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From: Dan Rabin <danrabin@a.crl.com>
Subject: (urth) Ascians
Date: Tue, 30 Mar 1999 23:11:37 

Robert Borski has pointed out some very close correspondences between
Wolfe's treatments the Annese of _Fifth Head_ and of the Ascians of _New
Sun_.  I don't, however, find myself persuaded to his conclusion that they
are the same race in the subcreated (to use Tolkien's terminology) world of
the books.  Rather, I think the correspondences are a manifestation of
Wolfe's tendency to use the same motifs repeatedly.

One of Wolfe's most consistent concerns is to probe the boundaries of what
it is to be human and to remain human.  Not just the cloned line and
shape-changers of _Fifth Head_ and Erebus's slaves in _New Sun_, but also
the narrator of "The HORARS of War" and of "The Other Dead Man" and Dr.
Talos and Baldanders and the gods (and inhumi) in _Long Sun_ and the
roomful of corpses in "The Packerhaus Method" all represent Wolfe's
continual prodding at this thin line.  If Wolfe employs similar inventions
to treat a recurring theme, must we interpret these recurrences as multiple
descriptions of a single feature of the subcreated world, or can we just
assume that he finds the imagery compelling?  I generally prefer the latter
explanation (although I'll be the first to admit that I leaped to
conclusions about a certain "Twice-Headed Pas" when reading _Nightside the
Long Sun_).

In the specific case of the Ascians, I find it more satisfying as a reader
to think of them as being actual Urth humans who made a bad deal with
Erebus, thereby losing their humanity (in the view of the Pelerines).  I
think that "Loyal to the Group of Seventeen's Story" establishes the
essential humanity of Ascians: Severian notes that the ability to tell a
story cannot be crushed, and perhaps we are to take storytelling as a proxy
for Wolfean humanity.  In _New Sun_ itself the encounter with the Ascians
is preceded by an encounter with zoanthrops, whose nonhumanity is asserted
by Severian to little Severian and never contradicted.

I'm certainly glad to have these recurrences pointed out, but I don't think
they imply identity.

  -- Dan Rabin

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

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