Nick hates words; Alan loves them. Nick's never sure what certain gestures mean or when they're appropriate; Alan's a natural back-patter and hair-ruffler. As brothers, they're different as can be, and as communicators? Apples and oranges, mangoes and kumquats.
But what's the big deal? Well most people use words, and most animals don't (except for some species of birds and the characters in Animal Farm or Aesop's fables). And as we learn in The Demon's Lexicon, demons don't talk either—unless they're engaged through the communication lines of a dancer's circle. So is the ability to communicate with words (and gestures with verbal meanings, like a pat on the back for good job or a sad look for I'm sorry) part of what makes humans… human? Actually, that's a trick question, because no matter how you answer it, guess what: more questions. Don't believe us? Look below.
The ability to communicate with words is a big part of what separates humans from animals… and demons.
Words, smords. Alan loves them, but he's not a great communicator; Nick hates them, but people always seem to know exactly where he stands. The characters in The Demon's Lexicon prove that there's a lot more to communicating than just speaking or writing.
Lies and deceit and deceit and lies—that's what the lives of the Ryves brothers (and the rest of the characters in The Demon's Lexicon) are built on. Yeah sure, there are some truths in there too, but seriously, this book is loaded with people who aren't what they seem to be; people with mysterious pasts; and people who are so good at deceiving themselves that they can't see what's right under their noses. Misleading appearances, secrecy, self-deception, denial: it's all here, and it starts to make us wonder a bit about the facts of our own lives.
Do we really know the whole truth about ourselves, our friends, and our families? Are there any ways in which we're deceiving ourselves? Refusing to see the truth? Pretending to be something that we're not? It's all a little unsettling and (truth be told) kind of fun.
It would be impossible to get through an average week without telling at least one lie.
Sure Alan tells quite a few lies, but they are all justified and he is no less honorable or trustworthy for telling them.
From a caterpillar into a butterfly, a tadpole into a frog, a frog into a prince… Okay, so that last one's slightly less likely to occur in the natural world, but transformations are big in life (child to adult, student to master), and they're big in stories, too. Of course, the biggest candidate for transformation in The Demon's Lexicon is Nick, who at first glance appears to be emotionally inaccessible, unkind, and somewhat of a psychopath. When we know his full story, we begin to understand why he behaves the way he does, and we see that he has already undergone one transformation—the one that technically took place before he was even born. But that leaves us with another question: does Nick experience a second transformation? Read on and decide for yourself.
Nick has definitely experienced a transformation by the end of the book, and he is no longer the entity that Black Arthur believes him to be.
(Alan/Mae/Jamie) has a great impact on Nick and is a big part of why his transformation is possible.
Sometimes families are dysfunctional, and we'd say the Ryveses in The Demon's Lexicon qualify on that front—even without all their wild supernatural juju. A mother who hates one of her sons so much she can't even bear to meet his eyes? That's pretty weird, and as readers we spend a large part of the novel wondering what her problem is—and why both Nick and Alan seem to just accept it. Is it because you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your family? Are they just stuck with this dynamic, for better or for worse? What obligations do people have to their family members just because they're family?
Oh, and one last thing: just because you can pick your nose doesn't mean you should.
No matter how dysfunctional a family may be, the members of that family will always be bound together if for no other reason than that they are, in fact, family.
Books like The Demon's Lexicon, in which there are no reliable or likable parental figures, do a disservice to mothers and fathers everywhere by implying that they are neither important nor necessary in their children's lives.
As you can guess from the title The Demon's Lexicon, there are a few things in this book that aren't exactly natural if we're thinking about nature as we know it. Like, well… demons. The thing is though, that Alan believes demons can take on human characteristics—that they can love and be loved, and that they can become part of the natural order of things. But can they? Can something supernatural fit into the natural world?
In a lot of ways, the way this theme plays out in The Demon's Lexicon reminds us of the way it plays out in Frankenstein, where we see various human parts stitched together to create a monster, and have to wonder: just how human is that monster?
The ability to experience emotions like love, empathy, sadness, fear, and joy is a major factor that separates humans from animals. And demons.
Regardless of how much Nick learns about how to behave in the human world, he will always be a demon at his core and will never experience human love firsthand.
Everyone experiences isolation. Feeling alienated is, after all, part of the human condition, and that's why it's so interesting that Nick is the most isolated character in The Demon's Lexicon. Because, well, he's not human… or is he? It's kind of hard to tell at times, especially since his feelings of isolation, not fitting in, and being on his own are quintessential human experiences. It's kind of paradoxical: by feeling separate, different, and alone, Nick proves himself to have a lot in common with others. His isolation—the fact that he experiences it and laments it—actually bonds him to others, whether he realizes it or not.
The fact that Nick has such a hard time relating to others makes him appear anti-social at first, but the way he reacts to being isolated proves that he actually craves human connection.
In many ways, Alan is more isolated than Nick.
Huey Lewis said it best:
The power of love is a curious thing,
Make a one man weep, make another man sing,
Change a hawk to a little white dove,
More than a feeling—that's the power of love.
All right. Maybe Huey Lewis didn't say it best, but you have to admit these lyrics are kind of fitting for The Demon's Lexicon. After all, love does make Alan weep and sing, and for Nick it's definitely curious. Add in all the bird imagery and the fact that love has the power to convince a whole lot of people to do a whole lot of things they otherwise wouldn't (like risk their lives and tolerate hair-ruffling), and you might just think this '80s song was written for this story… even though it hit the scene about twenty years early.
Love can only motivate people to do positive things. If a person claims to have done something negative for love (like hurt someone or steal something), then love wasn't the real motivating factor. The real motivating factor was more likely something along the lines of grief, greed, obsession, or vengeance.
Nick doesn't believe that he knows anything about human love, but in truth the majority of his actions are motivated by his love for his brother.
Ever hear of the Trolley Problem? Here's the gist of it: you're a train yard operator and you see a train coming that's going to mow down five people. They don't have time to move, but you have time to flip a switch that will route the train to a different track—a track where there's only one person in the way. So what do you do? Do you flip the switch and send one person to his death, or do you do nothing and let the original five targets perish?
There are a lot of different variations of this problem, and most of them remind us of situations faced by the characters in The Demon's Lexicon, who are constantly questioning whose needs—and whose lives—come first.
Alan often seems to question Nick's morality, but in many ways Nick is one of the most moral characters in the book.
Morality is subjective. There are no absolutes when it comes to right and wrong because there are exceptions to every rule.