FIND in
<--prev V26 next-->

From: "Alex David Groce" <adgroce@eos.ncsu.edu>
Subject: Re: (urth) Are TBOTNS and UOTNS Christian Texts?
Date: Wed, 28 Apr 1999 11:23:15 

On Apr 28, 12:51am, Ori Kowarsky wrote:
> Subject: (urth) Are TBOTNS and UOTNS Christian Texts?
> 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
> completely.
> 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
> prophesy.
> 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.

Ah, now this is interesting.  I think that when you noted a materialistic
explanation, I assume you meant an interpretation that just ignored/avoided the
theological overtones.  Which to me is textually out-of-question--there are too
many clear references to Christianity to have that not come out as a "yes, but
you've ignored the white whale, Sir" explanation of Moby Dick.

	The question is, does the BOTNS necessarily mean Christianity has
completely failed in Urth?  Well, as far as being a clearly present religion,
yes.  However, the church invisible, as I understand it, can continue even if
the visible church has vanished--and as I see it, the patterning of Severian's
life after both Christic and, as importantly, maybe, Apostolic, events
indicates that the Increate (guess who?) is still working through human
history.  I will be honest and say that in my interpretation, the New Sun is
not the end of history, which in this universe may well (I suspect would be)
the end of Christian revelation.  In what sense is the New Sun an
eschatological completion?  It's the opposite--it starts things up, and
prevents the icy/entropy future of Abaia & co.  The New Sun is analogous to
Revelation and Second Coming, but it isn't the same thing.  It's a (here I
agree with you) primarily material rescue--the spiritual end being the wiping
clean of the dying culture of Urth.  Things are just starting up again on Urth,
and where the Green Men will go from there is anybody's guess.  And I'd say
that the Green Men are "man" and probably, in Wolfe's schema, covered by
original sin.  A stage in evolution wouldn't make us gods or angels, and
photosynthesis doesn't really impact metaphysically.

	For me, the best indication that Urth IS our universe, and Christianity
is, while not exactly filling the pews, still around in the important sense, i
in Long Sun.  Silk, it seems to me, has been contacted by the Outsider as part
of a revelation that is to (A) as in the BOTNS, save everybody's skins from a
materially killing end, and (B) to slowly restore Christianity.  The voided
crosses, the images Silk sees, the direct reference to a man crucified--these
seem to me to be sufficient evidence to place it all in our universe (since
Long Sun and New Sun are surely the same universe!)
	Both stories to me seem to be about historical, physical actions saving
mankind or some subset thereof from material disaster, but the underlying
patterns of the salvation are such that it is difficult not to see signs of a
historically active God--specifically, the Christian God.  In fact, the
non-existence of an active Christianity reinforces the theological explanation
of the BOTNS--if the heiros were devout Catholics they might have motives in
making Severian's life analogous to Christ's, in arranging for him to imitate
Peter by raising a woman named Dorcas, etc.  But they don't seem to be.   So,
the patterning of Severian's life is best explained as the hand of the
Increate, working through the physical world and, specifically, that rascal

> 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
> Sev:
> "[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."

	An interesting speculation--of course, there's my extra-textual reason
for doubting Wolfe would imply that (in fact, doubting Wolfe would imply a
universe without Christ in it), but my reasons for thinking the BOTNS universe
is probably ours are given above (and such little correspondences as teh
astronaut on the moon).
	So, I'd say Sev. wasn't present in the other universe, since Sev. was
the Concilliator, but Christ was, as He is is Sev's universe.

> 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
> progression?

Where I don't see (whether it's our universe or not) it being absent-Long Sun
seems to clearly (even more so than New Sun, where God's the only one
remembering Christianity in a sense) indicate a human recollection of the

> 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.

	Yeah, but I doubt many kids end up worshipping a talking lion.  BOTNS
runs little risk, at least, of setting up Severian as an idol--since he's no
role-model, and (in his best trait) tends to put all the credit in the
Increate's hands.  Of course, if you think the ice future is better, and the
New Sun is a Bad Thing, that's another matter, but from a material prospective,
surely a new chance is better than Ragnarok?

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

	Safer, maybe, but leaves a lot of stuff unexplained--such as the
underlying pattern of Severian's whole mission--why, exactly, in a material
interpretation (particularly one without a Christ in the universe's history),
does Severian's life echo Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts?  Are the hieros
playing a wierd literary game?

"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." - John 8:32
Alex David Groce (adgroce@eos.ncsu.edu)
Senior (Computer Science/Multidisciplinary Studies in Technology & Fiction)
'98-99 NCSU AITP Student Chapter President
608 Charleston Road, Apt. 1E (919)-233-7366

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

<--prev V26 next-->