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From: tony.ellis@futurenet.co.uk (Tony Ellis)
Subject: (urth) Fifth Head debate, & Severi
Date: 9 Apr 1998 16:23:32 +0100

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

 Fifth Head debate, & Severian's Mercy

Robert Borski wrote:
>Any thoughts, Tony, as long as we're mentioning associative works, on why
>GW called Phaedria Phaedria, if not for the extraliterary reference to

Well, my best shot would be the Phaedria in Spencer's The
Faerie Queene, who personifies Wantonness. Not very fair on the
poor girl, I know, but she is a bit of a flirt. Apparently there's also
a Phaedria in the Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus's
Pot of Gold, but I don't pretend to have read that.

Sadly, Robert, I think we've taken the current Fifth Head debate about
as far as we can, as any further arguments I made now would just be
reiterations of arguments I've already made. It's been fun.

Terry Nickolette asked:
>When does [Severian] find his humanity?

I'm glad I'm not the only one who's been pondering this. I think
Mantis is right that the moment in Baldanders' castle is a 
"benchmark", when Severian notes his own unease at the sight
of the eviscerated woman, and observes that once this would
not have disturbed him at all. 

I don't think that his sparing of Cyracia is any sign of a growing
sense of mercy, however. He is quite prepared to strangle her
right up to the last moment, and only saves her to expiate the
guilt he feels for not saving Thecla. In his own beautiful words
"we strive to repay the debts of the past with the debased
currency of the present."

It may be a mistake to look for a specific Road-to-Damascus
moment when Severian changes, but here's a thought to play with:
in Archetypal literary criticism one of the archetypes of character 
development and change is the Descent into the Underworld. The
Underworld is the metaphorical dark underside of everyday reality,
the place where the rules change, characterised by inversion. The
protagonist enters it when he or she is at their lowest spiritual ebb,
passes through a personal nadir, but then gains some sort of
enlightenment and leaves the underworld on an upper path, a changed
person. Marlowe's river journey in Heart of Darkness is often cited 
as an example, but I've always thought Bilbo's encounter with Gollum
in The Hobbit was a good one too: he's literally in the underworld, and
he's at his lowest ebb, having lost his friends and all hope of getting out.
We have inversion in the form of the slimey, murderous Gollum, who is
Bilbo's antithesis in every way. Before this encounter Bilbo was a 
useless, cowardly deadweight, after it, thanks to the talismanic Ring
he carries out of the underworld, he is a hero and a better person.

My point: there is an episode between Cyracia and Baldanders'
castle that fits all the characteristics of the Descent into the 
Underworld. It is the encounter with Typhon. Having just seen Little
Severian fry, (which may be symbolic in itself: the death of his
spiritually immature self?) Big Severian is at a personal all-time low. 
He is close to killing himself. Cue Typhon, who whisks Sev away into
the dark interior of the mountain - the Underworld. We have inversion,
too: when Typhon dangles Sev over the abyss he holds him by the 
ankles, literally turning his world upside down.

Behind this episode lies another story, of course: Christ's
tempation by the Devil. That too is a Descent into the
Underworld: Christ goes into the wilderness a carpenter's son,
fasts, meets his own inverse in the Devil, and emerges ready to
begin his ministery.

Just an idea to play with over Easter! Given his mistrust of academics,
Wolfe would probably dismiss it out of hand... <g>

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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