I've been thinking how I missed that Joe is dead, and the "how" is just that I'm stupid.
Actually, no, I don't think it's because you're stupid. First time round it's so easy to get wholly confused and just throw your hands up, declare you're lost and not try and make sense of it, and since you left it several months before re-reading, all you had was the memory of confusion, and second time around you weren't trying to make sense of it, you were just reading for the pleasure of the writing. Me: (a) I hate not understanding something, so I dig and dig, (b) I'm used to cryptic crosswords and having to tease meaning out of strange sentences, (c) I read murder mysteries so I'm always looking for clues anyway, and reading behind what is actually said, (d) I was acutely aware no one was looking after Joe so I was trying to find reasons he was all alone, with no mother or female relation caring for him and (e) my second read was immediately after the first so I was picking up things I remembered from the first read and putting them together. (Even then, though, I missed things. Glancing through that first scene again last night I noticed that Treacle Walker said of the pot of Poor Mans Friend "It is small." and "Of little price." -- ie it
was (was also?) the Philosopher's Stone.)
If anyone's interested and didn't look it up, here's a similar pot:
Flicking back through the book, I see Thin Amren even calls Treacle Walker a psychopomp at one point, but though in theory I knew the meaning of that word, it seems to have escaped me at that moment (or I assumed Thin Amren was using it non-literally).
He calls him "that pickthank psychopomp" and I was so taken up with "pickthank" -- a word I'd never heard before (it means a toady, or obsequious flatterer) -- that I almost missed the "psychopomp" and then with the rest of the para (especially "I'd not trust that one's arse with a fart.") I thought it was being used as some kind of insult first time round, and wasn't to be taken literally.
I see also that TW says that his home is the "country of the summer stars". I've googled that phrase and the only references seem to be to Garner, either TW or to The Owl Service (where Huw Halfbacon uses it of his own true home). When I read that name, it brought to mind the Celtic otherworld. I can't find a mythological source for that, but a couple of books titles (such as Stephen Lawhead's In the Region of the Summer Stars) suggest it exists.
I read somewhere that Garner referenced some of his other books, which enriched the reading for those who knew his work. Good catch with the idea of the Celtic overtones!
What we need is someone to produce an annotated copy, with definitions of all the unusual words and pointing out all the allusions to other works and myth!