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Joyce described the book as a downwards parabola into sleep, or as a tunnel going through a mountain. As HCE moves through the dream, the "thunderwords" track his movement. There are 10 thunderwords, the first 9 of 100 letters each, the last of 101, for a total of 1,001--tales of a thousand and one nights, appropriate for this book of sleep.

As each thunderword leads into another part of the book, it fits into Joyce's usage of Vico's philosophy to tell the story. Each thunderword leads to a new cycle and a deeper part of sleep, and a deeper, more muddled state in HCE's mind (where the "mudmound" of his body fades from view and even the acrostics for HCE become muddled, as hec, ech, etc.). Thunder itself was important in Vico's philosophy as a motivating force and a symbolic marker of events in history.

"There are ten thunders in the Wake. Each is a cryptogram or codified explanation of the thundering and reverberating consequences of the major technological changes in all human history. When a tribal man hears thunder, he says, 'What did he say that time?', as automatically as we say 'Gesundheit.'" -- Marshall McLuhan

"It took months of concentrated effort to begin to winkle out the thousands of words in the thunders; now, several of them have yielded thirty or more pages of words, each word denoting or alluding to a theme in the episode or an associated technology. Prior to our discovery of the thunders and their significance, Marshall McLuhan looked up to Joyce as a writer and artist of encyclopedic wisdom and eloquence unparalleled in our time.... After, he recognized in Joyce the prescient explorer, one who used patterns of linguistic energy to discern the patterns of culture and society and technology." -- Eric McLuhan

"His [Urizen's] voice to them was but an inarticulate thunder for their Ears Were heavy & dull & their eyes & nostrils closed up" (William Blake: Vala, or The Four Zoas, Night the Sixth, p. 70, l. 42f) Urizen represents - "in Eternity" - Faith and Certainty and - "in the Fall" - Doubt, Authoritarianism, Limitation and Abstraction. He is the supreme tyrant-god-priest-king-father figure.