The Wasp Factory

by

Iain Banks

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Old Saul’s Skull Symbol Analysis

Old Saul’s Skull Symbol Icon

Old Saul, the family’s dog, attacked Frank when Frank was a small child, and supposedly castrated him. Angus immediately killed Old Saul and buried him in the Skull Grounds. Ten years later, Frank excavated Old Saul’s skull, and now he uses it as a tool in his rituals. To him, the skull represents the power taken from him when he lost his genitals and, in his mind, his ability to grow into an adult man. By physically claiming the object, Frank can reclaim some of his lost power. In general, then, Old Saul’s skull symbolizes Frank’s obsessive need to use rituals and objects he sees as powerful to gain a sense of control over his life, and to claim some of the potential he feels was stolen from him.

Old Saul’s Skull Quotes in The Wasp Factory

The The Wasp Factory quotes below all refer to the symbol of Old Saul’s Skull. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Ritual and Superstition  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon & Schuster edition of The Wasp Factory published in 1998.
Chapter 5 Quotes

I lay in bed. Soon I would have to try some long-range fixing of this problem. It was the only way. I’d have to try to influence things through the root cause of it all: Old Saul himself. Some heavy medicine was required if Eric wasn’t to wreck single-handedly the entire Scottish telephone network and decimate the country’s canine population. First, though, I would have to consult the Factory again.

It wasn’t exactly my fault, but I was totally involved, and I might just be able to do something about it, with the skull of the ancient hound, the Factory’s help and a little luck. How susceptible my brother would be to whatever vibes I could send out was a question I didn’t like too much to think about, given the state of his head, but I had to do something.

I hoped the little puppy had got well away. Dammit, I didn’t hold all dogs to blame for what happened. Old Saul was the culprit, Old Saul had gone down in our history and my personal mythology as the Castraitor, but thanks to the little creatures who flew the creek I had him in my power now.

Eric was crazy all right, even if he was my brother. He was lucky to have somebody sane who still liked him.

Related Symbols: Old Saul’s Skull
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

… I would try to contact Eric through the skull of Old Saul. We are brothers, after all, even if only half so, and we are both men, even if I am only half so. At some deep level we understand each other, even though he is mad and I am sane. We even had that link I had not thought of until recently, but which might come in useful now: we have both killed, and used our heads to do it.

It occurred to me then, as it has before, that that is what men are really for. Both sexes can do one thing specially well; women can give birth and men can kill. We – I consider myself an honorary man – are the harder sex. We strike out, push through, thrust and take. The fact that it is only an analogue of all this sexual terminology I am capable of does not discourage me. I can feel it in my bones, in my uncastrated genes. Eric must respond to that.

Related Symbols: Old Saul’s Skull
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

…[Eric] had been too much for me. The conflagration in his head was just too strong for anybody sane to cope with. It had a lunatic strength of total commitment about it which only the profoundly mad are continually capable of, and the most ferocious soldiers and most aggressive sportsmen able to emulate for a while. Every particle of Eric’s brain was concentrated on his mission of returning and setting fire, and no normal brain – not even mine, which was far from normal and more powerful than most – could match that marshaling of forces. Eric was committed to total War, a Jihad; he was riding the Divine Wind to at least his own destruction, and there was nothing I could do about it this way.

Related Symbols: Old Saul’s Skull
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:
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Old Saul’s Skull Symbol Timeline in The Wasp Factory

The timeline below shows where the symbol Old Saul’s Skull appears in The Wasp Factory. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3: In the Bunker
Ritual and Superstition  Theme Icon
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
...He explains that this destruction “was all for a purpose…I was looking for Old Saul’s skull.”  (full context)
Ritual and Superstition  Theme Icon
...it into a kind of shrine. Inside he has filled it with candles and the skull of Old Saul. He has placed a candle in the dog’s skull, and lights it. (full context)
Chapter 5: A Bunch of Flowers
Ritual and Superstition  Theme Icon
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Sanity and Insanity  Theme Icon
Sexism and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...all: Old Saul himself.” He hopes he can somehow use the Factory, and Old Saul’s skull to send “vibes” out to Eric.  Frank explains that he doesn’t “hold all dogs to... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Skull Grounds
Ritual and Superstition  Theme Icon
Sexism and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Old Saul’s skull was buried on a hill behind the house, which Frank eventually named the Skull Grounds.... (full context)
Ritual and Superstition  Theme Icon
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Sexism and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...had to kill his pet gerbils, mice, and hamsters so he could find Old Saul’s skull. He wasn’t allowed to dig up the pet graveyard; instead, he killed dozens of rodents... (full context)
Chapter 7: Space Invaders
Ritual and Superstition  Theme Icon
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Sanity and Insanity  Theme Icon
Sexism and Gender Roles Theme Icon
...give him a sense of the future. Then he will contact Eric using Old Saul’s skull. Frank believes that “at some deep level” he and Eric “understand each other, even though... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Wasp Factory
Ritual and Superstition  Theme Icon
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Sanity and Insanity  Theme Icon
Frank places one hand on Old Saul’s skull, closes his eyes, and pictures Eric’s face. He feels himself transported into Eric’s mind and... (full context)