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From: Nigel Price <NigelPrice1@compuserve.com>
Subject: (urth) Earth to Urth Pt 1: Grace and Works
Date: Thu, 6 May 1999 19:59:17 

Having accidentally achieved notoriety through featuring in the subject
heading of one of Jonathan Laidlow's more controversial recent postings to
this list, I thought that I would make a fool of myself in my own right
this time and submit some of the random thoughts that I have been jotting
down and sending to the aforementioned Jonathan over the last few days when
both of us should probably have been busy doing something else...


* Grace and Works *

I think that the tension between grace and works has been a key issue for
Wolfe, who has said in a number of interviews that the trouble with the
people of Urth is that they have stopped striving and exploring, and are
just sitting back on their laurels.  The theme is there very strongly in
"Operation Ares", which was his first book, and keeps on resurfacing
throughout his work.  In "Ares", the United States has turned its back on
science in general and the space race in particular and, as a result, has
begun to slip into economic and technological decay.  The presence of
uncontrolled packs of imported African animals wandering America seems to
be his metaphor for an inverted social and technological order, and I'm not
sure that the imported alien animals of Urth don't have a similar symbolic

The relationship between "grace" and "works" is one of the key debates in
the apostolic letters in the New Testament, and subtle (and not so subtle)
differences of emphasis and interpretation on this issue have historically
been part of the theological differences between Catholic and Protestant
theology.  Leaving such subtleties aside for the moment, the doctrine of
grace states that there is nothing anyone can do to deserve God's favour. 
It is a free gift, given out of love to those that will accept it, and
cannot ever be earned.  The doctrine of works, on the other hand, stresses
that anyone who has received God's favour ought to be so grateful that they
should live the sort of loving and caring lives that show they are
following God's/Christ's example.

As a practical, working man, and an engineer at that, Wolfe seems highly
wary of any doctrine of grace that leaves works out of the question and
implies that it's enough just to sit back and receive.  Clearly this
attitude goes hand in hand with his Catholic faith, that demands some sort
of energetic response, whilst at the same time emphasising the vast gap
between Creator and creature, and the latter's inability to fully
understand the former, let alone do anything to please him.

Seen from this perspective, the story of "Kevin Malone" starts off as a
sort of oblique allegory of grace, in which the handsome young couple
receive a lovely house and a luxurious life style simply as a free gift
from an unknown benefactor.  When, instead of appreciating their good
fortune, they become indolent, bitchy and potentially violent, the tables
are turned and they are thrown out and possibly sentenced, in the wife's
case, to become the victim of a ghostly repetition of an earlier murder. 
Now, I'm not saying that that's all that's going on in "Kevin Malone", but
it does seem to be at least part of the picture.  The fact that Kevin
becomes their judge and possibly executioner rather than their benefactor,
whilst a perfectly spooky and surprising transformation, may also fulfil
some perception Wolfe has about the way that divine justice works.  Nothing
ever maps one to one with Wolfe, but I do wonder whether he is not toying
in some way with Christ's role as both saviour and judge, as described in
John's gospel, where Jesus explains that in one sense he does not have to
judge because those who reject him have essentially chosen their own

(Sorry that this is inevitably more theological than some of my other
Lupine theories...)

The application to Urth would be that the population have accepted grace
without gratitude, and have thus brought judgement on themselves.  If this
is the case, then I would see the primary scriptural template for their
experience being the parable of the talents.  They had the talents, but
failed to put them to any use, and were thus condemned when the accounts
were audited.

Or something like that.



As I explained to the unfortunate Mr Laidlow in a recent and astonishingly
dull video that I sent him, Wolfe seems to be playing an interesting
theological word game in "Kevin Malone" that involves what I've heard
described as "para-punning".  The game, if I've understood it correctly, is
to deploy the two different meanings of a word in a story without ever
actually using the word itself.  You just imply it as a tacit form of word

The two examples that I think I've spotted in "Kevin Malone" surround the
words "grace" and "fall".  I'm positive of the latter, fairly sure of the

In everyday usage, "grace" refers to the pleasing and stylish performance
of a task or action.  Theologically, as pedantically described above, it
refers to God's unmeritted favour towards humanity.

The advertisement that the narrator answers at the beginning of the story
appeals for an "Attractive young couple, well educated and well
connected..."  This seems to evoke the ordinary, secular meaning of
"grace".  The handsome young couple, especially once they are ensconced in
luxury at The Pines, certainly exhibit style and, thus, "grace".

But the generous free provision of a mansion, servants, and even a daily
cash allowance (an important, gratuitous detail), surely is meant to evoke,
in some symbollic fashion, the theological meaning of "grace".  The young
couple are recipients of a sort of theological grace, but their response is
limited to the display of a purely secular grace.  They are curious as to
their benefactor's identity, but certainly not generous in spirit, as their
spiteful treatment of Priest the butler shows.

So...  "Grace" is never mentioned, but is nevertheless evoked in both its
contrary meanings.  That's the theory, anyway.

The second example of "para-punning" is one I'm absolutely sure of.  The
young couple lose their place at The Pines at a very specific time of year:
"The poplars lost their leaves in one October week..."

In other words, their fall from grace actually takes place in the fall.  In
American usage, the season the British refer to as autumn is known as
"fall".  But, theologically, "the Fall" refers to Adam and Eve's sin, their
punishment by God and expulsion from the garden of Eden.  It's the fall
season, and the young couple endure a sort of symbolic "Fall".

Nigel Price
Minety, Wiltshire

"Carry On Torturer": Jim Dale IS Severian!

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

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