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From: Ron Crown <crownrw@slu.edu>
Subject: (urth) Tracking wolves
Date: Wed, 27 Aug 1997 10:45:44 

[Posted from URTH, a mailing list about Gene Wolfe's New Sun and other works]

Vacation and the start of a new semester have kept me away from several
weeks, but catching up with the discussion on "Tracking Song" has been
sehr interessant!  (sorry, vacation was 2 weeks in Germany).
Let me toss in my own 2 cents (or less) worth and see what others make
of it.  
In the interview Gordon quotes in her book, Wolfe mentions T.S. as a
"pivotal" story for him, because, for one thing, he is proud of "the
primitive inventions no one ever actually invented...[the] uninvented
inventions [!] of the stone age."  If we take this at face value, it
will save us from pouring through reference books of pre-Columbian
artifacts trying to identify, say, the weapon used by the Wiggikki or
even the sail-sledge mode of travel (which I see as a possible, albeit,
exotic mode of travel suited to a fable of this type, cf. the sand-ships
in Bradbury's Martian Chronicles), assuming evidence for any such
artifact would have survived in other than some plastic-art form.
More importantly there is a little piece of evidence that hasn't been
mentioned so far that of just the type that Wolfe likes to plant and
that may be of some significance (I think).  Did anyone notice the
gesture used to signify "yes," i.e., touching the chin with the finger
is used by three differnent "tribes," the Wiggiki, the Pamigaka, and Cim
Glowing? (pp. 171, 184, 189 in the Orb edition).  Does this perhaps
signify a common (human?) origin?  I propose this because guess who else
uses the same gesture--the robots (p. 212).  But where did they get it
from?  Not from observing the tribes, they can't survive (long) on the
surface and have probably never been aboveground.  From their (human?)
builders?  If this is true, then this suggests that the tribes are
perhaps devolved from a common human ancestor, maybe in a genetic
experiment gone wrong scenario as suggested by Sgt. Rock (I think).
What's more, there is another science fictional allusion (I think) on p.
213, namely, Asimov's laws of robotics!  The cyborg Min try to get the
three robots to stop deconstructing Mantru's palace but "they will not
obey us," i.e., the Min are not human so Law #1 does not apply (robots
must obey commands from humans) and when the Min try to stop the robots
by attacking them, "they defend themselves" (Law #3).  This makes
Roller's use of the finger to chin gesture (and the gesture itself
perhaps) more significant, the machine uses it responding to Cutthroat's
summons "to do as I said."  It's almost like taking an oath.  This
solemnity/significance of the gesture is perhaps what accounts for its
survival for so long among different tribes, albeit sometimes maybe in
watered-down form.
Finally, if this is a totem-story (and Wolfe so identifies it in the
Gordon interview), it is surely of significance that Cutthroat begins
his sojourn with the Wiggikki (wolves) to whom he bears a physical
likeness according to Eggseeker (p. 184) and ends it with one of them
(Crooked Leg, AHA, no one has mentioned the significance of that wound!)
and then follows the return of the Great Sleigh (as I take it) and its
winged being (although Whiteapple, a Pamigaka is there at the end, too).
Since this is a totem-story, the natural interpretation of the winged
being is that it is a bird (it's a bird, no, it's a plane, no, it's,
it's...pphhhht, a bird <g>).  As wolves are winter symbols, birds are
spring symbols, as Wolfe says, the spring thaw has arrived, the world is
being reborn, in the wake of man comes...man reborn.
Obviously, I'm taking the story in more of a straightforward science
fictional sense, or more accurately perhaps as an animal fable with
science fictional elements.  In other words, what we would expect from
Wolfe, something sui generis that doesn't fit neatly into any
predetermined category.  This makes more sense to me than the two
scenarios suggested by mantis, the shamanistic dream voyage or the "Dead
Man Walking" (sledging?) trek (although there are certainly elements in
the story to support such readings).
The biggest mystery remaining for me is exactly where does Cutthroat
come or rather (since I think it's likely he comes from the Great
Sleigh) how did he get to where he is and why?  Unless this is intended
as some type of allegory of finding one's  way in the world without
really knowing "woher" or "wohin" (where from and where to)?
BTW, I've got several Native American dictionaries coming through
interlibrary loan (our library didn't have very much); I'll let you know
if anything turns up on any names.

And now, step up and have at!

Ron Crown

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