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From: "William H. Ansley" <wansley@warwick.net>
Subject: Re: (urth) A Solar Labyrinth
Date: Wed, 8 Jul 1998 01:20:14 

Earlier I (William Ansley) wrote (slightly edited from my original post:
>In _The Multimedia Encyclopedia of Science Fiction_ (CD-ROM) John Clute
>states quite baldly "'A Solar Labyrinth' (1983) was a
>metafiction about the entire Book [of the New Sun]." Does anyone know if
>their thinking on this point derived from any support Wolfe might have
>given this idea?

First I would like to say how much I appreciate the effort that Damien
Broderick and Michael Andre-Driussi went to in attempting to find an answer
to this question.

I certainly can see some evidence for the metafiction theory: the
fountains, ship (yawl) and dead tree covered with roses do seem to be, as
Jim Jordan noted and as I had previously though myself, strong links to
TBotNS. In this reading (which certainly isn't mutually exclusive with the
labyrinth as religion or the labyrinth as fiction/fantasy fiction readings)
it seems to me the section on the children is strongly associated with the
book of gold section of _Shadow_ (ch. 6, p. 45, Orb ed.).

On the very first page of the first essay in _The Castle of the Otter_,
"The Feast of Saint Catherine," (p. 211 of _Castle of Days_ in which TCotO
is included) Wolfe says:

In the first volume of _The Book of the New Sun_, the old librarian, Master
Ultan, says, "Such a child eventually discovers, on some low but obscure
shelf, _The Book of Gold_. You have never seen this book, and you will
never see it, being past the age at which it is met."

[Wolfe continues the quotation for a few lines which I omit.]

And in the fourth volume, Severian muses. "Perhaps I have contrived for
someone _The Book of Gold_."

In all modesty I think we have, Severian and I. Perhaps not for any great
number of persons, but for a few. ...

Wolfe goes on to say that he has written TCotO because "the next best thing
to _The Book of Gold_ is a book about _The Book of Gold_."

He also strongly implies, if he does not state, that Jack Vance's _The
Dying Earth_ was TBoG for him. (For me, I suppose it would have to be
Stanley G. Weinbaum's collection _A Martian Odyssey_. Certainly it is what
made me a lifelong sf reader.)

So (wrenching myself back to the subject at hand) the children who like the
maze in ASL are those for whom TBotNS is TBoG. This makes, to me at least,
the ultimate image of ASL: "Mr. Smith and one solitary child still playing
in the sunshine" quite charming. (But of course it ignores that pesky
"sinister element." Then again, whose word do we have to go on that there
really is a sinister element in ASL? Gene Wolfe's! Can we trust him? I say
"No!" Or maybe the sinister element is that the kids will grow up to spend
far too much time on the internet analyzing all of Gene Wolfe's stuff,
especially TBotNS, to death and beyond.)

My main problem with this reading has always been this line in ASL: "I have
heard that a certain wealthy citizen has not only designed and built a new
maze, but has invented a new _kind_ of maze, perhaps the first since the
end of the Age of Myth." At first I thought, surely GW (since, in this
reading, Smith is GW) doesn't think TBotNS is a new kind of sf novel. I
know he doesn't suffer from false modesty, but really, that would be too

But the more I think about it, perhaps he does. And (especially after the
time I have spent on this list) perhaps, if he does, he is right.

William Ansley

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

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