The Familiar, Volume 4: Hades

The Familiar, Volume 4: Hades

by Mark Z. Danielewski


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Mark Z. Danielewski's The Familiar, Volume 4 brilliantly combines inventive visuals and a paradigm-shifting narrative to create a stunning multisensory reading experience.

The Familiar Volume 1 
Wherein the cat is found . . . 
The Familiar Volume 2 
Wherein the cat is hungry . . . 
The Familiar Volume 3 Wherein the cat is blind . . . 
The Familiar 
Volume 4
 Wherein the cat is toothless . . . 

When a viral video puts twelve-year-old Xanther under a spotlight of scrutiny at school, her little white cat—still slumbering, still unnamed—offers the only escape, though it comes at a price. Not even Xanther’s parents can deny the strange currents now shuddering around their eldest, touching off inexplicable happenings. Entities troubling the dreams of the twins seem to have singled out Freya. Despite invitations to a gala at The Met, Anwar fears the solution to their financial difficulties might expose more than just his family to dangerous consequences. Something greater is at hand, something terrible is at stake. And all the while, faces unfamiliar to the Ibrahims draw closer and closer: Jingjing, in Singapore, clutching charms, boards a plane for Los Angeles; Cas and Bobby, with visions of Xanther in Mefisto’s Orb, must elude attacks from the sky. Strangers collide . . . though will those intersections lead to alliances or war? And does the dance at the center of Volume 4 augur the liberation of our better angels or the release of a creature set to feast on the wings of hope?


The Familiar Volume 5 Wherein the cat is named . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375715006
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/07/2017
Pages: 880
Sales rank: 342,455
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 8.90(h) x 2.20(d)

About the Author

MARK Z. DANIELEWSKI was born in New York City and now lives in Los Angeles.


Los Angeles, California

Date of Birth:

March 5, 1966

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


B.A., Yale University, 1988; M.F.A., University of Southern California, 1993

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s conversation of The Familiar, Volume 4: Hades, Mark Z. Danielewski’s entrancing new novel, which continues to trace the paths of nine diverse characters as the Season One Finale approaches in Volume 5. Feel free to wander in your discussions as you share different perspectives and explore the increasing interconnections and mysteries within this vast world.

1. Hades is both the ruler and the realm of the dead. What ghosts are (re)visited in TFv4? Do you think the play Hades is a metaphor for something in the novel? If Astair is Demeter and Xanther is Persephone, who is Hades? What is the relation between Hades and cages, one of the keywords for this volume?

2. Danielewski has said that The Familiar would have been “impossible to conceive had it not been for the sudden efflorescence of great television” (NPR interview). Now that there are four volumes and the finale for the first season is on the horizon (Fall 2017), compare your experience in reading this novel with your experience watching one of the “big” televisual narratives such as The Wire, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, or Breaking Bad. What is it like to read a new volume every 6-8 months? In what sense does Danielewski seem to function like a showrunner? What are the similarities and differences between serial television and a serial novel in today’s media landscape?

3. The word “clip” appears throughout TFv4—as the vignettes Cas views in the orb (pp. 235-238), as the video of the lioness running at Xanther (pp. 142, 211), and as the part of a gun that holds rounds of ammunition (p. 120). What are the similarities among these different kinds of clips? How do video clips circulate in this novel? How and where do guns appear in the different narratives?

4. Smells—honeysuckle, vanilla, smoke—are represented visually with swirling typography. Why and how do smells matter in this narrative? How do they compare with other sensory perceptions? What are the hourglass-like symbols (p. 147) that often accompany scents?

5. Police officers address Bobby and Cas as Sam and Hailey (p. 62)—the “allways sixteen” road (and time-)tripping lovers from Mark Z. Danielewski’s novel Only Revolutions. In what ways are Bobby and Cas like Sam and Hailey?

6. In her nightmares Freya sees “a ladder in the floor” (p. 217). What is this significance of this ladder? What ascents and descents occur in Volume 4?

7. Why do you think Xanther continues to find it so difficult to name the cat?

8. One of Xanther’s possible names for her cat is “Sadat” (p. 436), and the former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat makes an appearance in a Preview at the beginning of the volume. What does knowledge of President Sadat’s biography add to the story of The Familiar? How are historical traumas—the Arab-Israeli conflict or the Armenian genocide—woven into the fictional world(s)?

9. More connections between the nine primary characters are established in this volume, such as Luther crossing paths with Özgür at the shooting range (pp. 138, 674) and with Jingjing in Venice (p. 570). Why is it significant that we see the characters through the eyes of other characters? What information is provided that we do not get from the Narcon or other narrators?

10. The lioness who charges Xanther is named Satya—a Sanskrit word meaning “truth,” or the virtue of truthfulness in actions and in speech. Who demonstrates satya? Why is the lioness named this?

11. Who or what is “A Circle Round a Stone Production” at the very beginning of the book, and what is its possible connection to the nightmare stones that Freya and Shasti are hoarding (p. 748)? Could there be a connection between the nightmare stones and the stones that Xanther flicks (TFv, pp. 251, 388), or the ones that appear on people’s eyes (TFv3, p. 404)? And how do the Circle Round a Stone Production pages differ from each other throughout the volumes?

12. Over the course of Volumes 1-4, we learn that Galvadyne is a massive corporation that wants Anwar to work for them. What might Galvadyne want from Anwar? Given Warlock’s interactions with Özgür and Cas, do you think Galvadyne has any connection to VEM or Recluse?

13. One of the reasons Anwar becomes squeamish about working for Galvadyne in spite of the lucrative job offer is the “drone stuff” (p. 824). How does this possibly connect to the drone attack described in the opening chapter, “Near Little Switzerland” (p. 50)?

14. There is a notable anachronism in the chapter “slashes,” when Xanther asks the Galvadyne executive if he can get tickets to the musical Hamilton. TF-Narco 27 confirms that indeed, in September 2014, this request is “not part of her historical possibilities” (p. 450). There is a related “error” when she translates the Italian phrase, “La perfezione è nemica del bene,” because she doesn’t speak the language (p. 512). And her new math skills are also surprising (p. 746). Where are these abilities coming from?

15. Consider the role of music in this volume: how do you understand the journey that Shnorhk takes with different musicians in his cab? What is his reluctance to play? Why is one of Özgür’s pivotal scenes set in a jazz bar? Why is one of the central family rooms in the Ibrahim household the piano room? How is the tone set from the Paleolithic opening, with a Young Man playing a “strange song on flute” (p. 37)?

16. How is the relationship between Xanther and her cat evolving? What do you make of their simultaneous seizures? What does Xanther mean when she says “I just think we’re really connected . . . but not, like, in just a good way” (p. 691)?

17. One of the keywords for TFv4 is “cynegetics,” which means “hunting” or “chase.” Who hunts and is hunted in Hades? How has your understanding of the Caged Hunt sequences from the Previews changed now that they’ve been incorporated into Isandòrno’s narrative (pp. 182-184)?

18. The folkloric figure of “El Cadejo” is featured on one of Jingjing’s monster cards (p. 779). What does the black hound represent and how does it relate to Hades and/or to the white cat?

19. What happens on p. 53? What has TF-Narcon 27 presumably done? What is the significance of the three references to TFv3?

20. In TFv2 Danielewski used the 2014 Isla Vista shooting as a plot point (TFv2, p. 517), and in this volume he briefly references the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson (p. 435). What do you make of this? Do you think he should include the election of Donald Trump?

21. How is the cross-referencing with previous volumes informing your reading? And how does the pacing of this volume compare with the others?

22. Why do you think Cynthia makes Isandòrno feel uneasy (p. 387)? Is it because he’s unable to read her as quickly as he can others? Or perhaps he sees something of himself in her?

23. Xanther says that “games should relate to the world around us, and not, you know, the entoptic workings of the game’s, you know, machinery” (p. 447). “Entoptic” describes visual phenomena that originate within the eye, rather than in the external world. How does The Familiar function as a non-entoptic novel?

24. When Jingjing, Tian Li, Anwar, and Xanther are all at LAX, both Tian Li and Xanther say “she’s here” (pp. 299, 307), and Tian Li says someone may “kill her” (pp. 301). To whom do you think Tian Li is referring?

25. In TFv3 we learned that Luther’s dad was physically abusive (TFv3, p. 464), and now we know that Shnorhk’s mom was emotionally unavailable (p. 348). What effects do you see of this early abuse or neglect in their lives?

26. What do you expect will happen in Volume 5, the Season One Finale of The Familiar? What do you think Xanther will name her cat, if she’s able to come up with a name? And finally, how do you think the other characters’ paths will intersect?

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The Familiar, Volume 4: Hades 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Familiar has taken a breath in the most incredible way. This book slowed down the plot a hair. It felt like a cat that was rearing back to pounce, and The Familiar is ready to pounce. Structured like a TV show, this "episode" is right before the finale. Even it a tad bit slower of pace it has still succeeded in being my favorite volume of The Familiar. #BeAHymnForGood
batmanofbaylor More than 1 year ago
Having read all of Season 1, I can say without a doubt that this is one of my favorite series of all time. V4 is incredible as the intensity continues to ramp up. MZD is in a league of his own.
Agnes Hayden More than 1 year ago
These Books have truly changed my life! Certain characters of these books felt so real and so relevant, they turned me into a super fan: i started drawing story related things, I started wearing pink sneakers, I started dying my shirts a certain way. It made me feel like a teenager again, obsessing over a favorite band. There is so much to lose yourself in in these stories, and so many details to discover while reading along, that it truly feels like an adventure full of magic, darkness and mysteries.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you’ve gotten this far, you know how amazing these books are! And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Volume 4. What is there to say that I haven't already been raving on about to anyone who want's to listen (or not ^_-)? I am in love with these books, they became a part of me and with it I became part of them. Binge reading came naturally and they have given me a deeper love for books, lines, words...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This series is so awesome!
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