Cover for first U.S. edition of Pale Fire
This week: Please finish reading the book, if you have time. But there will still be another couple of weeks of discussion.
So, what happened?
I lean toward the theory that the narrator is actually V. Botkin, the "American scholar of Russian descent" in the index, whose name, as the index records, can be turned around to make "kingbot," the maggot. In this reading, Botkin is crazy and imagines himself as both the exiled king of Zembla, and as a professor under the pseudonym Charles Kinbote. He writes the book and commits suicide afterward.
At the end, the narrator imagines writing a play that includes "a lunatic who intends to kill an imaginary king, another lunatic who imagines himself to be that king, and a distinguished old poet who stumbles by chance into the line of fire ... "
At the end of the book the narrator grudgingly refers to what really happened: Jack Grey escapes and attempts to kill the judge who put him away, Judge Goldsworth, in whose house the narrator is living; by mistake he takes Shade for Goldsworth.
This theory also fits his admiration for suicide expressed at the end of the book ("God will help me, I trust, to rid myself of any desire to follow the example of two other characters in this work.") One of those characters would be Hazel Shade, who in the index "deserves great respect, having preferred the beauty of death to the ugliness of life." (The other person who kills himself is the assassin, Jack Grey).
Nabokov said in an interview, that Pale Fire "is full of plums that I keep hoping somebody will find. For instance, the nasty commentator is not an ex-King of Zembla nor is he professor Kinbote. He is professor Botkin, or Botkine, a Russian and a madman."
For a rundown of various interpretations, see the Wikipedia article.