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From: "Robert Borski" <rborski@coredcs.com>
Subject: (urth) A Solar Labyrinth
Date: Fri, 3 Jul 1998 20:39:23 

One of my all-time favorite short-shorts by Gene Wolfe is "A Solar
Labyrinth." And yet no one I've ever shared the story with has ever been to
figure it out, to solve the maze, if you will. So allow me my Daedalean
intrepretation. (My apologies if this repeats anything similar said by
others--I know the story has been discussed, but can't remember details.)

It's about tv, folks. The labyrinth consisting of light and dark is a
television--maybe color, more likely an old black and white.

Observe how Gene Wolfe describes it in a typical living room.

It stands "on a manicured green lawn"--the carpet. The various "lamp posts
from Vienna, Paris and London" are the set's tubes or its cathode ray
imagizer. "The standing trunk of a dead tree" is a console, the wooden box
containing the tv.

"The maze changes from hour to hour" (i.e., different programs begin and
end) "and indeed from minute to minute." (the screen is alway changing).

The maze/tv is also a substitute for the real world. Hence the mention of
"armchair adventurers" and "Gone, it might seem, are the great days of
monsters, maidens and excitement." Tv has its own myths as well: the
western, the sit-com, the hospital and cop shows.

Notice the mention of Diana, Tezcatlipaca and Quetzalcoatl, light-bringing
entities. Compare this with Phosphor, the god of luminous dots, our 20th
century equivalent. Note as well the ferver of interest in shows such as
Seinfeld and the Superbowl--it's near religious. As is the tithe we
frequently spend to enjoy it, what with vcrs, large screen sets, and
satellite and cable technology fees.

Observe as well how television can entrap--the lost being at the heart of
this maze is not an Athenian youth, but a couch potato. It is a "maze from
which the explorer can walk free whenever he chooses. And yet it is said
that most of them...do not." "Most adult guests do not escape until they
are rescued by a passing cloud." (i.e., we turn off the set) "Some, indeed,
refuse such rescue." (Anybody remember the days when networks didn't
telecast 24/7? Does your tv have a sleeper function that will automatically
turn it off in a certain amount of time? Anyone have a friend or
acquaintance who doesn't own a tv?) 

"The frowning figure of the Minotaur...a monster that haunts the shadows"
is either loneliness or boredom or an impoverished imagination (notice how
some children escape the labyrinth). 

"Glasses help" to place you in the maze (especially if like Gene Wolfe you
wear spectacles).

Mr. Smith is John Q. Public, the quintessential Nielsen family, whose
interests determine maze design/tv programming.

And the solitary child mentioned in the story's last sentence? It's the
child for whom tv is both babysitter and sole companion, the one monster
who will play with you when no one else will.


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

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