Baxter is often asked questions about his short story
"Gryphon". In order to help students everywhere
better understand his story Charles answered some of
the most common questions for this site.
What does the title of the story mean? The gryphon doesn't
seem very important-- what does the idea of a gryphon
bring to the story?
Ms. Ferenczi mentions the gryphon as an animal she's
actually seen in Egypt. A gryphon, however, is an entirely
imaginary creature, half eagle and half lion. In other
words, a gryphon is made up of parts from the world,
but these parts are combined in order to create a new,
imaginary thing that does not exist in the world until
someone thinks of it. She seems to feel that young people
should be exposed to exotic facts and possibility of
this sort. And of course it's possible to read the story
with Ms. Ferenczi as something of a gryphon herself--half
in this world, a world of concrete objects, and half
Question: At one point in the story, Ms. Ferenczi
suggests to the class that they consider the notion
that "six times eleven equals sixty-eight as a substitute
fact." Does the idea of the "substitute fact" have a
broader importance in the story?
Sometimes "substitute facts" are simply wrong or incorrect,
but sometimes they are products of myth or of the imagination.
Ms. Ferenczi likes to expose the members of the class
to amazing facts (some of which are true, some of which
are mythic, and some of which are simply untrue) as
a way of expanding their sense of wonder.
Do you think Ms. Ferenczi thinks she's lying to her
There doesn't seem to be any indication in the story
that Ms. Ferenczi believes that she's lying to the students.
She seems to live, at least part of the time, in the
world that generates the "facts" that she tells her
Question: The story is told from the point-of-view
of a child in Ms. Ferenczi's class, but it's told in
recollection. How do you think the story might have
changed if it was told in the present tense? Do you
think that the teller of the story might have a different
view of Five Oaks than he might have when the story
When I wrote the story, I was very careful not to make
Tommy's views as an adult concerning Ms. Ferenczi particularly
obvious. (Note that Ms. Ferenczi tells Tommy his fortune--his
future--and he does not tell the reader whether her
predictions came true or not.) The story needed, I thought,
to have a sense of looking-back. I felt that a student
could not tell the story as a student. When a reader
comes to the story, s/he has to make up his/her own
mind about how good or bad, truthful or dangerous, exciting
or incorrect Ms. Ferenczi is. Tommy shouldn't press
all his opinions on the reader.
Question: Clearly everyone in Mr. Hibler's class
thinks Ms. Ferenczi is rather strange-- but she seems
rather strange to me, too. How come she has "marionette
lines" on her face? And why does she talk so differently?
When he first sees Ms. Ferenczi, Tommy sees those marionette
lines and thinks of Pinocchio. Pinocchio, of course,
was famous for two things: he was not a real boy (though
he wanted to be one), and he was a liar. There is something
not-quite-human about Ms. Ferenczi, as if her strings
were being pulled by others. Also, the truth is that
I once had a teacher with lines that went straight down
from the sides of her mouth, and she always reminded
me of a marionette, for that reason.
Question: Why is the last paragraph so full of
small details? And why does the story end there?
Because of Ms. Ferenczi's influence, every fact
from the world starts to take on an element of strangeness--even
the most ordinary facts, like the ones the story concludes
with, about insects. The story ends with the line that
Mr. Hibler will return to "test us on our knowledge"--but
of course the story starts to raise questions about
what the children actually do know, once Ms. Ferenczi
has gotten through with them.