Charles 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.
Question: 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?
Baxter: 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 out-of-this-world.
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?
Baxter: 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.
Question: Do you think Ms. Ferenczi thinks she's lying to her students?
Baxter: There doesn't seem to be any indication in the story that Ms. Ferenczi believes that she's...