one big door, because Snuff is not a small dog). She tells him that the Good Doctor got burned out last night, and the pair head on over to investigate.

Snuff sniffs out Bubo, who flees into a crate.

"Remember what they say about cornered rats," he said. "We can be nasty." 
"I'm sure," I replied. "But what'd be the point? No one wants to hurt you." 
"You were chasing me." 
"I wanted to talk to you." 
"So you brought along a cat." 
"I can let you talk to her if you don't want to talk to me." 
I started to withdraw.

Bubo tells Snuff that the Good Doctor and the experiment man got in a fight. The experiment man smashed some equipment and sparks from this set the whole place on fire.

"Please," he said, "let me be. I'm just a simple pack rat. Snuff! Don't let her have me!"

"I've already eaten," she said. "Besides, I owe you courtesy as a fellow player."

"No you don't," he said. "It's over. Over."

"Just because your master is dead doesn't mean I should treat you as anything other than a player."

"But you know. You must know. You're toying with me. Cats are that way. I'm not a player. I never was. Have you really eaten recently?"


"That's worse then. You'll toy more."

"Shut up a minute!" she said.

"See? There goes the courtesy."

Heh. Bubo is fun. I don't like the speculate about what a writer might have been feeling, but I always imagined that the Roger Zelazny had enjoyed writing this book in general and dialogue like this in particular. His son Trent has an account of how the writing process went in his introduction to the Lovecraft Zine's second Lonesome October issue, and it turns out that he really did enjoy the process.

That really makes me happy, that something that's given me so much pleasure over the years was just as much fun for the author.

Bubo goes on to explain that he noticed the other companions all treated each other pretty well, so he decided to pretend to be in on the Game too. But the Good Doctor was never a player. It was entirely by coincidence that he was here. Now that Snuff and the other calculators know this, they can build their pattern without him and finally determine the center of the pattern.

Snuff is so pleased with this development, and moved by Bubo's plight that he offers the rat a place to stay.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

October 26: A Night in the Lonesome October-fest

Snuff is killing time during a quiet day. He fools around, tracking a fox before losing it in a stream. In my headcanon, the fox is Fennick, from Zach Shephard's Lonesome October story, My Least Immemorial Year. This fox is a vixen and I don't know if Fennick was or not.

Snuff notices that he's being followed too, and loops the loup, as it were, finding a large wolf he initially takes for Larry. He is disabused of this notion by the first words out of the wolf's mouth. It was following him, it said, because the humans of this place seemed strange and it wanted Snuff's advice on the safety of wintering here. Snuff gives the wolf some advice, but grows suspicious when the moonlight shows him that the wolf is the same creature whose image was captured in Jill's ward.

Snuff takes off, the mystery wolf calls him by name, which he hadn't offered, and he shakes its pursuit easily. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

October 25: A Night in the Lonesome October-fest

We open October 25th with some action.

"Snuff, I'm going after that damned bird," Graymalk said.
"I don't know that it's good form, Gray, doing something like that right now."

"I don't care," she said, and she disappeared.

I waited and watched, for a long while. Suddenly, there was a flurry on the roof. There came a rattle of claws, a burst of feathers, and Tekela took off across the night, cawing obscenities.
Graymalk descended at the corner and returned.

"Nice try," I said.

"No, it wasn't. I was clumsy. She was fast. Damn."

We headed back.

"Maybe you'll give her a few nightmares, anyway."

"That'd be nice," she said.
Growing moon. Angry cat. Feather on the wind. Autumn comes. The grass dies.

Yay! A haiku! (Though you'd have to split Autumn across two lines if you want to get 5/7/5) As long-time readers of the blog know, I love Zelazny haiku, either those by the man or about his work.

The interesting part of this is that the first time I read this passage, I thought that Snuff was merely hidebound, and didn't want to violate the standards of the the Game. However, I think there is more to it than that. He's recognized that the odds are against him and Jack, and that they're probably not going to win. I think his affection for Graymalk is such that he doesn't want her to scuttle her chances in the new order through a satisfying but petty act of vengeance.

The morning dealt us a hand in which last night's small irony was seen and raised. Graymalk came scratching on the door and when I went out she said, "Better come with me."

So I did.

"What's it about?" I asked.

"The constable and his assistants are at Owen's place, investigating last night's burnings."

"Thanks for getting me," I said. "Let's go and watch. It should be fun."

"Maybe," she said.

When we got there I understood the intimation in her word. The constable and his men paced and measured and poked. The remains of the baskets and the remains which had been in the baskets were now on the ground. There were, however, the remains of four baskets and their contents rather than the three I remembered so well.

It sounds like Owen only noticed a party consisting of a man, a woman, a cat, a very large dog and three dead ogres when the ogres had been stuffed in his wicker baskets, hoisted up a tree and set on fire? Forget any kind of magical defenses for a moment. Isn't that the kind of thing you you should see by looking out your window? Owen, you suck.

(All right, he was probably sleeping at the time, but really, the fact that they were able to get away with it suggests that Owen was no A-Lister.)

Snuff cracks wise and is overheard by Cheeter, who offers to trade a favor for a favor.
"I was a pretty dumb nut-chaser until Owen found me," he said. "Most squirrels are. We know what we have to do to stay in business, but that's about it. Not like you guys. He made me smarter. He gave me special things I can do, too, like that glide. But I lost something for it. I want to trade all this in and go back to being what I was, a happy nut-chaser who doesn't care about opening and closing."

"What all's involved?" I asked.

"I gave up something for all this, and I want it back."


"Look down at the ground around me. What do you see?"

"Nothing special," Graymalk said.

"My shadow's gone. He took it. And he can't give it back now, because he's dead."

Snuff and Gray are not certain they'll be able to break the spell.

"Cheeter, there are all kinds of magical systems," I said. "They're just shapes into which the power is poured. We can't know them all. I've no idea what Owen did to your shadow or your, intuition, I guess, and the feelings that go with it. Unless we had some idea where it is and how to go about returning it and restoring it to you, I'm afraid we can't be of help."

I really like that, because it's so precisely what I love about Zelazny's work, the thoughtfulness and the thoroughness with which he approached his fiction. The Dilvish stories were Zelazny's well-written but ultimately forgettable (Sorry Dilvish fans) take on the old sword and sorcery pulps, but I really liked the attention to detail in the magical operations in both the Changing Land and the Dilvish, the Damned collection.

Cheeter's shadow is pinned, Peter Pan-like, to the wall, with seven silver nails. There is a longish passage of Snuff working a number of them free, and it has a lot of the little details that remind the reader that Snuff is a a dog.

I did not like the taste of the plaster and the pigment used in the design. I was not sure what lay beneath the plaster, holding the nails in place. Not enough of that covering had chipped away for me to distinguish the surface it covered, only enough for grit with a damp basement taste to come into my mouth.

I stepped back. The design looked slobbered-upon, and I wondered how dog spit would affect its subtle functions.

"Please don't quit," Cheeter said. "Try again."

"I'm just catching my breath," I told him. "I've been using my front teeth so far, because it was easier. I'm going to switch to the side now."

So I leaned again and took a grip with my back teeth, right side, upon the nail which seemed to have responded slightly to my suasions. I had it moving, then loosening, before too long.

Finally, I dropped it and listened. Silver makes a pleasant sound when it's struck.

Gray knows how to reverse the process.

"Blood," she said. "You must scratch a wound on the back of each paw, one atop your head, one at the middle of your tail, one midback, the seven places the shadow was pierced. When Snuff removes the final nail he must take care not simply to draw it straight out but to drag it downward, snagging the shadow, pulling it to cover you. You will then be standing with a foot on each of the four nails which held the paws, your tail resting upon that of the tail, your head extended and down to touch the sixth..."

"I don't know which nail is which now," he said.

"I do," she replied. "I've been watching.

That seems like a very cat statement to make. Snuff wasn't the only one who got good characterization. They complete the process, Cheeter gets his shadow and intuition back, and thanks them and runs off.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

October 24: A Night in the Lonesome October-fest

We get some more of the usual (Jack and Snuff chatting, catching up with Larry, the Great Detective doing his thing), but the meat of this chapter deals with all the Things escaping at once and the consequences.

When all hell breaks loose in our vicinity, it does it with style. I was awakened by an enormous thunderclap, sounding as if it had occurred just overhead; and the brightness of the lightning stroke had been visible through my closed eyelids. Suddenly, I was on my feet in the front hall, not certain how I had gotten there. Along with the echoes of the crash, however, my mind held memory of the sounds of breaking glass. 
The mirror had shattered. The Things were slithering out. 
I began barking immediately.

Snuff and Jack work together as a team to dispatch or trap the Things.
I pulled myself to my feet, preparing to face it as it thrust the reeling one aside and came on. Instead, though, the dying one seemed to take its descent as another attack, swung toward it, and raked it with its talons. The Thing from the Attic seized it, snarling, and bit at its twisted face. At my back, I could hear Jack moving about, bottling slitherers. A moment later, the banister gave way, and the pair on the stair were in the air.
That last line always made me laugh. Genre works take themselves so dreadfully seriously so much of the time, and it's this kind of thing that makes the story so much fun.
As I watched the Thing from the Circle finally fall, following a masterful upstroke, I turned my stronger emotions toward the perpetrator of the onslaught which had caused their release. It was more than merely annoying, having had to put up with them all these weeks and then to lose them this way before they could fulfill their function. Under the proper constraints, they had been intended as the bodyguard for our retreat, should one be necessary, following the events of the final night, after which they would have had their freedom in some isolated locale, obtaining the opportunity to add to the world's folklore of a darker nature. Now, ruined, the buffer plan. They weren't essential, but they might have proved useful should we have to exit pursued by Furies.
Hey, Sandor Sandor, Benedick Benedict and Lynx Links all gotta make a living somehow...
When the business was done, Jack traced pentagrams with his blade, calling upon the powers that would cleanse the place. With the first one, the green glow faded; with the second, the house stopped its shuddering; with the third, the thunder and lightning went away; with the fourth, the rain ceased.
My friend Frederick pointed this out, and I'm embarrassed I never noticed it myself. Snuff sees the world in full color, but dogs see the world in greens, blues and yellows and can't perceive oranges or reds like a human.

I actually consider Snuff's full color vision evidence in support of the theory that he might be something that only looks like a dog. He's certainly an unusual dog, but seems to have nothing more than sensory apparatus with which dogs are usually equipped.

Before I started looking into this, I knew dogs had limited color vision, but I thought they were red-green color blind. Most of the colors Snuff describes are colors that dogs actually perceive. The only exceptions that leap to mind are the captured starlight in the beginning (Immediately, the liquid in the container began to glow with a reddish light; and somewhere in the distance a howling rose up) the glowing rocks before they're sucked into the Dreamlands. ("Then I drew back, for they began to glow with a faint red light.") and the rose crystal palace in the Dreamlands itself. I'm doubtless overlooking a few, too.

It's possible that Snuff may have been augmented to perceive certain supernatural workings on a channel which dogs can't normally see, (I'm imagining that red jacket from Schindler's List) but I don't like that explanation, because it requires too many assumptions.

It's an interesting  area on which to speculate, though and cataloguing this will give me something to look for on my next read through.
"Good show, Snuff," he said then. 
There came a knocking on the back door. We both headed in that direction, the blade vanishing and Jack's hair and clothing getting rearranged along the way.
I like the passive voice and the ambiguity. Did Jack run a hand through his hair or did it supernaturally rearrange itself?

He opens the door to find Jill and Graymalk (whose name I always want to spell with a letter "E"), who were concerned when they couldn't see the house.
"What prompts your visit?" he asked.

"I hadn't seen you in over an hour," she replied, taking a small sip of sherry.

"That is true," he answered, sipping his own. "But it is often that way with us. Every day, in fact. Still. . . ."

"I refer to your house as well as your person. I heard a small sound earlier, as of the tinkling of a crystal bell, from this direction. When I looked this way I saw nothing but a well of impenetrable darkness."

"Ah, the old crystal bell effect," he mused. "Haven't seen that one since Alexandria. So you didn't hear any thunder, see any lightning?"

"I hadn't seen you in over an hour," she replied, taking a small sip of sherry. 
"That is true," he answered, sipping his own. "But it is often that way with us. Every day, in fact. Still. . . ." 
"I refer to your house as well as your person. I heard a small sound earlier, as of the tinkling of a crystal bell, from this direction. When I looked this way I saw nothing but a well of impenetrable darkness." 
"Ah, the old crystal bell effect," he mused. "Haven't seen that one since Alexandria. So you didn't hear any thunder, see any lightning?"
Alexandria still exists as a city, and it remains one of the largest in Egypt. I like to think this is a reference to the burning of the Library of Alexandria, however.
"He sent those creatures after you?" She gestured toward the hall.

"No," he replied. "They were my own. They got loose during the attack. It must have involved a general manumission spell. Pity. I had better use for the fellows than this."
"Manumission" is the act of freeing a slave. There you go. Something from a Zelazny word-a-day calendar.

They try to decide what to do with the bodies, now that they are in need of disposal.

She set down her glass, rose, visited the hall, and inspected them. She returned a little later. 
"Impressive," she said. "What they are, and what got done to them." She seated herself again. "What I'm wondering most, though, is what you're going to do with them now."
"Hm," he said, toying with his glass. "It's rather far to the river."
I nodded vigorously.
Heh heh.

Snuff suggests taking the remains over to Owen's place, sticking them into the wicker baskets, hauling them up to the oak tree and lightning them on fire. I like the idea behind the plan, but it doesn't strike me as especially practical. Jack goes for it, however.
The humans bought my idea; and we went out to do it. And ah, my foes, and oh, my friends, they gave a lovely light. 
Snuff's observation is from Edna St. Vincent Millay's "First Fig" featured in her collection a A Few Figs From Thistles

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

It's interesting, because while it's not uncommon for a Zelazny character to offer a quotation from literature, that can't be what Snuff is doing here, as the collection hadn't yet been written at the point the story was set. It seems to call back to the final line of October 23rd: (I wondered what sort of light they would give), and it seems like that observation would make more sense if it had come after the bit with the wicker baskets. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

October 23: A Night in the Lonesome October-fest

October 23rd! If I had to pick a favorite chapter, this would probably be it.

It opens with Snuff catching up with Larry about current events, and they then try to determine the missing value in Snuff's calculations.

"A mystery player?" I asked. "Someone who's been lying low all this time?" 
"It seems as if there must be. Hasn't it ever happened before?" 
I thought hard, recalling Games gone by. 
"It's been tried," I said then. "But the others always found him out." 
"Things like this," I said. "Pieces that don't fit any other way." 
"This is fairly late in the game. It's never gone this long. Everyone's always known everyone else by this time, with only about a week to go." 
"In those situations where someone was hiding out, how did you go about discovering him?" 
"We usually all know by the Death of the Moon. If something seems wrong afterward that can only be accounted for by the presence of another player, the power is then present to do a divinatory operation to determine the person's identity or location." 
"Don't you think it might be worth giving it a try?" 
"Yes. You're right. Of course, it's not really my specialty. Even though I know something about all of the operations, I'm a watcher and I'm a calculator. I'll get someone else to give it a try, though." 
"I don't know yet. I'll have to find out who's good at it, and then suggest it formally, so that I get to share the results. I'll share them with you then, of course." 
"What if it's someone you can't stand?" 
"Doesn't matter. There are rules, even if you're trying to kill each other. If you don't follow them, you don't last long. I may have something that that person will want, like the ability to do an odd calculation, say, for something other than the center."

I like this passage, because it strikes me as so characteristically Zelaznian, and so emblematic about what I love about his work. He was always wonderful about positing a great concept and then following it through down to its logical outcome.

Something that causes me to wonder is Snuff's line, "There are rules, even if you're trying to kill each other." followed immediately by "If you don't follow them, you don't last long." I always wondered how binding these rules were. Is a violation of the rules of the Game simply an embarrassing faux pas, which will impact the relationship with the other players? Jack's comment to Larry about how proclaiming himself a closer so early was "gauche" would support this interpretation.

Later on in this chapter, Snuff observes "The tools have a way of producing repercussive effects when they're used extracurricularly," which suggests that are supernatural ramifications for using Game Tools for something other than their intended purposes. Does this mean that there are supernatural consequences for violating the rules of the Game?

My guess is generally, no. We see in the final chapter that when certain rules are violated, steps may be taken to correct the situation, but I get the impression that the rules of which Snuff speaks are closer to guidelines and traditions, and if you violate them, you'll alienate potential allies. No one will trade with you and you'll wind up an weaker position than you otherwise would be.

Snuff and Larry talk about the extent and limitations of their respective abilities and then Quicklime signals for Snuff from a tree. Rastov had apparently killed himself. Snuff and Larry perform some investigations and, on finding the Alhazred Icon missing, conclude that it was murder rather than suicide.

"I don't think he killed himself," I said finally. "Somebody overpowered him while he was drunk or hung over, then did that to him. They wanted it to look as if he did it to himself." 
"He was pretty strong," Quicklime responded. "But if he'd started in drinking again this morning, he might not have been able to defend himself well."
Snuff invites Quicklime to stay with him and Jack, but the snake declines:
"I think not," he hissed. "I think I'm done with the Game. He was a good man. He took good care of me. He cared about people, about the whole world. What's that human notion, compassion. He had a lot of that. It's one of the reasons he drank a lot, I think. He felt everybody else's pain too much. No. I'm done with the Game. I'll slip back to the woods now. I still know a few burrows, a few places where the mice make their runs. Leave me alone here for a while now. I'll see you around, Snuff."
Rastov was a minor character for the entire book, never getting more than couple brief cameos and a handful of lines, but those few words from Quicklime make me really like him.

Shortly after this, Snuff and Gray break into the vicarage to investigate Lynette and possibly locate the Count's ring and the Icon. The vicar shows up midway through their investigation, having been alerted by Tekela.
"Bad," Graymalk said. Then, "I can occupy the vicar."

"The hell with him! I'm going to take out the study window!"

I reached the corner just as the nasty little man came around the other corner, a riding crop in his hand. I had to slow to turn into the room and he brought it down across my back. Before he could strike a second time, though, Graymalk had leaped into his face, all of her claws extended.

I bounded across the room, a scream rising at my back, and leaped at the window, closing my eyes as I hit. I took the thing with me, mullions and all. Turning then, I sought Graymalk.

She was nowhere in sight but I heard her yowl from within. Two bounds and a leap brought me back into the room. He was holding her high by her hind legs and swinging the crop. When it connected she screamed and he let her fall, for he had not expected me to return, let alone be coming at him low off the floor with my ears flat and a roar in my throat straight from my recent refresher with Growler.

He swung the crop but I came in beneath it. If Graymalk were dead, I was going to kill him.
Another great passage.

Snuff and Gray escape, then accompany their respective humans into the city. The animals go off to wander the city streets while the humans make their purchases, but Snuff is attacked and chloroformed by the vicar and his crew. He awakens in a vivisectionist's lair.

The segment where they strap him down reminds me a lot of the sequence from the beginning of Call of the Wild, where Buck is treated similarly and has thoughts along the same lines.

The most obvious plan was to fake lassitude when they came for me, then to spring to attack as soon as the cage door was opened. I'd a feeling, though, that I wasn't the first ever to think of such a ploy, and where were the others now? Still, I couldn't just lie there and contribute to medical understanding. So unless something better came along I resolved to give this plan a try when they came for me.

When they did, of course, they were ready. They'd a lot of expertise with fangs and knew just how to go about it. There were three of them, and two had on elbow-length padded gloves. When I pulled the awake, lunge, and bite maneuver I got a padded forearm forced back between my jaws, and my legs were seized and held while someone twisted an ear painfully.
I'd have to read that book again to determine if it looks like an homage or a coincidence, though.

The vivisectionists are going to render Snuff down for ritual components for the vicar. I've referenced the essay a couple times already in this series, but I think Chris Kovacs was particularly brilliant in his effort to suss out the identity of the vivisectionists. As always, read the whole thing. He notes that the physical descriptions correspond to those of the Three Stooges, and I will henceforth always imagine them in this way. Calling Doctor Howard, Doctor Fine, Doctor Howard, indeed.

It looks like it's curtains for Snuff, but he hears the sound that accompanies Jack's curse. (Then I heard it, Dzzp!, a high-pitched whine descending to a low throb in about three seconds each cycle. It is above the range of the human ear, and it accompanies the main curse, circling at a range of about a hundred fifty yards initially. Dzzp!)

Jack forces his way in.

Heavy footsteps crossed the outer room. Then the door immediately across from me was flung open. Jack stood upon the threshold, staring at the cages, the vivisectionists, myself upon the table. Graymalk peered in from behind him.

"Just who do you think you are, bursting into a private laboratory?" said the beefy man. 
". . . Interrupting a piece of scientific research?" said the tall man.

". . . And damaging our door?" said the short man with the wide shoulders and large hands.

I could see it now, like a black tornado, surrounding Jack, settling inward. If it entered him completely he would no longer be in control of his actions.

"I've come for my dog," he said. "That's him on your table."

He moved forward.

"No, you don't, laddie," said the beefy man. "This is a special job for a special client." 
"I'll be taking him and leaving now."

The beefy man raised his scalpel and moved around the table.

"This can do amazing things to a man's face, pretty boy," he said.

The others picked up scalpels, also.

"I'd guess you've never met a man as really knows how to cut," the beefy one said, advancing now.


It was into him, and that funny light came into his eyes, and his hand came out of his pocket and captured starlight traced the runes on the side of his blade.

"Well-met," Jack said then, through the teeth of his grin, and he continued to walk straight ahead.

When we left I realized that the old cat had been right about the seas and messes, too. I wondered what sort of light they would give.

What can I say? It's fantastic. It works on so many different levels. I really don't think there's any way to improve it. It's one of those rare perfect passages anywhere in fiction.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Notes on my Lonesome October story: Mother of Monsters

One of my favorite features from the Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny was the end notes, explaining the references and allusions in each piece. I understand that some people didn't appreciate them, and I can kind of see that point of view, even if I vigorously disagree with it. But I never gave Eye of Cat the chance it deserved, because I had read Zelazny's essay about its creation, and I was acutely aware, in a way that I seldom am with his works, that I was reading something that had been planned and created. Seeing the man behind the curtain can ruin the experience for some people. It's hard to believe in the grief of a character if you're listening to the commentary track and the actress telling you how she was thinking about her dead hamster. It destroys the illusion.

I still think the notes in the Collected Stories are great, and they're entirely optional and easy to ignore if you're not inclined to agree with them. Here are my notes on what went in to my story. If you're the kind of person who doesn't enjoy these things, then by all means, move on. Nothing here is essential to understanding it.

(Also, I think my tendency to drop lines from every book or play or movie I've ever seen or read or heard about can occasionally be off-putting.)

Though, as Oscar Wilde said "Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit."

Mother of Monsters was the first time I'd written a story on demand. I was hoping the Lovecraft Ezine would have a second Lonesome October issue and I started writing in May, because I am such a terribly slow writer. Then, when the time came, I realized that what I had was much too large for a short story.

So I had to quickly (by my standards) come up with something else, as I was up to a good 22,000 words at that point, and there was no way I could trim it down to short story length. I am pretty happy with this one. It's a variation of something I was kicking around for the first installment, only set during the Cold War and not in the future as I had originally intended.

The title comes, not from Guy de Maupassant story, but from the Echidna, mother to all those weird critters that ran around in Greek Mythology. I like it, because it can apply to either Odessa or Lorraine.

My biggest influence was Twenty to Life in the Lonesome October, which was my favorite of last year's Lonesome October stories,  but not for the Frankenstein allusions, but rather for the portrayal of a sympathetic opener. I think a thirst for knowledge is one of the most admirable human traits in the real world, but it probably wouldn't be in a reality filled with things man was not meant to know.

The shark-jumping hoodlum is the Fonz.

Mister Jenkins is the Principal in a Wrinkle in Time. This wasn't intentional but rather the first name that popped into my head when I needed a principal, but since I decided to name the place where the antagonists gathered the Echthros Club, I decided to keep it.

Echthros is indeed the Koptic Greek word for enemy, singular of the Echthroi, the Un-Namers of the Time Quintet. Wikipedia said that it means the object of God's enmity, and I like the idea that a bunch of closers would call their club that, as they are opposed to the Elder Gods.

Odessa has the same root as Oddessy, meaning Long Journey, and also city in the Ukraine, which fits in with Lorraine's origins. Also, citizens of Odessa call the City Mama Odessa, which ties back into the theme of motherhood.

I didn't state it explicitly, but Odessa was Lorraine's companion for the purposes of the game.Odessa's eyes are a reference to Cherenkov radiation, which causes the distinctive blue light in nuclear reactors.

Vitruvian Man is De Vinci's famous sketch of human proportions.

A matryoshka is the name for Russian nesting doll.

Mister Talbot, Mister Bates are Larry Talbot and Norman Bates. I wanted to use Tony Rivers, Michael Landon's character from I Was a Teenage Werewolf, (as Larry Talbot is not a teenager) but I thought the name was too obscure for anyone to appreciate the reference.

The glob that girdled the globe was the working title for the Blob. My wife worked briefly with Kay Linaker, writer of the movie, when we lived up in New Hampshire, and I've been fondly disposed towards it since. Also, it fits the 50s horror movie vibe of the story.

Speaking of which, "Nothing moves the blob" is a line from the 90s video game.


 I was going to go the full 1950's Universal Monsters Route, but Movers and Shakers, from Lord of the Fantastic, already covered that territory and I didn't want to step on any toes. We do have a lake monster, a pair of werewolves and frankenstein monster, but that's as close as I wanted to get.

"Who commanded the thunders of heaven, mimicked the earthquake, and mocked the invisible world with its own shadows." is directly from Frankenstein.

"Play a Simple Melody" is a duet popular in the 50s, where one of the singers pines for the simplicity of an earlier era. Here it is, performed by Edith Bunker and Muppets.

The Gorilla and the Brain are not specifically a reference to Monsieur Mallah and the Brain from the Doom Patrol. It's just a coincidence. I just liked the visual of a beatnik gorilla, and the brain is inspired by They saved Hitler's Brain. However, if you've got a gorilla and a brain in your story, it's crazy NOT to pair them up.

High Modernism or High Modernity is a philosophy that science will solve all of the problems that afflict the world. Zelazny touched on this concept with the Bridge of Ashes.

Chimeric means having parts from different animals.

The Piltdown Man was a famous hoax, of a fossil purported to be a an earlier human species.

DSMO is dimethyl sulfoxide. It has several unusual properties. It absorbs other liquids very readily and it penetrates the skin, delivering whatever compounds dissolved in it to its target.  Sodium cyanide is a poison. This is a reference to the fountain shield which Yama employed in Lord of Light.

"Awake, arise, or be forever fallen" is a phrase from Paradise Lost that seems to work its way into everything I've ever written.

A Night in the Lonesome October-Fest Page

I made a page for the Lonesome October day-by-day posts. It also has a number of interesting Lonesome October themed links from around the web.

It's in the navigation bar at the top of every page or you can follow this link:

Lonesome October-Fest Page

October 22: A Night in the Lonesome October-fest


 October 22 is probably my least favorite chapter in the book, for reasons I will address shortly. I do, however, enjoy the opening and the ending.

     "A chihuahua?"  The thing in the circle suggested.  "Just for laughs?"
   "Nope," I answered.  "Language barrier."
   "Come on!" it said.  "I'm almost strong enough to break out of here on my own now.  It won't go well with you if you keep me till I do." 
     "'Almost,'" I said, "isn't good enough." 
     It growled.  I growled back.  It flinched.  I was still in control.
Gray and Snuff continue mapping possibilities for the site of the endgame, now accounting for the Count's extra locations, but still come up empty, with this site being no more suitable than the others. They discuss the Game.
     "Do the Games always get confusing at some point?  Do they mess up the players' thinking, ideas, values?" 
 "Always.  Especially as events begin to cascade and accelerate near the end.  We create a kind of vortex about us just by being here and doing certain things.  Your confusion may trip you up.  Somebody else's confusion may save you."
 "You're saying that it gets weird, but it all cancels out?"
 "Pretty much, I think.  Till the end, of course."

I thought that Zelazny did a great job conveying this acceleration of events, with the short chapters in the beginning laying the groundwork so that the longer ones near the end could provide the narrative dividends.

They investigate some runic rocks and Gray accidentally draws the attention of the Elders with an offhanded remark ("Well, I hope the whole gang of them appreciates all this trouble," she said, "Nyarlathotep, Chthulu, and all the rest of the unpronounceables.  Makes me wish I had a nice simple job catching mice for some farmer's wife...”)

Insert your own Army of Darkness and/or Beetlejuice joke here.

Snuff pulls Gray away from a lightning strike, but the pair gets sucked into the gateway from which it originated, and then they're between their world and the Dreamlands.

This is the most Lovecraftian segment of the book and the only section that I really wish had been shorter. Gray goes on about the geography of the Dreamlands in a trance.

The imagery is nice. Zelazny was a poet, after all. But it goes on forever and ever and ever.

When Gray is finally finished recounting the travelogue about the king of Ilek-Vad coming up the Oukranos River from the Cerenerian Sea to visit the jasper terraces of Kiran, we arrive at the rose-crystal Palace of the Seventy Delights, where an ancient Primal Cat has called Gray.

     When we came into its precincts, I beheld a small, gray form, the only other living thing in sight, sunning itself on the terrace before the palace, head upraised, regarding us.  Graymalk led us that way.  It proved to be an ancient cat, lying on a square of black onyx. 
 Drawing near and prostrating herself, she said, "Hail, High Purring One." 
     "Graymalk, daughter," he answered.  "Hello.  Rise, please." 
     She did, saying, "I believe that I felt your presence at the time of an Elder One's wrath.  Thank you." 
     "Yes.  I have been watching for all of your month," he said.  "You know why." 
     "I do." 
     He turned his head, antique yellow eyes meeting my own.  I lowered my head out of respect for his venerability, and because Graymalk obviously regarded him as someone of great importance. 
     "You come in the company of a dog." 
 "Snuff is my friend," she said.  "He pulled me out of a well, cast me back from the Elder One's lightning." 
     "Yes, I saw him move you when it fell, right before I decided to call you here.  He is welcome.  Hello, Snuff." 
 "Hello, sir," I answered. 
     Slowly, the old cat rose to his feet, arched his back, stretched low, righted himself. 
"Times," he said, "are complicated just now.  You have entered an unusual design.  Come walk with me, daughter, that I may impart a small wisdom concerning the final day.  For some things seem too small for the Great Ones' regard, and a cat may know that which the Elder Gods do not." 
     She glanced at me, and since few can tell when I am smiling, I nodded my head.
    They strolled along into the temple itself, and I wondered whether, somewhere, an ancient wolf in a high, craggy place were watching us, always alert, his only message, "Keep watching, Snuff, always."  I could almost hear his timeless growl from the places beneath thought. 
I sniffed about, waiting.  It was hard to tell how long they were gone in a place without time.  But it followed that it should not seem to take long.  Nor did it.

I like that whole scene. I forget who first observed it, but seems like people always assume cats of unknown gender are female and unknown dogs are male, so it was unusual to see the Elder Cat as male.

When they return, the elder cat offers Snuff the boon of an answer to any one question. Snuff asks what tomorrow holds.
     Then, "Blood," he said.  "Seas and messes of it all around you.  And you will lose a friend.  Go now through the gate." 
     Graymalk stepped into the rectangle, was gone.  
     "Thanks, I guess," I said. 
     "Carpe baculum!" he added as I followed, somehow knowing that I recalled a bit of my Latin, and doubtless getting some obscure cat-laugh out of telling me to fetch a stick in a classical language.  You get used to little digs from cats about being a dog, though I'd thought their boss might be above that sort of thing.  Still, he is a cat, and he probably hadn't seen a dog in a long time and just couldn't resist. 
     "Et cum spiritu tuo," I replied, moving forward and entering. 
     "Benedicte," I heard his distant response as I drifted again in that place between worlds.
     Carpe baculum! "Seize the stick." "Fetch", in other words. I think the book could have coasted on being "merely" a fantastically well-written novel based around a brilliant concept, but what really makes it a classic to which I, and other readers return every year, is how deftly Zelazny ties everything together at the end.

They return home through a gateway and Snuff tells Gray about where he goes when he dreams: I'm back in a primal wood with an old wolf named Growler.  He teaches me things.

I think that's the best evidence for the viewpoint that Snuff is a dog, in that he is instructed by the Ur-Dog. I just don't see Jack or the infernal forces that might give rise to a demon that could be bound in dog form having a primal force like Growler on retainer in order to teach pretend dogs to pass for real ones.