Gil-Martin can be most simply described as Robert Wringhim’s doppelgänger. Once he appears, he seems to show up wherever Wringhim is, or elsewhere in the form of Wringhim. Wringhim is well aware that his friend can change appearances to resemble those he is in company with, and he does so often. Wringhim himself has a very amusing idea of who Gil-Martin really is: King Peter the Great of Russia, incognito on his European tour. He conceives this idea based on the man’s apparent power and abilities and the impression that Gil-Martin rules over a realm of some kind, a realm full of Christians. Wringhim chooses to respect the King’s disguise and not mention his true identity, but several references to it make for comical errors.
Because by then we have two ideas about the real true identity of Gil-Martin: he is either Satan, or he is all in Wringhim’s head (or, of course, both).
He certainly acts just like we would expect Satan to act. One of the pair’s main activities together—other than serial killing—is arguing religious principles (also the favorite pastime of Robert’s mother and the elder Wringhim). According to the healthy Christian peasantry, this is just like Satan, who “had been often driven to the shift o’ preaching [Christanity] himsel, for the purpose o’ getting some wrang tenets introduced into it, and thereby turning it into blasphemy and ridicule.” The first time they meet, Wringhim pretends to dispute a point he really believes, “and said, that ‘indubitably there were degrees of sinning which would induce the Almighty to throw off the very elect.’ But behold my hitherto humble and modest companion took up the argument with such warmth, that he put me not only to silence, but to absolute shame.”
Anytime the two disagree or Wringhim tries to loosen his grasp, Gil-Martin will always have a quick and snappy comeback, will always be able to convince Wringhim of his rightness and assuage his doubts. When Wringhim has a crisis of conscience before an attempt on the life of his brother, he has a vision of an angel telling him not to do it. When he tries to explain to Gil-Martin, the latter “answered that I had been in a state of sinful doubting at the time, and it was to these doubtings she had adverted.” Typically, Wringhim does not actually remember the details, only that Gil-Martin has seemingly supernatural powers of reasoning and persuasion:
I was obliged to admit the force of his reasoning; for though I cannot from memory repeat his words, his eloquence was of that overpowering nature, that the subtility of other men sunk before it; and there is also little doubt that the assurance I had that these words were spoken by a great potentate, who could raise me to the highest eminence, (provided that I entered into his extensive and decisive measure,) assisted mightily in dispelling my youthful scruples and qualms of conscience….
Of course, wouldn’t a successful delusion act just the same way—be always one step ahead of the conscious Wringhim, and be able to persuade him of things that would seem natural and logical though they might appear insane or wrong to an outsider? The question of whether Gil-Martin is corporeal seems to be answered in the affirmative, but the evidence is hardly decisive. There are plenty of instances within the memoir where Gil-Martin appears to interact with others and others appear to see and hear him, but again, we would expect a successful delusion to instigate just those sorts of false memories. There is also evidence from within the first editor’s narrative that Mrs. Logan and a witness to the killing of George Colwan later saw Gil-Martin in company with Wringhim, and in the form of George no less. But that story recounts events a hundred years previous based on tradition and folktales, which the editor later admits could have been influenced by printers who knew about the memoir.
There is also more ambiguous evidence from the memoir that Gil-Martin is not so tangible. He mysteriously doesn’t like to accompany Wringhim indoors, and he doesn’t meet Wringhim’s parents. When Gil-Martin is in combat with George, Wringhim sees him “flitt[ing] about like a shadow, or rather like a spirit.” Wringhim can’t vouch so well for the existence of his friend—or, sometimes, of himself:
I generally conceived myself to be two people. When I lay in bed, I deemed there were two of us in it; when I sat up, I always beheld another person, and always in the same position from the place where I sat or stood, which was about three paces off me towards my left side. …The most perverse part of it was, that I rarely conceived myself to be any of the two persons. I thought for the most part that my companion was one of them, and my brother the other….
Gil-Martin likewise seems to see the two of them as connected. He tells Wringhim that he could “sooner cause the shadow to relinquish the substance, than separate me from your side. Our beings are amalgamated, as it were, and consociated in one, and never shall I depart from this country until I can carry you in triumph with me.” Later, Gil-Martin similarly tells a despairing Wringhim, desperate to be left alone, that “I am wedded to you so closely, that I feel as if I were the same person. Our essences are one, our bodies and spirits being united, so, that I am drawn towards you as by magnetism, and wherever you are, there must my presence be with you.”
I said yesterday that I wouldn’t be able to answer the question of who Gil-Martin really is, and I can’t, but there may be a way around all these false starts, and which explains them. The final portion of the editor’s narrative suggests that the memoir is not in fact a memoir, but “a religious parable…to illustrate something scarcely tangible.” The narrator considers it a failure in this regard, because no one in his day would believe a story about “a man…daily tempted by the devil, in the semblance of a fellow-creature”—something plenty of peasants in Wringhim’s time (according to Wringhim) were prepared to believe. We probably shouldn’t pay too much heed to the editor, who admits that he doesn’t know what to make of the document he’s found (or the grisly scene where he believes he’s found Wringhim’s corpse). But this does explain a few things.
One problem with Wringhim’s dealings with Gil-Martin is that he records conversations and incidents that would be odd or confusing to someone who didn’t have any idea that Gil-Martin was, or might be, the devil. Wringhim’s assumption that his friend is Peter the Great furnishes many of these points. For example, when Wringhim asks whether his friend’s “subjects” are Christians, “‘All my European subjects are, or deem themselves so,’ returned he; ‘and they are the most faithful and true subjects I have.'” Nothing explicit there, to be sure, but it’s spooky for the suspecting reader. Why did Wringhim remember this specific conversation, and write it down word-for-word in such spooky form?
Later, an even better speech made, according to Wringhim, by Gil-Martin:
‘Believe me, my dear friend, for such a prize I account no effort too high. For a man who is not only dedicated to the King of Heaven, in the most solemn manner, soul, body, and spirit, but also chosen of him from the beginning, justified, sanctified, and received into a communion that never shall be broken, and from which no act of his shall ever remove him,—the possession of such a man, I tell you, is worth kingdoms; because every deed that he performs, he does it with perfect safety to himself and honour to me.’
Here he is talking about “the possession of such a man”—how could such a phrase not be suspicious to Wringhim? His friend is talking about him as “a prize” that “is worth kingdoms.” In scenes like this (and above, where Gil-Martin is notably on Wringhim’s “left side”), the reader often wonders how Wringhim could have been so blind and failed to realize he was being seduced by Satan. But on second thought a better question might be how Wringhim managed to record such scenes months and years after the fact in the writing of his memoir, in such specific, suspicion-rousing phrasing.
He also manages to use imagery, at least when he’s starting to feel suffocated and persecuted by Gil-Martin’s presence, that would be immediately recognizable to any Christian: “I felt as one round whose body a deadly snake is twisted, which continues to hold him in its fangs, without injuring him, farther than in moving its scaly infernal folds with exulting delight, to let its victim feel to whose power he has subjected himself….”
Of course, these details could be added after the fact, as Wringhim does seem to believe there is something infernal about his friend by the end of their adventures. And surely the devil works in mysterious ways, and could compel the creation of just such a well-constructed parable. Not to mention the layer upon layer of madness that might need to be deciphered with such an unreliable narrator. So still, no answer—that’s a good thing, of course.