The Veil is a land of mists. It is a curtain that separates our world from another world. The way through the curtain is called “The Last Door” (Chapters 4 and 6), which Alexandre also refers to as “Zha'ilathal” (Chapter 4). According to Alexandre, our world is a place of shadows and silhouettes, while the other world contains the truth. He also described our world as being a stage, and our lives as performances. Alexandre hoped to “raise the curtain enough to walk off the stage and go beyond” (Chapter 4). Some people have said that the other world is terrifying. Cpt. Skidd described it as an abyss filled with “horrors” and “unspeakable shapes” (Chapter 5). Brighid Laidcend said it was where “the ultimate truth screams in terror” (Chapter 7). (I don’t think that Brighid glimpsed the other world herself, but she might have read about it in Máire’s journal.)
When Devitt explored the bookshop in Chapter 3, he found a book entitled Unexplored Places in the Empire. It included a description of "The Place of the Eternal Fog," which is also known as Zhai-La. It's possible that Zhai-La is another name for Zha'ilathal. Zhai-La is described as being "a unique bay in the East of Baleshwar, near the jungles of Bengala. It is surrounded by tall, snow-capped mountains. Usually covered in mist, the waters of the bay are very dangerous and rarely visited." In the same bookshop, Devitt found a book entitled The Songs of Zhai-La, which included The Search for Simurg.
Birds in the Veil (and Beyond)
When people explore the Veil, they often describe seeing a bird, an eye of the bird, a bird king, or the Simurg. I’m guessing that these are all different names for the same being. The Simurg apparently lives beyond the Veil. Father Ernest said that the Veil separated our world from the eye of the bird (Chapter 2). Alexandre said that “the great wings beat” behind the curtain (Chapter 4). Devitt described the eye of the bird as being dark, malicious, horrifying, and accompanied with pain-filled screams. He said that its language is fear (Chapter 2). However, the Simurg has also been described as being a guide and a protector (Chapter 3). Those who see the Simurg are apparently compelled to approach it. Devitt said that he was drawn to the eye, and that he felt an agony that grew “increasingly unbearable.” Ernest said, "The Eye of the Bird saw us, it remembers us, it looks for us, it calls us from its dark nest, from its abominable lair." He said he was “seized by curiosity” that deprived him of sanity (Chapter 2). Alexandre said that the Simurg is beckoning to people and that its power is increasing (Chapters 3).
Aside from the Simurg, travelers in the Veil sometimes see or hear birds. Some birds might be benevolent, like the hoopoe. However, the crows are often depicted as being malicious and deadly. When Devitt was in the Veil, the fortune teller said that the crows were searching for "the moans of the weak and dying." The violinist said that the crows were searching for the Simurg (Chapter 3). When people are injured in the Veil, their injuries may suggest that they had been attacked by animals (for example, scratch marks on the stomach) (Chapters 2 and 5).
Birds also appear in stories about the Veil. One of Wright’s books described birds that were looking for their king. They included the wise hoopoe, the prudent robin, and the wretched crow. The hoopoe and the robin guided 28 birds away from the land of mists. The others followed the crow and were lost in the mists (Chapter 6). A woman named Ms. Parnell also heard a story about birds in the Veil. When she entered the Veil, she heard a story about travelers that were lost in the fog. In that story, the travelers saw 30 birds who were waiting for their king (Collector’s Edition). I suspect that the robin and the hoopoe live with the Simurg, but that the crows are stuck in the Veil. Curiously, I don't know if anyone has ever described meeting a crow in the Veil.
In Chapter 3, Devitt heard crows in the distance. At the end of the Chapter, Alexandre said, "the Bird protects us" (Chapter 3). I have the impression that the Simurg protected Devitt by leading him away from the crows. If so, then perhaps the crows are not necessarily loyal to the Simurg, or at least they’re not fully under his control.
The Veil might also be inhabited by “sentinels.” Skidd described meeting a deadly sentinel in the Veil (Chapter 5). Lord Donnán apparently venerates a sentinel that is both a threat and a protector (Chapter 7). It conceivable that these sentinels are crows or another type of bird.
It’s also conceivable that there is no Simurg, or that it’s more of an abstract concept. The “compulsion” of the Simurg might be simply the compulsion that we feel when we witness a terrible truth. However, that theory does not explain why birds are a common motif.
Incidentally, I wonder if Máire turned into a particular species of bird. I don't know for a fact that she had partly turned into a bird, but it looks like she did. If so, I’d be interested in whether she became part hoopoe, part crow, or a different type of bird.
Exploring the Veil
There seem to be two ways to enter the Veil: using a serum or experiencing “primal terror.” There might also be some locations where the Veil is easier to find, such as the Cronemeadan or Majuba Hill. It’s also possible that there’s nothing special about those locations, except that terrifying things happened there.
I’m not sure what happens to a person’s body when they enter the Veil. When Devitt entered the Veil at the end of Chapter 2, the nuns found him buried in the ground. They said that he had been unconscious for a day. However, when Hugo entered the Veil, I have the impression that he physically passed through an archway. Since the archway faced a stone wall, presumably he vanished from our world (unlike Devitt).
It’s possible to meet other people in the Veil. These people might be real or they might be “shades of the departed” (Chapter 4, Collector’s Edition). In the Veil, Devitt apparently met Alexandre (Chapters 3 and 4) and Wakefield (Chapter 7). In Chapter 3, he met several other people, though it’s unclear if they were real or shades. One of those people was Little Cattie. Her journal implied that she was a child in 1843. Since she appeared to be around sixty when Devitt met her, she may have been real and not a shade.
When Baldwin forced Devitt into the Veil, he did the same thing to Ms. Parnell (Collector's Edition). Her experience in the Veil was quite similar to Devitt’s. At first, she found herself in a coffin. Then she traveled through a memory, a deserted city (Aberdeen), a heavy mist, and finally a beach. She encountered three people in the city. Like Devitt, she had a mysterious guide. Unlike Devitt, the guide was a woman who gave her a tarot card and (apparently) led her to the Simurg.
The Veil seems to be associated with silence. When Devitt emerged from the coffin in Chapter 3, a nearby sign said, "Eyes close, ears muffle and voices hush in the land that loves silence." When Ms. Parnell was in the Veil, she heard part of a story that included the lines, "The shadows of the past soon melted within the land that loves silence. Within the fog they walked, found themselves lost." According to The Book of Birds, "without the hoopoe and the robin silence would have fallen forever." (The hoopoe and the robin led the birds away from the path of mists.) In the schoolhouse in Éilís Mór, the sign over the door said, "The Wisdom of Silence."
I have the impression that the Veil has recently gotten more dangerous. Many of the victims of St. Gall seem
to have died in the Veil. However, Cpt. Skidd never mentioned that the Veil itself was dangerous (his concern was with the abyss beyond). Skidd probably traveled to the Veil in the 1880s, while the victims at St. Gall probably died in 1891. Therefore, the Veil might be more dangerous in 1891 than it was in the 1880s. (It’s also possible that the Veil has not gotten more dangerous, and the people in St. Gall died in the Veil because they were not prepared for the experience.)
Some people seemed to have been physically transformed while in the Veil. Hugo may have become a giant hand monster (Chapters 6 and 7) and Máire turned into a part-bird (Chapter 7). Kieran and Old Mike were also apparently physically transformed and may have entered the Veil (Chapters 4 and 7).
The Last Door
It’s relatively easy to reach the Veil, but it’s hard to cross the Last Door. Skidd said that many people in The Playwright entered the Veil, but no one could cross the threshold into the abyss beyond (Chapter 5). At some point, Anthony became concerned that, if the door was opened, beings from the other world could use it to enter our world (Chapter 4). It’s unclear whether the Last Door is currently open. At the end of Chapter 4, Alexandre said to Devitt, “Open [the Last Door] and we will walk together beyond the mist.” Ernest said that the Four Witnesses “opened that which should not be opened” (Chapter 2), but I don’t necessarily think that he’s very reliable.
Supernatural Activity in Our World
However, there is a certain amount of supernatural activity in our world. Obviously, there's the monster in Wickport (Chapters 6 and 7). Ms. Parnell brought back a tarot card that she received in the Veil (Collector’s Edition). Alexandre and Professor Wright were both stalked by unseen beings (Chapters 4 and 6). Miss Konhe apparently turned into a flock of crows. Just before it happened, she said “they are coming” and “they are letting him in” (Chapter 5). I suspect that the crows used Miss Konhe to enter our world. If that’s true, then the crows from Chapter 1 might also have crossed over from the Veil. Perhaps they were drawn to the Beechworths, who were “weak and dying.”
Several people have heard terrifying, unearthly sounds. Outside of East Hill Asylum, a newspaper boy heard a sound like a devil from hell (Chapter 5). While sailing in a storm, Captain Morvell heard a sound that was unlike any that he had heard before (Chapter 6). When Miss Konhe turned into crows, Wakefield heard a sound that he could not describe (Chapter 6). In the case of Miss Konhe, the sounds coincided with creatures entering our world. Maybe the other sounds also occurred while something was crossing over from the Veil. There are also the strange wails that Lord Donnán said could be heard in the marshes of Éilís Mór (Chapter 7). However, I suspect that the creatures in Éilís Mór are not crossing over, but that the Veil is a little “thin” there, and the sounds are the echoes of creatures that live on the other side.
If the Veil is associated with silence, it's striking that people in our world have heard supernatural voices.
People often have a general sense of being watched, and not just by the Simurg. Anthony said, “I’m done with their censorious gazes.” Anna said, “I can’t stand their stares” (Chapter 1). Alexandre felt that sculptures were stalking him (Chapter 4). An inmate in the East Hill isolation ward was terrified by an “eyeless gaze” coming from Alexandre’s cell (Chapter 5). When Devitt and Wakefield crossed into the Veil, they both saw clusters of eyes (Chapters 4 and 7). Maybe the Veil usually protects you from the gaze of creatures from the other world. However, if you enter the Veil, you risk being seen by those creatures. Once they see you, perhaps the Veil provides no further protection.
It’s possible that these creatures can see not only the people who have been to the Veil, but also the people that are close to those people. For example, Anna felt watched and possessed, even though I haven’t heard that she ever entered the Veil. Maybe the creatures could see her because she was close to Anthony. Maybe something similar happened with Father Ernest and Father Eugene.
It’s also possible that these creatures exist in our world, but they take the form of mundane objects. For example, the portraits in the Beechworth house (Chapter 1) and the sculptures in Alexandre’s house (Chapter 4) might be the “shadows” of creatures that live in the other world.
Rational Thought and Primal Horror
People who seek the Last Door often try to move from a rational state to a more primal state. Professor Wright referred to the Veil as “the Veil of rational thought” (Chapter 6). Devitt described the eye of the bird as “something beyond human logic” (Chapter 2). This primal state might be animalistic. Some travelers to the Veil seem to have been partially transformed into animals, such as Old Mike and Máire (Chapters 4 and 7). In the Veil, Ms. Parnell saw a priest saying Mass to a group of animals (Collector’s Edition). In Chapter 6, Wright’s riddle led from a Greek philosopher to the “primal horror” of a lion. The philosopher was Anaxagoras. He believed that in the beginning, everything already existed, but in a chaotic state (or perhaps a primal state). According to Anaxagoras, reasoning minds have arranged and purified substances, but everything still contains traces of its original chaotic nature. Similarly, perhaps the world beyond the Veil (the world of “truth”) more closely resembles our world in its “primal” form than in its “refined” form.
In general, the Last Door series seems to suggest a paradox: that in order to evolve, we must first regress. In order to see the truth, we must put aside our rational preconceptions. The Simurg is a both a “higher being” (a god) and a “lower being” (a wild animal).
Devitt (Chapter 2) and Wakefield (Chapter 5) each had a dream involving a wolf, a vulture, and a snake. These animals appeared in the context of a story or a performance. If Alexandre is right, and our lives are merely performances, then maybe these animals represent specific characters? Brighid’s journal mentioned “the lair of the snake and the bird” (Chapter 7). Is there a connection?
- Anaxagoras (Wikipedia entry)