"The Fifth Head of Cerberus" is a set of three inter-twined novellas by Gene Wolfe. The final novella is called V.R.T. and is told in a mosaic fashion, dealing with the adjudication of John V. Marsch, who has been arrested in St Croix as a murder suspect and as a suspected spy. In the course of the story we are told how Marsch ventured into the wilds of St Anne, accompanied by a child who claims to be a partial descendant of the St Anne aboriginals.

Among the material reviewed is an exercise book labelled "V.R.T.", which are the initials of the aboriginal child. The "T" is clearly "Trenchard" - the surname of his (human) father. Do we have any indication what the "V" and the "R" stand for?

  • Hi, are the initials the full extent of your question?
    – Spencer
    Dec 16, 2021 at 3:03
  • @Spencer I would welcome more information, but yes, initially I am interested in what V and R stand for Dec 16, 2021 at 7:20
  • Instead of an edit, that could be a partial answer. (It might be as much of an answer as we have!)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Dec 17, 2021 at 20:05
  • Speculation that R might be Rodman, the author's own middle name, just as Number Five's real name is Gene Wolfe. If there's speculation among fans, that suggests a definitive answer doesn't exist. I suggest you self-answer this with the Victor that you found and maybe some evidence for possibilities for R such as Rodman.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Dec 17, 2021 at 20:08
  • @Randal'Thor if you can find a citation to the "some people have suggested" (which people?) I'd be happy to accept it as an answer Dec 17, 2021 at 20:35

1 Answer 1


Following @Randal'Thor's suggestion, I am posting a partial solution to my question (the meaning of the "V"), together with some speculative answers to the remaining part (the meaning of the "R"). If anybody finds a more authoritative answer for the "R" I would be happy to accept their answer though.

Rereading the text in detail when Marsch first meets the Annese beggar "R.T." we find the following dialogue:

[the father] exclaimed, “Ah, you are a doctor! Look, Victor, our visitor is a doctor of philosophy!” and held the card for an instant in front of the boy's eyes

So his son is called Victor, and thus the meaning of the "V" initial is indeed revealed, although in a very subtle way.

This just leaves the "R". Ultan's library (a web resource for the study of Gene Wolfe) makes the comment:

V.R.T. is Victor R. Trenchard. If the ‘R’ of his middle name is Rodman, as some people have suggested, this is an additional correspondence, being author Gene Wolfe’s middle name

I do not know who the "some people" are making this suggestion, but it is interesting to note that the fan-base do not have a commonly-accepted answer. So unlike the "V" which came down to noting a particular sentence fragment, it is probably the case that the "R" is unspecified in the book. In that case "Rodman" seems as good a guess as any.

Some go further though. Robert Borski's Cave Canem website is now hosted at the wolfewiki and contains an entertaining (though highly questionable!) account of how he deduced that the "R" stands for "Roy". The V.R.T. exercise book contains the text "Rm E2S14 Seat 18." Treating the numbers as a cipher yields R E 2 S N R, which (he asserts) can be interpreted as "2 Roy Emersons, son/senior", since Roy Emerson is the name both of Gene Wolfe's father and first son. Based on this he claims that:

Can there now be any doubt that VRT is named after both Gene Wolfe's father and son and stands for Victor Roy Trenchard?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.