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From: John Regehr <jdr8d@cs.virginia.edu>
Subject: Re: (urth) some comments
Date: Sun, 27 Sep 1998 00:00:11 

> Was it truly different than the first two times? It wasn't until the third
> reading that I understood the events in the stone town with Apu-Punchau and
> Severian.

The third reading was definitely different!  The first time around was my
first encounter with Wolfe, so I had no idea what I was getting into.  I
read it in escapist fantasy mode - quickly, that is - and by the end I
knew that I had read something great, but only understood the work at the
most literal level.  Unfortunately my second reading took a long time
because real life intruded, and I didn't get much out of it.  My most
recent reading was the first time I read carefully, so I finally picked up
the Sev1/Sev2 distinction, the full Apu-Panchau story, and several other
things.  I still couldn't figure out who the beautiful woman in the House
Absolute is, who Severian encounters just before raising the assassin. 

I'd have undoubtedly gotten more out of my second or third reading had I
previously read _The Castle of the Otter_, interviews with Wolfe, Clute's
reviews, _Lexicon Urthus_, and this list.  However, I'm somewhat
uncomfortable with the idea of using external sources to help understand
literature.  It feels like cheating, especially when the material comes
from the author. 

Has the lit crit community come to any meaningful conclusions about what
it means when the author offers an interpretation or an explanation about
a book?  Didn't Tolkien explicitly say that in TLotR an orc is just an
orc, and don't some people still insist that the war of the ring is a
metaphor for one of the world wars?  Although I wish Mr. Wolfe nothing but
the best of health in the future, it seems like things are more tractable
academically when an author is no longer able to offer new
interpretations, or to contradict existing ones. 

Also, I'm slightly wary about over-analyzing books.  It's possible that
this is just bad attitude left over from bad english classes, though,
since I've never ruined a book by thinking about it too much.  I guess my
position is that one's choice about whether to use external materials or
not, or to spend a lot of time analyzing subtle points or not, should be
made in order to maximize one's enjoyment of the work.  That's what it
boils down to, right?  The lit crit people probably don't get to say this,
since they could put themselves out of a job :). 


John Regehr | regehr@virginia.edu | http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~jdr8d/
grad student | Department of Computer Science | University of Virginia 

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

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