The Enoch Root of Cryptonomicon is a mysterious character of unknown origin. He is described as being of German or New Zealand origin, a Catholic Priest, and a member of the mysterious eruditorum organization. He also appears to not age much from World War II to the late 1990s. There also seems to be rather unambiguous references to his death in 1943, despite the fact that he is alive some 50+ years later. In other words, Enoch may not be human.

I am surprised that there is not more information about this on the internet, because such a mysterious character in a hacker novel is usually the kind to supply endless debate. There seems to be quite a few references to him having both mysterious purposes and powers, such as:

  1. Enoch Root's death. This is described in detail on page 540-542, which takes place in Sweden c. 1943. It clearly references such things as "the date and time of Enoch Root's demise" and "when Enoch Root dies". Those are pretty clearcut statements. The only way that these statements can be ambiguous is the fact that "the doctor is out of the room when Enoch dies", and the fact that the only people present with him are his coconspirators, who perhaps want people to think he is dead. However, it is not made explicitly clear that his death is a ruse.
  2. On page 893, it makes reference to Enoch (in the 1990s) using something akin to magic. "a coherent, wraith shaped cloud of smoke is drifting away from Enoch over the surface of the river, just coming into the sun where it is suddenly brilliant. Enoch is just standing there holding a great big old .45 and moving his lips in the unsettled cadences of some dead language". This could also refer to a description seen though someones befuddled eyes of a man shooting a gun. However, the passage does seem to describe a "coherent, wraith shaped cloud", which sounds almost like a summoned magical spirit or something along those lines.
  3. On page 908 "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", this in the context of a woman who needed to have her leg amputated. So Enoch has some kind of power to perform near miraculous feats of medicine, which could be a sign of magical power.
  4. Several times Waterhouse refers to Root as a wizard, a term he takes from Tolkien. In many ways, Enoch Root does resemble Gandalf, manipulating people for their own good, and seeming to know way more then he should. Since Tolkien's Wizards were not human, but rather angelic, it may be fair to assume that Root was the same way.

However, I do not know myself one way or another. Like many things in good books, it remains a mystery.


It seems that with each new book, more evidence will come up.I have decided to leave this node as it is. It can now be viewed as a historical reminder of the possible confusion the first book left in our minds.

While the fantasy fan in me can certainly appreciate and even enjoy the points listed above, the skeptic within me raises a hand. "He" has some rebuttals to each point.

1: There have been many documented instances of people experiencing physiological death and yet returning to a living condition. Many such people have accounts of Near Death Experiences, some bordering on the ludicrous and others seeming more realistic- all having a sincerely spiritual tone. While Enoch Root might have experienced a technical death, it is not impossible that he somehow rallied against the odds and pulled through. Stranger shit has happened in real life.

2: I have seen many people move with such speed in critical situations that it would appear, from certain perspectives, that they were moving in a "wraith-like" manner, like the wind itself- Enoch's dark, priestly robes would certainly lend credence to the notion of him appearing like a shadow beneath the canopy of a deeply forested area while he is moving quickly on foot. One such as Enoch Root, who was undoubtedly trained in various forms of martial arts throughout his many years as a spy (among other things), would be entirely capable of moving with great alacrity. I have seen Tai Chi masters who are pushing 70 years of age move faster than I could track them with my eyes. And the bit about Enoch Root quietly whispering something in a long-dead language... he was, after all, a priest and he had just killed a man. Perhaps he was giving his victim Last Rites, postumously, in the long-dead language known as Latin. To continue, my personal take on that particular event in the book led me to believe that Enoch had actually shot a land mine close to or beneath his intended target, which had caused a very large cloud of debris and smoke to plume upward and, in a way, cloak Enoch's movements. One moment he is standing in the river, holding his gun, he sees the knife-wielding Andrew, says "Fuck it," runs towards Andrew with his gun drawn, fires at the ground beneath Andrew's feet and detonates a mine in the process, which blows up right under Andrew, and when the smoke clears he is standing on the river bank. Finis.

3: America (Amy) Shaftoe, who had been severely injured in a hostile incident was admittedly out of sorts, psychologically. Whatever Mr. Root might have done may have occurred so quickly for her that she was not able to disseminate, exactly, what he did or how he did it. Also, she was the daughter of a Marine veteran, who took personal battle very seriously and often chose to keep a tight lip about such experiences (a soldier's mentality of "leave the battle ON the battlefield" extends into his private life, more often than not) and may have taught his daughter a similar philosophy. She also may have been reluctant to talk about the incident because, to her, it was intensely personal and her upbringing probably enforced itself, instructing her to, in a sense, cherish her close brush with death in as private a manner as possible. Many war veterans choose not to talk about their experiences, even with those they love dearly, simply because they want to leave those memories in the past. That day was, after all, pretty rough for all parties involved. And Mr. Root's on-the-spot remedy might very well have been something he learned from the natives- the jungle is a very big place indeed and quite dangerous. Various nasties lurk about in those deep forests and the natives have probably learned quite a good bit about how to perform seemingly miraculous medical techniques in crucial ways that "modern medicine" can't even begin to understand. Do a Google search on "voodoo" and "puffer fish" for a decent idea of what was discovered by third-world natives and is now of great interest to the global medical community. That which is at first not understood might appear to be very much like magic, but is in fact just a unique application of natural resources.

4: It does not surprise me at all that Lawrence Waterhouse considered Enoch Root to be a "wizard." Root was, in terms of a spy, a "Jack of all trades," a man whose talents were not limited to a single area of expertise. His resources, through his organization, bore some similarity to the Illuminati, an organization which has been around for literally centuries and seems "tapped in" to nearly everything around the world. For someone who might have been initiated in the organization at an early age (as certainly seemed the case, from Enoch's own account of his personal history- he was an orphan who had been adopted by his organization), Enoch Root's familiarity with certain, mysterious facts about that which is not commonly known does not seem surprising to me at all. To someone who is not familiar with Eruditorium, Enoch Root might very well seem the 1940's equivalent to a wizard- or even a master spy whose security clearance is so high that they merely call him a "wizard."

Well, new evidence has come forth. Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1) gave more obvious hints, as Enoch does not seem to age from shortly after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 to 1717, much as a character of the same name did not seem to age between World War Two and the late 1990's. Daniel Waterhouse repeatedly implies that Enoch is not exactly mortal. But perhaps Enoch is a traditional Christian name of a family of very great longevity, like the Howard families of Heinlein's work. However, in The Confusion, Jack Shaftoe makes reference to Enoch living at least a couple of centuries among other vague references to his extraordinary longevity. Toward the end of The Confusion Enoch departs for South Pacific islands, nominally on a search for Solomon's mystical gold in the aptly named Solomon Islands. Incidently, this is (near) where Bobby Shaftoe meets an Enoch root in Cryptonomicon.

So what sort of being is this Enoch Root? In The Confusion he eyes a katana with fear, quite contrary with what we have seen of him so far (carelessly walking through a mine-field comes to mind). He dies and is buried in the 1940's and yet is as vigorous as ever fifty years later. Might he be an alchemist who succeeded in his search for the philosopher's stone? Might he be a Tolkien style wizard, an angel given human form, yet great lifespan (and the appearance of an elderly man)? I shall take him at his word that he is a creature of God, one phantasized out of the will of the Creator. This creator, incidentally being Neal Stephenson, who I hope shall draw back the curtain a bit more and allow more light to fall upon the truth of Enoch Root in The System of the World.

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