Trip, Trap


Wolfe's comments from the Introduction to Storeys from the Old Hotel

"'Trip, Trap' was the first story I ever sold Damon Knight for his Orbit series; it marks the real beginning of my writing career."


The story is mostly made up of two intercut epistolary narratives, telling the same events from different points of view. Garth the son of Garth is a war chieftain leading a delegation to a remote tributary of his overlord, in what seems a fantasy-medieval setting. Dr Morton Finch is a field xenoarchaeologist investigating possible evidence of a previous (to Earth's) spacefaring technology, who puts himself under Garth's protection. Both tell how they learn of an ancient bridge with mysterious carvings: Garth, further, that it is defended by a troll. Both end up in the troll's lair: it is a telepathically powerful creature which believes itself a member of a powerful race that rules this world, and the natives (Garth etc) to be animals. Together they defeat the troll, and Finch learns that its inscriptions are indeed similar to those found on another distant planet.


  • It seems that the troll was indeed the remnant of an ancient starfaring race which occupied the planet before Garth's race achieved civilization. It may have been driven mad, or at least into delusion, by its long isolation.
  • The title refers to the fairy tale of the Three Billygoats Gruff, who seek to cross a bridge guarded by a troll: "Trip, trap" is the noise that the goats' hooves make on the bridge, which alerts the troll.
  • Dokerfins is a colloquial corruption of "Doctor Finch".

A note about the writing of the story

In Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 9, Wolfe writes:

"I sent him [Knight] a rather experimental story in which a series of reports by an astronaut and a series of letters from a knight on the medieval planet he was exploring ran in parallel columns -- the left column being science fiction, the right fantasy. Knight liked the story but not its double-column format, and asked me to break it up into conventional skips from astronaut to alien and back to astronaut.
"I retitled it 'Trip Trap,' idiotically retyped it with the astronaut's reports, complete, followed by the alien's letters, and returned it to Knight...
"Knight returned 'Trip Trap' marked to show the points at which he felt the switches from one letter to the other should be made. I spent a couple of hours trying to improve on them and found I could not... I'm still questioned occasionally about that dedication; this is the event to which it refers."

The dedication mentioned is that to The Fifth Head of Cerberus: "To Damon Knight, who one well-remembered June evening in 1966 grew me from a bean."

Unresolved Questions

  • Where did the traki's starfaring civilization go or what happened to them?
  • Did Finch kill the traki and then blame it on Garth in his communique to Beatty? Likewise, did Garth take credit for killing the traki in his communique to his Protector? Finch claims he lost consciousness, but, when Garth comes out of his trance, Finch is covered in blood, holding his sword, which is also covered in blood. Their respective stories that Garth killed the traki in the "spirit world" seems rather dubious given the blood on the sword.

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