Daniel reveals that when he was younger, he dreamed of being a novelist. His ambitions centered around a fantastic fountain pen he saw in a shop. Daniel is convinced that this pen is capable of creating superlative literature or even of writing letters to “that unknowable” place where Daniel’s mother has gone. The shopkeeper tells Daniel and Mr. Sempere that the pen belonged to Victor Hugo; because of this, it’s incredibly expensive. Mr. Sempere tells Daniel they can’t afford such a luxury, but promises that when Daniel is old enough to write, they’ll return and buy it.
Daniel believes that the fountain pen will allow him to write things he otherwise couldn’t. This is clearly naïve, but it reflects a belief he’ll carry into adulthood—that even though the literary world proceeds directly from human imagination, it is also an external sphere somewhat independent of human design. Daniel also equates the possibility of writing great books to the possibility of contacting his dead mother, again showing the connection between his feelings for books and the women in his life.
If the fountain pen is longer there, Mr. Sempere says, they’ll have the watchmaker, Don Federico, make a copy. Don Federico is known throughout the neighborhood for his mechanical talent, as well as for being gay and occasionally dressing up in drag.
Although postwar Barcelona is a conservative and repressive society, Don Federico’s homosexuality is known and even supported in the neighborhood. Throughout the novel, seemingly minor human relationships emerge as the antidote to cruel and oppressive governments.
Daniel returns to see the pen every weekend, reporting on its status to his father. He tells Mr. Sempere he wants to use it to write to his mother, and is unconvinced when his father insists that his mother isn’t lonely because she’s with God.
Daniel’s belief in the power of writing is stronger than his belief in conventional religion. Even as a child, his beliefs conflict with those of his government, which was highly religious and habitually censored and repressed art.
In the meantime, Daniel starts writing stories with an ordinary pen. He writes about a strange pen, possessed by the soul of a dead author, which reproduces his last work no matter who writes with it. However, Daniel is soon frustrated with his style and “anemic creativity.” He thinks he can only write something good with the fountain pen. Eventually, he grows out of his writing phase, turns to other toys, and forgets about the pen. However, he always remembers his father’s perceptible sadness at not being able to buy his son the one thing he craved.
Like Carax’s work, Daniel’s attempts at writing clearly reflect the events and concerns of his own life. Moreover, while wealth and the ability to buy coveted things are central to other men’s identities and approaches to fatherhood, this is one characteristic Mr. Sempere decidedly lacks.
Daniel returns home from Barceló’s house preoccupied. When Mr. Sempere asks what he’s thinking about, he answers, “the war.” Daniel has never questioned postwar Spain’s atmosphere of “stillness, poverty, and hidden resentment.” But contemplating the death of Clara’s father, he’s astonished that the fearsome men who committed murder during the war are now probably ordinary citizens with children and jobs.
Daniel’s thoughts reflect the disturbing duality of civil war: people who commit crimes during conflicts can also be ordinary and even sympathetic citizens in peacetime. In the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, everyone in Barcelona has to confront and come to terms with this duality, even those like Daniel who can only imagine the actual fighting.
Daniel tells Mr. Sempere that he has befriended Clara and promised to read to her, without commenting on his sudden passion. To change the subject, Daniel asks if it’s true that people often disappeared in Montjuïc Castle during the war. Mr. Sempere only says that after a war “it’s best to leave things alone,” and that Daniel’s mother made him promise never to talk about the war with Daniel.
Mr. Sempere always quells talk of the past, seeking to avoid repeating it (or revisiting its trauma) by ignoring it. In contrast, Daniel will attempt to resolve the past by investigating it exhaustively.
After dinner, Daniel looks out the window and sees a person standing on the street smoking a cigarette. He makes eye contact with Daniel, nods, and limps away. Daniel is frightened because he remembers reading about an identical scene in The Shadow of the Wind, in which the protagonist finds that a stranger was watching him from the street every night and smoking a cigarette. In the novel, this man turns out to be the devil.
This is the first instance in which Daniel explicitly notices that his life mirrors his fascinating book. It’s also important that Carax’s books actually personify the devil, which corresponds to Zafón’s frequent use of angel and devil imagery to describe Daniel’s life.