15

I read the book(s) long time ago and I don't have them with me now (sorry if some details are vague), but as I recall, Shaftoe gets addicted to morphine as a consequence of the treatment of his war wounds. Enoch Roots helps him to heal and to stop the addiction using the content of a box he has, that for Shaftoe is much much better than morphine (I think he says that regular morphine is to the content of that box like a prostitute would be to his beloved girlfriend, or something like that, meaning incredibly good).

Root is sitting on the opposite bunk with the cigar box on his lap. He holds up his hand in a V for Victory, then levels it at Shaftoe's face and pokes him in the eyes. "I cannot help you with your inability to find physical comfort-it is a problem of body chemistry," he says. "It poses interesting theological questions. It reminds us that all the pleasures of the world are an illusion projected into our souls by our bodies."

A lot of the other speaking tubes have ruptured now, and screaming comes from most of them; Root has to lean close in order to shout into Bobby's ear. Shaftoe takes advantage of it to reach over and make a grab for the cigar box, which contains the stuff he wants: not morphine. Something better than morphine. Morphine is to the stuff in the cigar box what a Shanghai prostitute is to Glory.

Chapter 58, Conspiracy

By the end of the novel another character gets badly hurt, and again Enoch Root is able to miracleously save the day with the content of that box. The healed character refuses to explain about the content of that box or the healing procedure / method with the other characters.

Amy's leg gets infected and the doctor comes this close to sawing it off to save her life. Enoch Root spends some time alone with her and suddenly her leg gets a lot better. He explains that he applied a local folk remedy, but Amy refuses to say anything about it.
Chapter 102, Liquidity

I think that the box is described as a regular cigars box.

What is the content of Enoch Root's box?

  • 1
    I don't think Stephenson ever elaborated. The closest 2 hints we ever had was: Root was an alchemist so it may have been the Philosopher's Stone; OR, it's some mystical healing McGaffin, part of SciFi flavor that Stephenson explicitly tried to infuse into the books via Root. For random fun speculation, see cafeaulait.org/cryptonomicon.html – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 3 '14 at 2:15
  • You are right, maybe Stephenson is not "playing fair", but I never finished reading the Baroque Cycle and I thought that maybe other Stephenson hardcore fans could have useful ideas about this, point to things most of us didn't notice, etc. – Kreann Sep 3 '14 at 2:49
  • It could be a bit of Solomon's Gold from the Barroque Cycle – SJuan76 Sep 3 '14 at 9:45
9

From the Baroque Cycle, we know that:

Enoch Root has a supply of Solomonic Gold, a supernatural isotope able to resurrect the dead (Waterhouse after failed gallstone surgery), similar to Philosoper's Mercury. Solomon Kohan also possesses such gold and is implied to be biblically old.

From Cryptonomicon, we know that:

Enoch Root has survived hundreds of years, and appears to be resurrected (after failed gunshot surgery) by the contents of the cigar box.

I draw a particular conclusion from this, but it is not a truth universally acknowledged.

  • Formatted as quotes, are they? – TaW Jul 16 at 15:50
2

I only see two specific mentions of Enoch Root's cigar box in Cryptonomicon. The first one looks like it's just a morphine withdrawal hallucination:

Chapter 58 Conspiracy:

Shaftoe, chained to a bunk in the submarine by fetters of gold, feels one of his small, concealed handguns pressing into the small of his back, and wonders whether it would be bad form to shoot himself in the mouth. He paws wildly at the broken tube and manages to slap it down into the rising sewage; bubbles come out, and von Hacklheber’s words are trapped in them, like word balloons in a comic strip. When the bubbles reach the surface and burst, it sounds like screaming.

Root is sitting on the opposite bunk with the cigar box on his lap. He holds up his hand in a V for Victory, then levels it at Shaftoe’s face and pokes him in the eyes. “I cannot help you with your inability to find physical comfort—it is a problem of body chemistry,” he says. “It poses interesting theological questions. It reminds us that all the pleasures of the world are an illusion projected into our souls by our bodies.”

A lot of the other speaking tubes have ruptured now, and screaming comes from most of them; Root has to lean close in order to shout into Bobby’s ear. Shaftoe takes advantage of it to reach over and make a grab for the cigar box, which contains the stuff he wants: not morphine. Something better than morphine. Morphine is to the stuff in the cigar box what a Shanghai prostitute is to Glory.

The box flies open and blinding light comes out of it. Shaftoe covers his face. The salted and preserved body parts suspended from the ceiling tumble into his lap and begin to writhe, reaching out for other parts, assembling themselves into living bodies. Mikulski comes back to life, aims his Vickers at the ceiling of the U-boat, and cuts an escape hatch. Instead of black water, golden light rushes through.

The second could be anything, or nothing:

Chapter 60 Rocket

The doctor etherizes Root, opens his chest, and goes in to repair the damage. Combat surgery isn’t his metier, and so he makes a few mistakes and generally does a great job of keeping the tension level high. Some major artery gives way, and it’s necessary for Shaftoe and the minister to go out and yank Swedes off the streets and persuade them to donate blood. Rudy is nowhere to be found, and Shaftoe suspects for a few minutes that he has blown town. But then suddenly he shows up at Root’s bedside holding an ancient Cuban cigar box, Spanish words all over it.

There's no explanation, and as far as I can tell there's no further mention of the box. Is it something supernatural? Maybe, but there's no reason it couldn't be perfectly mundane - a hallucination in the first case, and paperwork relating to the war-bride marriage of Root and Julia in the second. As TV Tropes says, Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane.

  • 1
    Well, Root dies and then is alive again later on, possibly through use of whatever's in the box: "When Enoch Root dies, the only other people in the room are Rudolf von Hacklheber, Bobby Shaftoe, and the Swedish doctor. (...) Bobby Shaftoe loiters outside, staring back up the street. After a minute or two he sees Rudy poke his head out the door of the doctor's office (...) Then he and another man walk out of the office. The other man is wrapped in a blanket that covers even his head. They climb into the Mercedes, Blanket Man lies down in the back seat, and Rudy drives off (...)" – SQB Sep 3 '14 at 6:07
  • 1
    Or Rudy's death was simply faked so that Julia could get his benefits as his widow and Rudy could go on about his business. – Joe L. Sep 3 '14 at 12:36
  • There's also an implicit reference in the final chapter: “Amy’s leg gets infected and the doctor comes this close to sawing it off to save her life. Enoch Root spends some time alone with her and suddenly her leg gets a lot better. He explains that he applied a local folk remedy, but Amy refuses to say anything about it.” – Mike Scott Sep 3 '14 at 15:59
2

I have a few notes.

  • Bobby Shaftoe first meets Enoch Root on the beach at Guadalcanal (Solomon Islands), where Root tends his wounds with home remedies found in the "ancient" Cuban cigar box.
    • Root was present at Daniel Waterhouse's unexpected—and briefly fatal—lithotomy in 1689, where he revives Daniel with an elixir. (This event was described at the end of Quicksilver, but the details about Root's presence were revealed later via a reading of Robert Hooke's "receipt for a restorative medicine, made from gold" that yielded "a small quantity of light-bearing compound" hidden at Bedlam, as described in The System of the World).
    • Root was very interested in the Solomon Islands in The Confusion and left the remaining Bonanza guys in the South China Sea to go there in 1700.
    • The Solomonic gold was originally mined in the Solomon Islands by the Spanish (Aside: There is a semi-active gold mine on Guadalcanal today, on "Gold Ridge").
    • We might infer that Root acquires quantities of the same gold on the island during periodic visits. But if 1700 was his first visit to the Solomons, we must assume he used Solomonic gold in 1689 from another source.

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