FIND in
<--prev V15 next-->

From: "Robert Borski" <rborski@coredcs.com>
Subject: (urth) St. Paul & the Werwolf
Date: Mon, 29 Jun 1998 23:25:51 

Over the years I've recommended quite a few of Gene Wolfe's short stories
to my stauncher Catholic acquaintances, citing New Testament readings as
collateral gloss. "The Detective of Dreams," for example, draws much from
the Gospels of Mathew and Mark, while "Silhouette" obtains from the Gospel
of John and the Pseudepigrapha. But the story I recommend most often is
"The Werwolf as Hero," not only because it's a fun read, but because I feel
much of it is based on the writings of St. Paul, perhaps the Catholic
Church's most important personage after Christ.

Paul, our titular hero, is symbolically innocent when we first meet him,
although he will receive wisdom in the course of the narrative. This is
signaled by the very first sentence of the story, where an owl shrieks and
Paul flinches. Notice as well how Paul derives from the Latin word for
'small' and the way he is sitting, with his knees together (the virgin
position), while later, when he contemplates luring potential victims he
considers crying like an infant (significantly, however, he rejects this
notion and plans on using a silver bell, a much more Christian image). The
victims in this case are the new stewards of Earth, the so-called Masters,
genetically re-engineered humans, whereas Paul and his kind have remained
true human. Paul's last name is Gorou, which derives from the French word
for werewolf, loup-garou; minus the 'loup,' gorou/garou can be taken to
mean 'man.' (Paul is also the Son of Man, i.e., Jesus Christ, especially in
the last scene. It's also extremely worth noting that the Greek word for
wolf, lukos, is frequently confused with the Greek word for light, leukos.
In fact, I submit this difference in a single *e* is why Wolfe uses the
variant spelling of werwolf). These so-called Masters also revere science
over religion, as witness the four-dimensional diorama built to Hugo de
Vries, the father of mutation, who undergoes, as Paul watches, death,
"rots" and then is reborn in the manner of Christ (although "rots" conveys
the truer nature of de Vries' artificial resurrection). Paul's stalking of
Masters might also be considered a parallel to St. Paul's persecution of
Christians, whom he considered traitors to Judaism, at least until he
himself converted. 

But just as Paul is about to attack his two victims--a fat man and a woman
wearing a dress "of flowering vines the color of love" (the flowering vines
may represent orchids, research on which allowed de Vries to formulate his
theories on mutation; they also represent sexuality, as does the serpent of
gold supporting the woman's breasts)--two other figures join the scene, a
grey-haired man named Emmit Pendleton and his young daughter Janey. The
trio of humans kill the two Masters, but a quarrel breaks out after the
slayings as to how they will divvy up the goods. Paul is also immediately
attracted to Janey (he senses her "femaleness, the woman-rut"), symbolizing
his growth from childhood to adolescence. But Paul and the Pendletons soon
part, each with a dead Master, although already Paul is contemplating life
with Janey. (Note however how Paul mentions the dead male Master's meat
will be tainted by his testicles i.e., sexuality spoils corporeal worth).

Then in one of the story's more surprising moments the dead woman Paul is
carrying speaks to him. This symbolizes a false resurrection (cf. the de
Vries diorama scene), and eventually the woman will be totally dead, but
the scene also conveys several important plotpoints. Asks the woman of
Paul: "How come you didn't change? When the rest changed their genes?"
Paul's reply: "We didn't want to. We are the human beings." Thus some
choice has been involved with his remaining human (unlike the Pendletons
who have had changing withheld from them). The woman also tells Paul she
and the other dead Master were not married. It's important as well to
notice how her eyes' growing opaqueness signifies the imminence of true

Libidinously aroused by Janey, however, Paul delays eating the dead Master
and instead goes looking for the Pendleton's lair, which he finds in an old
bus. Notice how Paul's house has a turret, with its association of
churchliness (it's also respected by the Masters, who fear destroying it
"will bring back the old times"), while Janey's father calls their home "a
dump." The bus also stinks of blood (an image of death). 

Emmit Pendleton subsequently begins to fill Paul in on his family's
background and one of the things we learn right away is that the Pendletons
have been rejected as candidates for gene therapy/mutation because they
carry potentially deleterious genes  (do bad genes equal original sin?);
thus their humanity has nothing to do with choice, it's theirs by
circumstance; i.e., to bring in the Christian parallel, they are not
believers by choice, but falsely so, by omission. Now consider the name
Emmit. Emmet (its closest cognate) derives from the Hebrew word for truth.
Notice again the missing signal *e.* Emmit, I submit, means 'false truth.'
As for Pendleton, pendle = pendant (OED), and a pendant weighing a ton
recalls the millstone of Bibilical provenance ("Whoso shall offend one of
the little ones which believe in me [remember Paul means small], it were
better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck and that he
were drowned in the depth of the sea"). 

Emmit also mentions a previous suitor of Janey's--"Nice fellow, a German.
Name was Curtain--something like that." I submit the word Emmit means is
'kirchen,' German for churches. The suitor in question, despite having been
promised Janey's hand, has never returned, symbolizing God's withdrawal. 

Then there are the chickens the Pendleton's used to raise for their
livelihood; all of them have died of sickness, and if we accept the egg as
a potent sign of rebirth, this symbolizes their failed rebirth as humans.
Then there are a number of images that play off of blindness. Perhaps it's
best at this point to remind everyone that St. Paul was struck blind, but
recovered and converted to Christianity. Remember the pearl-colored eyes of
the Masters, as well as the growing ocular opaqueness of the dead woman
Paul has killed? Emmit's sister Clara (despite her name) is born blind in
one eye, and later Janey will have to be veiled because there is "a
blankness of eye" to her that betrays her as non-Master. All of these
symbolize the Pendletons' inability to see (i.e., believe in and accept
God). Lastly, notice how machines tear up the Pendletons' farm the night
before Xmas and how a brother named Tom has his leg impaled by a
two-by-four (read Crucifixion), whereupon "rot" sets in (cf. the de Vries
diorama), and he dies. Almost all of the Pendleton family history is tied
up in images of blindness, death and oblivion. But does this in turn mean
they can never achieve salvation? Not in the Catholic religion, and even
Emmit seems to realize he's made mistakes, as he confesses to Paul, "Even a
bad man can love his child."

Also notice how Wolfe describes Paul in the very next paragraph as he and
Janey leave together. "*Her husband* took Janey and led her out of the
ruined bus." (Italics mine.) This very obviously is meant to recall St.
Paul's oft-quoted dictum from 1 Corinthians 7:9: "It is better to marry
than to burn;" i.e., sex outside of marriage will lead to hell; and recall
now the fate of the female Master who specifically mentions not being
married to the fat man she accompanied.

No consummation between the new Mr. and Mrs. Gorou takes place, although in
the very next scene Janey is wearing a grotesque parody of a wedding dress,
complete with red veil. Here she is less Little Red Riding Hood and more
the Scarlet Whore of Babylon  ('lupa' in Latin means both she-wolf and
prostitute), and she and Paul manage to trap a potential victim in a
downshaft. It's important to note here Janey's physical (as opposed to
spiritual) hunger as she takes the lead in chasing after the boy; Janey
also has no dialogue in the entire story, although she does moan and sob,
and she delights in cutting up her victims while they're still alive,
recalling animals who play with their prey like cats. All these images play
to her unredeemed bestial nature.

But then something miraculous of a sort happens. Paul is trapped in a
closing door by his foot, like an animal in a trap, and Janey must gnaw his
foot to the bone so he can escape. Her concern, in other words, has turned
to the altruistic, to something other than satisfying her baser needs, and
this is symbolized by the act she ritualistically performs on her husband,
not of eating meat, but freeing him from the fleshly bonds that constrain
him. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the Eucharistic significance of

The last image we have of Janey then recalls Mary Magdalen (another
reformed 'lupa') washing the feet of our Lord: "Over the pain he could feel
the hot tears washing the blood from his foot."

Lukos has now become leukos. Redemption has been achieved and both Paul and
Janey may yet know God. 

My very last words on their salvation? 

Forever and ever amen.

Robert Borski/scolex (who's surprised he can spell his own name correctly,
having gotten Delage wrong every time in his previous post)



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

<--prev V15 next-->