The Monstrumologist: Will Henry’s Hat
So here is the first post of my English project. It will discuss the symbolism of Will Henry’s hat within Rick Yancey’s book, The Monstrumologist. If you would like to avoid spoilers, skip this post.
Early on within the novel, it is mentioned that Will Henry has a small cap, one that is too small for his head.
“He lifted my tattered little hat and squinted down at my face, a smile playing on his lips, and, despite myself, so comical was his expression of earnest study, I caught myself smiling back.
‘Ack! You’re right, not a child – a fine young man, then! D’ye know what I think it is that fooled me, William Henry? It’s this hat! It’s much too small for a strapping young man such as yourself. A fully grown man should have a man’s full grown hat!'” Page 53
Will Henry had been orphaned a mere year earlier, having witnessed his parent’s death in a fire. His hat is the only artifact he has left from his past life, having lost all of his possessions in the fire. He has a deep attachment to it, due to the fact that it’s the only connection left. The reader doesn’t know this though. Slowly, parts of his story are revealed to show that the only reason he still keeps the hat is because he hasn’t let go of his parent’s deaths. He feels panicky when he loses the hat. During the first expedition to the Anthropophagi’s lair, Will Henry loses the hat in the chaos of running for his life. When Dr. Warthrop returns to retrieve their lost cargo, he does not bring the hat back, must to the chagrin of Will Henry.
“‘No, sir. I mean, yes sir. I mean…I was wondering…That is, I’ve been meaning to ask if you found my hat.’
He stared at me uncomprehendingly, as if I were speaking an exotic foreign tongue.
‘Yes, sir. My hat. I think I lost it at the cemetery.’
‘I didn’t know you owned a hat.’
‘Yes, sir. I wore it to the cemetery that night, and it must have fallen off when they…when we left, sir. I was wondering if you might have found it when you returned to… to tidy things up there.’
‘I didn’t see any hats, except the one I gave you to destroy. Whenever did you acquire a hat, Will Henry?’
‘It was mine when I came, sir.’
‘When you came…where?’
“Here, sir. To live here. It was my hat, sir. My father gave it to me.’
‘I see. Was it his hat?’
‘No, sir. It was my hat.’
‘Oh. I thought perhaps it held some sentimental value.’
‘It did, sir. I mean, it does.’
‘Why? What is so special about a hat, Will Henry?’
‘My father gave it to me,’ I repeated.
‘Your father. Will Henry, may I give you a piece of advice?’
‘Yes, sir. Of course, sir.’
‘Don’t invest too much of yourself in material things.’
‘Of course, that bit of wisdom is not original to me. Still, much more valuable than any hat. Have we satisfied your inquiry, Will Henry?’………..
‘I just wanted to know if you found my hat,’ I said.
‘Well, I did not.’
‘That’s all I wanted to know.’
‘If you’re looking for my permission to purchase a new one, get thee to a haberdasher, Will Henry, with the caveat that you do sometime today.’
‘I don’t want a new hat, sir. I want my old hat.’
Will Henry still aches for his family, even if he doesn’t realize it. His concern for his old, tattered hat shows the first stage of his character development.
Also, throughout the book, Will Henry battles the confusion within, wondering why he listens to the eccentric Dr. Warthrop. He knows that the man is not capable of being a worthy guardian, attributed to his lack of concern for Will Henry’s basic needs. Food and sleep are the last things on his mind and in multiple scenes, he chastises Will Henry for wanting to eat. At one point, Will Henry came to the conclusion that the only reason he continued to work for Warthrop was because firstly, he was the only thing he had left, and secondly, he felt that it was his duty as the successor to Dr. Warthrop’s assistant. Will Henry’s father had been the doctor’s assistant. His reasons for working are connected to his little hat.
However, as the adventure unfolds, Will Henry learns what it means to let go and Dr. Warthrop learns what it means to care for others. In the end, Dr. Warthrop gifts Will Henry a hat, which he accepts. The old hat is burned along with the the remnants of the doctor’s past. This burning symbolizes the two of them letting go of the painful past, together and is a sweet moment where the two have come to understand each other.
“The doctor was sitting on the floor before the hearth, stoking the fire. Besides him sat his father’s old trunk. If he noticed my appearance, he gave no sign of it, as he threw open the lid and, one by one, began tossing the contents into the crackling conflagration…….
‘What have you got there, Will Henry?’ he inquired without taking his eyes from the purifying pyre.
I looked down at the two hats lying side by side in lap. I raised my head and studied his face, turned away from my own, turned toward the fire. Upon his angular profile shadow warred with light, the obscured visible, the hidden revealed. His father had 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.
‘My hat, sir,’ I answered.
‘Which one, Will Henry? That is the question.’
The fire popped and crackled, snapped and growled. That is it, thought I. A fire destroys, but it also purifies.
I tossed my old hat into the center of the flames. Warthrop gave merely the slightest of nods, and in silence we watched the fire consume it.
‘Who knows, Will Henry,’ he said after it had been reduced, like the effluvia of his father’s life, to ashes. ‘Perhaps this burden you bear will prove a blessing.’
The journey of the hat shows the process it took for Will Henry to come to peace with his parent’s passing as well as the relationship he had with the doctor. In a way, the gifting of the hat also symbolizes the new level of respect and understanding that Will Henry had come to develop with the doctor.