Study Guide

P. Loxias in The Black Prince

By Iris Murdoch

P. Loxias

Get ready to meet the most mysterious character in The Black Prince—more mysterious even than the unreliable Bradley Pearson, whose words guide—or mislead—us through most of the novel.

Who is P. Loxias, really? Shmoop has some ideas, but we're going to assemble the evidence first and break it to you slowly.

Whooooo Are You? Who Who? Who Who?

Let's start by considering the things that Bradley Pearson tells us about his "dear friend" and editor. In his foreword to "The Black Prince," Bradley writes:

There is of course one for whom this book was written whom I cannot name here. With a full heart, to witness duty, not to show my wit, I dedicate the work which you inspired and made possible to you, my dearest friend, my comrade and my teacher, with a gratitude which only you can measure. (Foreword by Bradley Pearson: par. 16)

Why can't Bradley name this friend, and why does Bradley feel a duty to him? Let's turn to some of the moments throughout "The Black Prince" when Bradley addresses this person directly to see if we can find any more clues.

In the first of these moments of direct address, Bradley writes: "Perhaps at this point in my story, my dear friend, I may be allowed to pause and speak to you directly. Of course the whole of what I write here, and perhaps somehow unconsciously my whole oeuvre, has been a communication addressed to you" (1.8.1.).

Interesting. Didn't Bradley meet P. Loxias after he was sentenced to life in prison? How could his earlier novels and book of essays have been communications addressed to a person he didn't know?

Here's Bradley in another one of those moments of direct address: "Of course, my dear, I cannot, how could I, altogether regret what has happened. But the past must be justly judged, whatever marvels may have sprung out of one's faults through the incomprehensible operation of grace" (1.15.2).

Wowzers. Bradley's language is starting to sound kind of romantic here, right?

Now, let's skip ahead to Bradley's postscript to "The Black Prince" to see what he has to say there. Two passages are particularly significant. Here's one:

Every artist is a masochist to his own muse, that pleasure at least belongs to him intimately. And indeed our highest moments may find us still the hero of such conceptions. But they are false conceptions all the same. And the black Eros whom I loved and feared was but an insubstantial shadow of a greater and more terrible godhead. (Postscript by Bradley Pearson: par. 20).

And here's the other:

And I found you, my friend, the crown of my quest. Could you not have existed, could you not have been waiting for me in this monastery which we have inhabited together? That is impossible, my dear. Were you there by accident? No, no, I should have had to invent you, and by the power which you yourself bestow I should have been able to. Now indeed I can see my life as a quest and an ascesis, but lost until the end in ignorance and dark. I was seeking you, I was seeking him, and the knowledge beyond all persons which has no name at all. So I sought you long and in sorrow, and in the end you consoled me for my life-long deprivation of you by suffering with me. And the suffering became joy. (Postscript by Bradley Pearson: par. 23)

Holy lyres and pan flutes, Batman—is P. Loxias the great and terrible godhead that Bradley Pearson has been worshipping throughout his entire artistic life? Is Bradley's new bestie a divine, immortal being? And if so, which god, exactly, is he?

Introducing...Apollo

No, not the babe from Battlestar Galactica.

The classical god Apollo—known to both the Greeks and the Romans, as well as some other ancient peeps—was known as the god of a whole bunch of things, poetry and music among them.

Now, some of you may be thinking—But what does the name "P. Loxias" have to do with Apollo, and why should I believe this off-the-wall idea that Bradley Pearson's editor is actually a Greek god?

Let's start with the name. As the folks at Encyclopedia Mythica tell us, "Loxias" was one of the many pseudonyms used to refer to Apollo in the ancient world, and it spoke specifically to his role as a divine prophet and teller of future truths (source).

Still not convinced? Let's take a look at what Rachel Baffin says about P. Loxias in her postscript:

For the crime of publication, I blame the self-styled Mr Loxias (or 'Luxius' as I believe he sometimes calls himself). As several newspapers have hinted, this is a nom de guerre of a fellow-prisoner upon whom the unfortunate BP seems to have become distressingly fixated. The name conceals the identity of a notorious rapist and murderer, a well-known musical virtuoso, whose murder, by a peculiarly horrible method, of a successful fellow-musician made the headlines some considerable time ago. Possibly the similarities of their crime drew these two unhappy men together. Artists are notoriously an envious race. (Postscript by Rachel: par. 12)

Now, take a look at how P. Loxias himself responds to the allegations made by Rachel (and by the other characters who contribute postscripts to the book):

As for my own identity: I can scarcely, 'Dr' Marloe, be an invention of Bradley's, since I have survived him. Falstaff, it is true, survived Shakespeare, but did not edit his plays. Nor am I, let me assure Mrs Hartbourne, in the publishing trade, though more than one publisher has reason to be grateful to me. […] Perhaps Mrs Baffin, though her ideas are quite implausibly crude, is nearer to the truth. (Editor's Postscript: par. 11)

If Rachel Baffin is "nearer to the truth" than all of her fellow contributors, then that means we need to ask ourselves if the god Apollo could be understood in any capacity as a "notorious rapist and murderer." And the truth is—he sure can.

One of the most famous episodes in the canon of stories about Apollo is the one in which he pursues a nymph named Daphne so relentlessly that she has to ask a river god to turn her into a tree just so that she can escape her would-be rapist's clutches. Reading this story, it doesn't take much to see that Apollo was definitely not a poster boy for consent culture.

And as for whether or not Apollo ever murdered a successful musician in a peculiarly horrible way—just type "Marsyas flayed alive" into your favorite search engine and see what comes up.

But Is He Apollo for Realsies?

To be Apollo, or not to be Apollo—that is the question.

We know what you're thinking, Shmoopers. Sure, all signs point to P. Loxias being the god Apollo, but does that really mean that we need to believe in this guy's divinity?

Couldn't P. Loxias be an insane fellow prisoner of Bradley Pearson who simply believes that he's Apollo? Or, couldn't he be a crafty con man who's intentionally pretending to be the incarnation of one of the Greeks' most powerful and beloved gods? Or, couldn't P. Loxias's foreword and postscript have been written by Bradley Pearson himself?

The answer to all of these questions is Yes. Yes, P. Loxias could be an insane person who believes that he's a god. Yes, P. Loxias could be a liar, liar with his pants on fire. And yes, P. Loxias could be a cunning invention of Bradley Pearson himself. All of these interpretations are possible, and the place where you come down on an answer might be very different from the places where other readers will.

If we wore a hat, we'd take it off to Iris Murdoch for coming up with such a glorious idea. What better way to cap off a novel about a man obsessed with artistic excellence than to frame the thing as having been edited by the god of poetry and music? It's perfect, whether it's true or not, and we here at Shmoop make a habit of enjoying perfection when we see it.

But Wait, There's More

There's one final thing to say about Bradley Pearson's "dear friend" and editor, and it's this: wherever you come down on the whole Is he or isn't he Apollo? question, it's useful to note that P. Loxias has a counterpart in Shakespeare's Hamlet, too.

That counterpart is Horatio—the one person to whom Prince Hamlet unburdens his heart, and the one major player left standing when Denmark's royal family lies dead in a pile at the play's conclusion. After Hamlet dies, it falls to Horatio to tell his friend's story and vindicate his violent murder of the king. Although the play's audience and readers don't actually get to see Horatio tell Hamlet's tale, we trust that he'll do it, and do it well.

Sound familiar?

Just as Horatio makes sure that Hamlet's story is told even after Hamlet himself is dead and gone, so too does P. Loxias make sure that Bradley Pearson's narrative goes out into the world.

Say what you will about P. Loxias's possible divinity—at least all signs point to him being a pretty great friend.