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From: "Robert Borski" <rborski@coredcs.com>
Subject: (urth) Many Mansions
Date: Tue, 22 Sep 1998 01:30:01 

Between its Biblically-resonant title and Baba Yaga hut-on-the-run ending,
Gene Wolfe's "Many Mansions" (found in GW's BOOK OF DAYS) has one other
thing I feel recommends it for must reading: I believe it's possible to
argue the story takes place in the same milieu as THE FIFTH HEAD OF
CERBERUS and specifically on the world of Sainte Anne. At the very least I
see it as companion piece to FIFTH HEAD, in much the same way "A Solar
Labyrinth" and "Four Wolves" can be read in regards to NEW SUN.

Here's how I figure:

1) The story is formatted in interview style, much like the entries in Dr.
Marsch's journal. Taking turns speaking are Old Woman and Old Man, and all
we have are their transcribed oral testimonies. Could "Many Mansions" be a
missing folktale from Marsch's journal? Might it have been related by Dr.

2) The Old Man's first name is Todd, which means "fox," recalling the
similarly-named Wolfes of Sainte Croix. There's also a Shadow Child named
Foxfire (at least when his group configures five), as well as the Old Wise

3) As have the colonists of Sainte Anne, Todd-and-Nor's people have lost a
war to the Motherworld.

4) In the War, "Half the autochthons were killed, like most of us; those
that were left were happy enough to run off into the fens, or lie around
the towns waiting for someone to rob." This is *exactly* what happened to
the abos; some return to the meadowmeres, others steal whatever they can to
get by.

5) The Old Woman's account of settler life is very similar to Mary
Blount's. Cf. the Old Woman's remark--"She was such a pretty thing, just
like you"--with similar words by Mrs. Blount: "Weren't they [the local
French girls] the cutest things?"

6) Nor's account of Lily the prostitute recalls the fate of many abo women:
i.e., they're reduced to whoring for a livelihood.

7) At least two of the names are French  (Dode Beckette, Chackerville),
while the rest seem mainly English--this is consistent with place and
character names in FIFTH HEAD. Nepo Pass, in turn, suggests the cloning
convolutions of the Wolfe clan (nepo = descendant).

8)  The Old Woman describes her house as consisting of "Wood, or what looks
like it." The abos of Sainte Anne--recalling their pleiomorphic
abilities--are also so described. ("I asked him how the creature appeared,
and he said sometimes like a man, but sometimes like the post of a
fence...Or a dead tree, something of the sort.") The abos also believe
trees may contain the spirits of their ancestors--so a house made of wood
might explain the Great Aunt Edna denouement.

9) In "Many Mansions," roses climb the front of the house. In FIFTH HEAD,
at 666 Saltimbanque, it's the trumpet vine.

10) Using native flora, the brewmeister's of "Many Mansions" are able to
decoct a beverage that makes you feel "like you're young and going to live
forever. Like nothing bad ever happened to you, and you're likely to meet
your mother and dad and everybody you ever liked that's dead now just
around the next turn in the road." The Shadow Children of Sainte Anne have
a similar-acting drug.

11) The offworlder who comes from the Reconstruction Center to the hut of
"Many Mansions" may be a clone, or born in vitro--the same as Number Five.

12) Memories of a Proustian sort (including the sharing of
cake--madeleine?) play an important
role in the unfolding of  "Many Mansions."

13) Wolfe tells us in the intro the story does not take place on Earth.

Of course, though there's a baker's dozen of them, these may be more
superficial similarities than true fidelities. And I do have problems with
the Amazonian-like nature of the unnamed visitor from the Reconstruction
Center--her people, who've won the War, seem more like the rocket-building
feminazis of "In Looking Glass Castle" than anyone else we meet in FIFTH
HEAD. But all in all I still feel many of the comparisons are valid.

Anyone else care to weigh in with opinions?

Robert Borski

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

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