The excerpt above is Sabine Strohem’s last letter to Griffin Moss taken from the first book of the Griffin & Sabine trilogy. (Re-visit their first correspondence by reading this review.) Their extraordinary correspondence continues with Sabine’s Notebook and concludes in The Golden Mean. While Nick Bantock used the same technique in the sequels as he did in the first book, the plot becomes more intriguing and readers are further drawn into the mystery surrounding Griffin and Sabine.
I bought Sabine’s Notebook the same time I bought Griffin and Sabine. When I decided to write a review on the latter, I figured it would only make sense if I review the second and third installments. (By the way, I thank the gods for local libraries for it was there I found a copy of The Golden Mean.). My initial plan was to do separate reviews for Sabine’s Notebook and The Golden Mean. However, due to work and illness, I decided to come up with a 2-in-1 special for GB’s Message in a Bottle theme instead.
The Correspondence Continues
Sabine’s Notebook begins with Griffin’s letter addressed to Sabine in the event of her arriving at 41 Yeats Ave, London, NW3. Yes, Sabine left Sicmon Islands to be with Griffin. And yes, Griffin, consumed by fear and paranoia, fled. (He tried to rationalize his fear by embarking on a journey to seven different countries scattered in four continents.)
You scare me—who are you? Are you my lover or are you that dark angel whose picture came through my letterbox yesterday? I cannot stay here to find out. Do you understand? I want you to be the woman I have dreamt of, to see you, to touch you, to be with you, and yet the possibility that you are a malevolent creature grown from my insanity appalls me. So I am running away. —Griffin, Jan 29
Ever heard of the saying, “before you can love others, you must first learn to love yourself?” This, I think, is what’s happening here. While Griffin may be labeled as a coward for fleeing, his journey would allow him to face his inner demons, find himself, learn to be trusting, and eventually find the courage to face Sabine.
The following images are postcards from the different countries that Griffin had traveled to. The last one is a world map showing his entire journey. (Just because I do not have Photoshop does not mean I cannot use Paint. Haha.)
Sabine’s arrival at London and Griffin’s flight to the Sicmon Islands is reminiscent of Aesop’s fable, The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse. Each gains insight on the life of the other. Moreover, we see some sort of role reversal, although Griffin admitted in one of his postcards that his journey had become a pilgrimage on its own. However, while Sabine was enjoying herself in the bustling streets of London and the comfort of Griffin’s home with his cat Minnaloushe, Griffin’s obsession with reaching the Sicmon Islands almost cost [him his] life.
Two days out from the Solomons we were hit by a freak wave and I was catapulted overboard. I don’t swim, and I went straight down. —Griffin, July 4th
It seemed as if nature had prepared its own course for Griffin, as if it knew he was coming to Sicmon Islands and, therefore, tried to stop him from setting foot on Sabine’s hometown. A dramatic turn of events indeed!
In Griffin’s final postcard, which he named The Second Coming, he told Sabine that his mind had been clearing steadily. He knew who she was, what they were, and what they would be to one another. He announced his arrival on the 23rd of July, but nothing could ever prepare him for it. He found his house empty, as if no one had lived there for days.
If that gave you the chills, you might want to read this:
I received your Paris card.
I waited, but you did not return on the 23rd.
I waited until the 31st, but you did not return.
What happened? Where are you?
Write to me, Griffin.
I had to stop for a moment to digest everything I’ve read. I felt as if there was no hope for these lovers. Not only were their paths not able to cross, it seemed as if time and space have turned against them. Truly, it wasn’t what I had expected. Then again, after reading Griffin & Sabine, nothing is what it seems.
The Correspondence Concludes
In The Golden Mean, the final chapter of the Griffin and Sabine trilogy, Griffin and Sabine continue to write despite eluding each other twice in a row. The postcards in this book are less dark than those in the first two. However, the plot becomes even more complicated as Sabine’s crystalline visions of Griffin’s artwork grow cloudy and dim, and a threatening stranger begins to appear everywhere she goes, showing signs of interest in her correspondence with Griffin.
Since I returned, the islands seem subtly different. I can’t explain it, but something is bothering me. I’m having a hard time starting work on the new stamp designs. Probably my eyes lost their innocence in the six months I was in London. Yet I could swear the air is murky. —Sabine, on her September letter to Griffin
That Sabine’s eyes had been ‘poisoned’ by the city of London is an interesting idea. Here is an island girl who knew nothing of the city. Then, in her desire to meet a stranger, Sabine leaves her sanctuary to set foot in unfamiliar grounds. I speak for Sabine when I say how overwhelming it must have been for her, being tangled up in all sorts of sights and sounds.
The stranger mentioned above goes by the name of Victor Frolatti. He writes to Griffin telling him how he (Frolatti) met Sabine and found out about their close relationship. He continues by saying, “Would you mind giving me a few details? Nothing personal. Just a little background information about the form of your communication.”
This ‘form of communication’ that Victor Frolatti spoke of actually reminded me of the movie, The Lake House, starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. The movie tells the story of Alex Wyler and Kate Forster, respectively an architect living in 2004 and a doctor living in 2006. The two meet via letters left in a mailbox at the lake house they have both lived in at separate points in time. Like Griffin and Sabine, Alex and Kate tried to meet but failed a few times.
My favorite postcard in The Golden Mean is the one containing Griffin’s “banana boat story.”
According to Griffin’s story, Puck, the well-known wizard and changer of things (including himself), has had his wand stolen by the dreaded lugs. So Puck sets off in pursuit, with his sidekick, Fin. However, without his wand, his spells only half-work, and he and Fin end up as a semi-banana-boat, heading downstream to recapture the wand. Although the story was never finished and never mentioned again, I liked it for its magical element and childlike wonder.
The golden mean in philosophy, especially in Aristotelian philosophy, is the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency. In Buddhism, this is referred to as the “middle way.” In mathematics, the golden mean is a concept which expresses the relationship of two parts of a whole with each other and with the whole.
The heart of the story of Griffin and Sabine lies in their search for the golden mean—the harmony of perfect balance. As the doors start closing in on our star-crossed lovers, Griffin and Sabine decided to meet halfway. Their “middle way” was Alexandria, Egypt where they hope to meet and finally be together. Like the first two books, The Golden Mean is not without surprises.
This was the unusual postcard received by a young doctor in Kenya named Matthew Sedon. If Lemony Snicket’s The Beatrice Letters, as reviewed by Myra, was the love letter to end all love letters, then this is the postcard to end all postcards. The elements that make up the story of Griffin and Sabine are all bundled up in this postcard. (To understand what I’m saying, I suggest you read the trilogy. Heh.)
Commentary on the Postcards in The Golden Mean
I have never looked closely at the postcards from Griffin and Sabine, and Sabine’s Notebook. However, the first postcard in The Golden Mean, entitled “Fool’s Mate” tickled my curiosity. I decided to try to make sense of the postcards because I believe they set the pace of the story—or, at least, speak of the fate of our lovers.
Fool’s Mate. In the game of chess, this is also known as the two-move checkmate. This is considered the quickest possible checkmate in the game. The term was coined because this move can only happen if the White plays extraoridnarily weakly—like a fool. As previously mentioned, this was the first postcard written by Griffin, expressing how baffled he was that Sabine was not there when he returned, that there was no sign of her being there. They evaded each other once again, and Griffin was probably regretting his flight.
Sfumato. This is considered to be one of the four painting modes during the Renaissance. The Italian word ‘sfumato’ translates to the terms ‘to vanish’ or ‘to shade.’ The painting appears as though a veil of smoke had drifted between the subject of the painting and the viewer. Griffin sent this postcard after receiving the mysterious letter from Victor Frolatti. Griffin’s apprehension can be felt in his words masked by childishness (i.e. ‘He calls you dear Sabine—patronize fart! It’s weird getting a card from the islands from someone other than you. I don’t like it.’) Frolatti’s sudden involvement in their affair is the veil of smoke that had drifted between them. (Could this, perhaps, account for Sabine’s cloudy vision?)
Wheel of Fortune. Chance, luck, fate, destiny—you name it! In James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code, the idea of Greek fate was explored. According to the Greeks, events happen to people. They cannot understand why it happened, but since it happened, evidently, “it had to be.” But James Hillman argues that fate only causes events that are unusual and don’t fit in. As rational beings, we find ‘reasons’ that can account for the events that happened. As Frolatti becomes more and more pressing, Griffin is tempted to write to him and tell him to ‘go to hell.’ Is this Griffin’s attempt to ‘protect’ their relationship? Or is he just desperately clinging to the idea that he and Sabine are lovers meant to be together, and therefore nothing is supposed to come between them?
The Hung Boy. Taking it literally—’hung’ being a past participle of hang—this refers to a form of judicial execution, particularly in England, during the Anglo-Saxon period. At the beginning of 19th century Britain, children were punished in the same way as adults. Five children criminals were hung at the Old Bailey. (I mention this as a literal translation of Griffin’s postcard showing a young boy looking sideways and a man hung upside down on the opposite side.) ‘Hung’ is slang for anxious/nervous, or overly preoccupied (as in ‘hung up‘). As The Golden Mean comes close to an end, and Griffin and Sabine start running out of solutions, we see a change in Griffin’s handwriting. In all the postcards prior to The Hung Boy, all words are capitalized. Here, his writing becomes italicized. Could this be a manifestation of his growing anxiety? A more drastic change can be seen in his last postcard. Not only is his handwriting italicized, but he no longer capitalizes his words. If this does not account for his anxiety, could this transition account for something else? Their union, perhaps?
The Gordian Mirror. While there is indeed such a term as a ‘gordian mirror,’ I prefer to attribute this last postcard to the gordian knot. (You will literally see a cut rope in the postcard.) The Gordian knot is used as a metaphor for an intractable problem solved by a bold stroke. In their final course, Griffin agrees to meet Sabine at the Pharos in Alexandria. This was the ‘gate’ that Griffin found that could open into a different world, where he and Sabine can be together. Could the mirror represent the plane that divides both of them? Alas, we can only provide guesses, not answers entirely.
Jungian Psychology: The Anima/Animus
The mere mention of Jungian psychology in one of Griffin’s letters to Sabine, as well as the discovery that Nick Bantock has Jungian background, drove me to research on the subject matter and find the connection between Carl Jung’s theory/ies and Griffin and Sabine. Carl Jung is famous for his archetypes, and the Anima/Animus archetype is one of them. The Anima refers to the archetype around which a man organizes his unconscious feminine aspects. The Animus, on the other hand, refers to the corresponding archetype around which a woman organizes her unconscious masculine aspects.
As was pointed out in the Griffin & Sabine review, both Griffin and Sabine appear to possess feminine and masculine characteristics respectively. Jung theorized that the Anima and Animus may be projected onto romantic prospects, profoundly impacting the choice of mate for better or worse. Because Jungian psychology is as complicated as the correspondence of Griffin and Sabine, I will use excerpts from James Hillman‘s book entitled The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, as suggested by Myra. These were taken from Hillman’s discussion on Love.
According to Jungian psych, the projection—the object of desire—springs from archetypal source as part of each soul’s intimate essence… The Jungian “love map” is a complex image that brings about the fall and the feeling that it is a call of fate. The more obsessive and compelling the image, the more madly in love you become. (p. 141)
The meeting between lover and beloved is a “meeting of images, an exchange of imaginations…” When we imagine strongly, we begin to fall in love with images conjured before heart’s eye. (p. 147) — This accounts for Griffin’s inability to stop loving Sabine. Also, this supports his irrational belief that Sabine was a product of his insanity. He was “in love” because of imagination.
The [beloved] becomes a divinity exteriorized. (p. 145) — The “call,” the “destiny” is so strong that Griffin is “tormented, possessive, dependent, in pain.”
There are so many theories that one can come up with while reading Griffin and Sabine. While some may lack the resources to fully understand their story, others may over-analyze it. The beauty of the correspondence of Griffin and Sabine lies not only in its exquisite illustrations but also in the fact that it is open to so many interpretations. I can go on and on in this review, yet I will not be able to fully capture the essence of their story.
I have read both the Griffin and Sabine trilogy and The Morning Star trilogy. I can understand why most people are disappointed with the latter, claiming that Griffin and Sabine’s correspondence went downhill from there. Allow me to quote the character of Bethany Church in Alexandra Adornetto’s Halo: Sometimes, it’s better to stop trying to make sense of things. Life isn’t clear cut; there are always gray areas.
While it is true that Nick Bantock does not give readers clear cut answers to the baffling mystery that surrounds Griffin and Sabine, the magic of the book comes from its ability to “preserve” this mystery. Even after a decade, Griffin and Sabine will have the same effect on you. (Trust me; I’ve been there.)
The correspondence of Griffin and Sabine is inspired by William Butler Yeats’ The Second Coming. Because I am such a nerd, I came up with this:
THE SECOND COMING
Turning and turning in (title page Griffin & Sabine) the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer (The Gryphon);
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence (Griffin & Sabine last postcard) is drowned;
The best lack all conviction , while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand (Alexandria title page);
Surely the Second Coming (Sabine’s Notebook 2nd to last postcard) is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out (Sabine’s Notebook ending)
When a vast image (The Golden Mean) out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight (The Golden Mean): a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep (Alexandria last page)
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last (The Morning Star),
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? (The Golden Mean Feb 22 postcard)