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From: "Ori Kowarsky" <orik@sprint.ca>
Subject: (urth) Are TBOTNS and UOTNS Christian Texts?
Date: Wed, 28 Apr 1999 00:51:23 

Rostrum wrote:

"Using the author's biography and alleged intent to interpret a novel can
be interesting, but I prefer interpretations that stand on their own
support from the text.

You may end up dismissing some interesting questions if you assume that
because Wolfe is Catholic, Tzad is an angel and therefore a good guy."

I just wanted to second Rostrum's eloquent and elegant defense of a textual
reading of Wolfe's work.  Nonetheless, Nicholas Gevers' and Alex David
Groce's advocacy of a Christian or specifically Roman Catholic reading of
Wolfe's book have raised the spectre in my mind of my being told off by Gene
Wolfe, in a scene not unlike Marshall McLuhan reading the riot act to the
blowhard in "Annie Hall", that I have missed the point of his work

Any interpretation of TBOTNS or UOTNS, whether secular, religious, or in
between, can only serve to increase the enjoyment the reader can get out of
the series.  I offer the following analysis not as a definitive agrument but
merely as something to be considered in the continuing debate.

The prevalence of Christian iconography and fragments or echoes of the
Christian story (no disrespect intended by these words, but I am not a
believer) invites the reader to map, to some degree, Sev's story over the
life of Jesus;  but the very fact that Sev exists, and the destruction which
Sev ultimately unleashes, is a complete refutation of every key Christian

Let's start from the beginning.  The Urth of TBOTNS is one where
Christianity has obviously completely failed.  If we accept Sev's narrative
as a fair survey of Commonwealth and Ascian society, none of them have even
heard of Jesus Chirst.  None of them can be said to be saved, or even
capable of being saved;  no one is witness to the crucifixion, death and
resurrection.  To the extent that Christianity can be said to survive at all
it is as fragments, a detrius of images and concepts joining the Greek and
Hindu gods in the compost heap of Urth culture.  Needless to say, the end of
humanity is horrific, but it doesn't follow the plan laid out in the Book of
Revelations, and Jesus doesn't return at the end of it.  Furthermore, with
the coming of the New Sun, humanity is about to effectively evolve into
Green Men.  Are they covered by Original Sin?  I mean, they're practically a
different species.

I think that Gene Wolfe attempted to tackle this thorny theological problem
in UOTNS.  Tzad, on the seat of judgement, says of his "adventures" with

"[speaking of the Conciliator] Would they not have wished to walk with him,
if they could?  Stand beside him when he was in danger?  Care for him,
perhaps, when he was ill?  I have been such an acylote, in a creation now
vanished.  In that too there was a Conciliator and a New Sun, though we did
not use those names."

Now, I'm guessing that in a Catholic interpretation of TBOTNS, this would
serve to distinguish *our* universe -- in which Jesus existed and the future
will play out according to certain prophesies -- and Sev's universe, which,
I am disappointed to discover five books into the story, is not ours at all.
But this side-stepping of the issue actually creates a thornier problem than
before.  The problem has two parts:  The first is, if Jesus never showed up
in Sev's universe, then the population of Sev's universe are either unfallen
(unlikely) or fallen and never redeemed by the Son of God.  Why this
universe should be so bereft is a divine mystery beyond me, but it is
interesting that in the absence of their ever experiencing Christianity the
population of Sev's universe seem no better or worse than our own.  The
second part of the problem is that in the "Key to the Universe" chapter in
Citadel, Sev is told on good authority that "As the flower that comes is
like the flower from which it came, so the universe that comes repeats the
one whose ruin was its origin;  and this is as true of its finer features as
of its grosser ones ... though just as the flower evolves from summer to
summer, all things advance by some minute step."

If my supposition is correct that Tzad's quote is meant to refer to our
universe (with Christ) vs. Sev's universe (without), does that mean the
absence of the Chistian religion in Sev's universe is a mark of that

These comments are in no way meant to criticize anyone's religion, and I
certainly would not want to seem to put words into Mr. Wolfe's mouth which
are obviously diametrically opposed to his stated beliefs.  The above
problem is the result of the author (allegedly) using allegorical techniques
to convery religious information in a non-allegorical, or concrete, setting.
Take a look at the works of C.S. Lewis, for example;  on the one hand the
"Narnia" series is theoretically supposed to be a young person's primer on
Christian belief;  on the other hand, whenever the Narnia kids get into
trouble they don't call on Christ but on a *talking lion*.  I guess you can
call it the Golden Calf Syndrome;  the metaphor is always at risk of being
mistaken for what it is meant to represent.  This is also called idolotry.

Much safer, I believe, to stick with a materialistic interpretation of the

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

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