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From: "Roy C. Lackey" <rclackey@stic.net>
Subject: (urth) Re:Untrustworthy Narrators?
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1999 01:30:10 

First of all, welcome to Daniel Fusch! Most of the questions you raised have
been addressed elsewhere in the archives. Note that I didn't say they had
been answered. <g> Actually, for all the smart people there are on this
list, there is relatively little consensus about *anything*, but the
"miracle" you mentioned is one of them. Short answer: the eclipse was caused
by the massive sails of the Hierodules' ship.

Re: the unreliable narrator: Alex and I are not often on the same page about
most things, and we are at antipodes on religious matters (I'll be down
there in Hell, with alga <g>), but I think that on this issue he is, by and
large, correct. The testimony of the narrators can, for the most part, be
relied upon to be truthful--in so far as they give it. And that is the
problem with Wolfe's narrators. Overt lies are relatively few, but there is
more than one way to lie, if we count as lying the broader concept of simply
not telling the whole truth--the sins of omission. This kind of
untruthfulness is where Wolfe's narrators--with a lot of help from
Wolfe--often fail, just as Alex indicated, because they are not interested
in what is happening (when they obviously should be), or because to tell the
whole truth would put them in a bad light (and there is a lot of that). Most
of the discussion on this list is not about what we are told by the
narrators; it's about what we are *not* told by the narrators. And I'm not
talking just about the perhaps minor details of the plot that some here
decry as trivial, unworthy of discussion.

To confine my comments just to the Urth cycle, Severian leaves out so much,
so many critical plot details about major events, that it's hard to conclude
that his omissions are anything but deliberate. Most of this, of course, is
due less to the narrator's deliberate disingenuousness than to Wolfe's
chosen writing style, but not all of it. Is it Sev's fault that the
cliffhanger at the end of SHADOW, the Piteous Gate affair, is never
explained? He was there; he ought to know what happened, but it is never
explained, and there has been a lot of speculation about it--but not in the
text. Why doesn't he question, once he is autarch, the masters of the guild
about his origins, about Holy Katharine or many other things which are
mysteries to him, but need not be? Or Ouen about Catherine? These questions
seem so fundamental, so obvious to me, that if Sev, when he wrote his
memoirs, didn't know the answers to them already and just didn't elect to
reveal them, for whatever personal reasons, then he is just too stupid to be
believed. So, which is it? Is he that dense, or does he have reasons to hide
the truth?

For another, clearer example of his lack of forthrightness, take the case of
Valeria. Within the fiction of the fiction Sev wrote two manuscripts, the
first ten years after he became ruler. Valeria gets little mention in
either, but in that first manuscript she is portrayed as a wistful, lovely,
but lonely wallflower waiting for Prince Charming to come and sweep her off
her feet. Instead, she got Severian. In the second manuscript, written at
the conclusion of the events described in URTH, Sev doesn't want to talk
about her at all, but from the little he does it is clear that his attitude
towards her has changed radically; she's a pompous, unfaithful, conniving
bitch. This change of heart came about, apparently, once he found out from
Odilo and Eata that Valeria had wed another in his long absence.
She was no Penelope to his Odysseus. But his feelings for her must have
changed even before his trip to Yesod, because he was quick to bed other
women when he had the chance. This probably played a part in her taking the
thrust of the poisoned assassin's blade, just as he was complicitous in the
deaths of Thecla and Casdoe, and could so easily turn his back on Dorcas
once she remembered her past. Sev is definitely not one to turn the other
cheek; he never forgets--or forgives--what he perceives as a slight. So, his
reticence about Valeria says more about him than it does her, yet it was his
courting-call on her at the end of CITADEL which concluded his first memoir,
ten years later. Any hypothetical reader of both manuscripts could and would
expect that the second one would take up where the first left off, or at
least elaborate on the conclusion of the first. But it doesn't, at least
with regard to Valeria.

Why write a memoir at all that purports to be a true and accurate account of
one's adventures, bring up wondrous and even momentous events, then leave
so many of them unexplained? In the context of the fictional memoirs it
makes no sense unless their author is hiding something, whether from the
reader or from himself, which is hard to do when you have a perfect memory.
In this sense, Severian is an unreliable narrator.

And he does lie. In SWORD he claims to be a Grand Master of his guild. Sure,
you can argue that the lie was not intended to deceive the reader, who knows
that the statement isn't true. But it does serve to show that he can and
will lie when it suits his purpose.


Re: My use of "Caron" for the name of the old boatman in my recent Dorcas
post: For those who may not have been aware of it, that name was not of my
origination. It was advanced by Robert Borski. See Urth archives, Vol.25,
#31, for April 8, 1999. I would certainly not want to be thought taking one
of Robert's names in "vein", or even vain. <g>


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

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