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From: "Jonathan Laidlow" <LAIDLOJM@hhs.bham.ac.uk>
Subject: (urth) historical/literal or figurative consistency in the Urth cycle
Date: Thu, 29 Apr 1999 11:54:47 GMT

The recent discussion about the presence of Christianity in BotNS has 
been very interesting. I think it is correct to draw on textual 
evidence over and above evidence from Wolfe the author - authors are 
notorious for changing their minds and changing their intentions. 
What Wolfe says and thinks of the BotNS now may be very different to 
how he thought of it both before it was written and after. This also 
makes it interesting to look at 'Long Sun' as a reworking of some of 
the themes of BotNS.

On a more serious note - the debate has centred on making Urth into a 
consistent fictional world by attempting to locate our own history 
into an early stage of the time frame. This posits a realist 
interpretion of the book which I cannot agree with. I have always 
read the Urth sequence as a kind of metafiction - a book about 
stories and the way stories are told. Last month Robert Borski 
pointed out in an 'Undine' post that the tales from the Brown book 
are all conflations of familiar stories. The same is obviously true 
of the sequence as a whole, with Christian mythology as another 'old' 
story that is part of the fabric of Urth.

I feel that the SF Encyclopedia is right to suggest that Wolfe is 
some kind of modernist writer - one of the effects of Severian's 
narrative stance (his supposedly infallible memory) is to point out 
the unreliability of narration to actually create a realist world. 
Sev is a storyteller, and the Urth cycle is, in the words of Clute/ 
Nicholls and the other Encyclopedists, ' a fabulation is any story 
which challenges the two main assumptions
 of genre sf: that the world can be seen; and that it can be told. We
 have chosen to use the term "fabulation"' [And a note against 
confusion - this doesn't mean that Wolfe is some kind of 
post-modernist who doubts everything - as a modernist Wolfe perhaps 
believes that the world cannot be adequately reproduced in textual 
form in any literal sense]

I don't believe that Urth can be seen - it is not a realist narrative 
in the sense that it creates a realistic image in your head - I don't 
believe I can picture Sev or anything else from the cycle in my head 
in any pictoral sense. What it does is play with old narratives, 
conflating them and changing them to present something new. Perhaps 
what I'm saying is that Sev's world is figurative rather than literal 
- it represents something, it does not present something.

What that something is, to my mind, changes every time I read it. I 
noticed two days ago the passage in Urth where Sev as Autarch reminds 
us that his name is 'Legion'. We have here conflation at work - for 
Sev is also the Conciliator - a christ figure, but he is in some way 
also a devil and a destroyer. While this cannot map exactly onto any 
strict Christian reading of the text, we have instead a reminder of 
two of the major figures in Christian theology, where Sev is put into 
similar textual positions to both Christ and Satan, without being 
As Nick Gevers said last time, 'Sev is a reiteration of a messianic 
pattern encountered previously on Urth or Earth'. I would add that 
the whole cycle is a reiteration of the stories (history, myth, 
fiction, theology) of Earth.

So, the discussion over whether Christianity every existed on Urth is 
to me, a non-starter. Urth is never presented as a literal 
continuation of Earth history, but a post-historical, mythological 
point where Earth's stories retell themselves in exciting ways.

Visit Ultan's Library - A Gene Wolfe web resource
Jonathan Laidlow
University of Birmingham, UK

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

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