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Dr. Pellinore Warthrop is probably the most self-absorbed, egotistical character we've ever encountered. Will Henry describes him as "this man of whom it might be said there had never been another of more towering, awe-inspiring self-absorption" (2.22). He is so trapped in his own impressive brain that he can hardly remember that other people exist around him.
In fact, often he doesn't remember that there is anyone else; he is too busy single-mindedly pursuing whatever scientific interest has him feverishly consumed at the time that Will Henry often goes days without so much as a word from his mentor.
Everything in Dr. Warthrop's life is framed around his own pursuits and needs. Even at the funeral of Will Henry's parents, all he can think about is how he will get on without his assistant:
At their funeral the doctor had laid a hand upon my shoulder and said, "I don't know what I shall do now, Will Henry. Their services were indispensable to me." He seemed oblivious to the fact that he was speaking to the child left orphaned and homeless by their demise. (2.38)
Yikes. That's some award-winning levels of self-absorption is you ask us. (Although who would make an award to celebrate that?) However, one could argue that his insensitivity and conceit has more to do with his being consumed by scientific pursuits, which he considers paramount to existence, and that he believes the higher calling which he follows makes his interests that much more important than other people. As Will Henry describes him:
What more need I say about this odd and solitary figure, this genius who labored all his life in obscurity in the most obscure of sciences, whom the world would little note nor long remember, but to whom the world owed much, this man who possessed, it seemed, not the slightest shred of humility or warmth, who lacked empathy and compassion and the ability to read men's hearts— or the heart of a twelve-year-old boy whose world had been shattered in an awful instant? […] What more may I offer as evidence of my hypothesis that this man's hubris rose to heights— or sunk to depths— rarely seen outside the confines of Greek theater or the tragedies of Shakespeare? He did not equivocate with me. He did not couch his words in comforting bromides or shopworn clichés. He had saved my life because my life was important to him. He had saved my life for his sake, for the furtherance of his ambition. Thus even his mercy was rooted in his ego. (4.53)
Nothing like saving someone's life… to suit your own purposes alone.
Because of his unerring belief in the superiority of science (and his own scientific genius, of course), Dr. Warthrop is capable of some pretty creative logical leaps and convoluted reasoning.
He particularly specializes in this method of self-preserving justification that begins to seem a little too convenient. For example, after the grisly slaughter of the Stinnet family, Will Henry (as well as a few others—like, say, Malachi Stinnet and Constable Morgan) feel that Dr. Warthrop's failure to notify proper authorities about the existence of the Anthropophagi makes him somewhat responsible for the Stinnet family's deaths. Dr. Warthrop would beg to differ, though:
Through gritted teeth he growled, "I know what you're thinking, Will Henry, but even the tenets of the victims' faith hold a mistake to be no sin. A miscalculation is not negligence, nor prudence a crime. I am a scientist. I base my action or inaction upon probability and evidence. There is a reason we call science a discipline! Inferior minds bolt or build pyres to roast the witches in their midst! It is a false argument to assert that simply because we do not see fairies dancing upon the lawn proves naught as to their existence. Evidence begets theory, and theory evolves as new evidence emerges. Three thousand years of research, direct eyewitness accounts, serious scientific inquiry—was I to abandon all of it upon the doorstep of speculation and doubt? In all crises are we to demand reason's abdication or, worse, champion the coup of our baser instincts? Are we men, or anxious gazelles? An impartial examination of the facts would lead any reasonable man to conclude that I am blameless, that I reacted with prudence and forbearance in the case, and indeed a lesser man might have squandered his energies pursuing those fairies on the lawn, which no one can see!"
He pounded his crimson fist upon his thigh. "So put aside your juvenile judgments, William James Henry. I am no more accountable for this tragedy than the boy who witnessed it. Less so—yes!—if one applies the same cruel criteria to my actions!" (8.224-225)
His vehemence in protesting his innocence gives a little clue about how much he's been internally struggling with the same doubts that Will Henry has, but heaven forbid the man actually admit weakness.
Dr. Warthrop is also fond of manipulating the truth in smaller ways. Poor Will Henry, who is just a boy and still learning the ways of the world, gets understandably confused about when to employ fibbing appropriately. At one point Will Henry is merely placating the doc as he monologues, and gets scolded for it:
"Do you see it now, Will Henry?"
"I—I think so, sir."
"Nonsense!" he cried. "Clearly you do not! Do not lie to me, Will Henry. To me or to anyone else—ever. Lying is the worst kind of buffoonery!" (2.110-112)
Okay, sounds reasonable enough: Just don't lie. But then later, Will Henry receives these instructions:
"To the market if you like, but straight there and straight back, Will Henry. Speak to no one, and if anyone speaks to you, all is well; I am busy with my latest treatise, whatever seems most natural to you, as long as it is not the truth. Remember, Will Henry, some falsehoods are borne of necessity, not foolishness." (7.29)
How is the kid supposed to know when lying is appropriate or not? The answer: You can lie, but only when it suits Dr. Warthrop's needs. Ah, yes. Perfectly logical (not).
If Dr. Warthrop seems like a pretty sorry excuse for a father figure for Will Henry, then consider this:
His father named him Pellinore in honor of the mythical king who quested after a beast that could not be caught, an act of thoughtless cruelty, perhaps; at the least a fateful portent, the passing on of a hereditary malady, the familial curse. (13.203)
In other words, in Dr. Warthrop's father's mind, Pellinore existed to carry on the monstrumologist tradition and legacy—that's all. So there wasn't much warmth or affection in the Warthrop household long before Will Henry got there.
Despite the fact that Dr. Warthrop seems to be consumed with science and only science, he is still human, and we discover through some clandestine snooping by Will Henry that Pellinore Warthrop was once just a lonely boy who would do anything for some paternal approval. Heck, he would've done anything just for his father to even notice him. Sound familiar?
We often take vengeance long after the fact upon blameless surrogates, reprising the same sins of the ones who trespassed against us, and so perpetuate ad infinitum the pain we suffered at their hands. His father rejected his entreaties, so he rejected mine, and I—in the strangest twist of all—was him, the isolated and lonesome little boy seeking approbation and acceptance from the one person from whom it mattered most. It offended his pride and doubled his anger: anger at his father for ignoring his need, anger at himself for needing anything in the first place. (5.90)
So some of the doc's inability to connect with Will Henry in a familial sense has to do with his own disinterested father and their strained relationship.
This leads to even more serious complications than Will Henry's loneliness, though. Dr. Warthrop's childlike hero-worship of his father blinds him to the fact that Alistair Warthrop was just as capable of making poor decisions as he himself is. Despite all of the clues pointing to his father's involvement—nay, orchestration—of the Anthropophagi's existence, Dr. Warthrop remains adamant about his father's innocence long past logical allowance. When Dr. Kearns is trying to argue some sense into him, the doc stubbornly refuses to see what has to be the truth:
Warthrop was shaking his head. "I am not convinced."
"And I am not concerned. But I am curious. Why do you resist an explanation that makes far more sense than your own? Really, Pellinore, would you care to compute the odds of them migrating here, to your own backyard, by sheer chance? In the back of your mind you must know the truth, but refuse to acknowledge it. Why? Because you cannot bring yourself to think the worst of him? Who was he to you? More important, who were you to him? You defend a man who barely tolerated your existence." His boyish face lit up. "Ah! Is that it? Are you still trying to prove yourself worthy of his love—even now, when it's impossible for him to give it? And you call yourself a scientist!" (10.178-179)
It is only when a riddle in his father's diary proves to be the key unlocking the Anthropophagi's den that Dr. Warthrop finally admits defeat, but how many lives could have been saved if he'd acknowledged the truth earlier? This dude's daddy issues reach dangerous heights before he finally lets his father fall from his pedestal. It's a bummer, but hopefully things will get better between him and Will Henry going forward.