31 Days of Stories 2009, Day 18: “The Fahrenheit Twins” by Michel Faber

August 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

From The Fahrenheit Twins.

c14922Michel Faber’s chilly update of the biblical Genesis story takes place in an Arctic icescape in what appears to be the near future, but which simultaneously bears a stark resemblance to a primitive civilization. Modern technology abounds, but Faber’s titular twins must negotiate the vast landscape of shifting white and grey by way of a sled dragged by a troupe of huskies. Faber goes out of his way to conflate (or obscure) his story’s timeframe.

The twins, who live “[a]t the icy zenith of the world,” are named, in Atwoodian fashion, Tainto’lilith and Marko’cain, conjuring clearly biblical associations, albeit with vaguely sinister undertones: Lilith is associated with God’s vengeance in the Book of Isaiah, and Cain, of course, is humanity’s first murderer.

These associations appear ironic in Faber’s tale, given that the twins are innocents, whose mother dies after returning with her husband from a research expedition to the village of the mysterious Guhiynui, a tribe that the twins’ parents are studying from their remote Arctic outpost. Following their mother’s death, the twins’ father tells them that they may decide how to put the body to rest. After a fraught debate (which includes intimations of cannibalism), the twins decide to “take their mother away with them into the wilderness,” a plan that their father wholeheartedly embraces, to the extent that he assists them in preparing for their voyage. Predictably, things don’t go as planned, and there are suggestions that their father has intentionally sent the twins to their deaths.

Faber’s story is imbued with biblical allusions, including a downed helicopter, the blades of which form a “monumental steel crucifix” in the snowy plain; the sense that the twins have passed the edge of the land and are “traversing an appended halo of frozen sea-water”; and the “miraculous feast” that saves the sled dogs from starvation on the icy tundra. The twins collect their mother’s sayings in The Book of Knowledge – “a sacred object” – and their mother talks to them about trees that exist beyond “this little paradise,” all of which are clear references to the Garden of Eden. Like the biblical Adam and Eve, the twins’ fall from innocence is not devoid of volition. Indeed, Faber insists on the fact that the children are self-sufficient, not requiring their parents to take care of them. The twins’ trek out into the tundra parallels the biblical loss of Edenic innocence, and their continued invocations of “the universe” to give them a sign on their journey parallels Adam and Eve’s awareness of God’s presence among them.

What the children find once they arrive at the Guhiynui outpost, and their subsequent discovery on their return home, represent a decisive break from the untainted existence that they experienced prior to their mother’s death, when they lived as prince and princess in the Fahrenheits’ monarchy. Like Adam and Eve, the twins are dissatisfied with their apparently utopian existence; they succumb to an irresistible curiosity about the nature of life beyond the reaches of their confined space. Their father, standing in for God in the Genesis story, warns them against their inquisitiveness about what lies beyond the borders of their homestead; their mother, like the snake, tempts them with intimations of all that they are missing:

“What lies beyond?” the twins once asked their father.

“Nothing special,” Boris Fahrenheit replied without looking up from his journals.

“What lies beyond?” they then asked their mother, knowing she tended to see things rather differently.

“Oh, darlings, too much to explain,” she teased. “You’ll see it all, when you’re tired of this little paradise.”

The children must ultimately tire of their “little paradise” and venture into the unknown, where they necessarily lose their innocence in the process of gaining knowledge about their parents’ true natures, which also carry an ironic counterpoint to that of their biblical antecedents. Once possessed of the knowledge of which they previously had been ignorant, the twins determine that they cannot remain locked away in their Arctic enclave. After all, “The Book of Knowledge had a lot of blank pages.”

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