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From: "Daniel Fusch" <dfusch@hotmail.com>
Subject: (urth) What is a "satisfactory" narrator?
Date: Sun, 24 Oct 1999 14:23:32 PDT

William Ansley:

"Whether Severian is a reliable narrator or not, he is certainly an
unsatisfactory one by any of the usual standards of story telling."

But what ARE the "usual standards" of storytelling? What does it take for a 
narrator to be "satisfactory"? Literature is full of unreliable and 
inconsistent narrators who leave most of the work to the reader.

Is Ishmael, the completely enigmatic and often inconsistent narrator of 
"Moby Dick" -- satisfactory?

What about the poet who narrates "Paradise Lost" -- wherein the reader is 
expected to weed through the arguments and speeches in order to fill in 
what's missing, what's wrong, and what is intentionally deceiving?

What about the narrator(s) of "The Sound and the Fury" -- in which the 
reader supplies nearly ALL the details of the plot based on subtle clues?

How do we define a satisfactory narrator? For that matter, does the plot 
need to be linear and explained in order to qualify as good storytelling? 
(Of course, some people don't like the epics, and some people don't like 

Here's my point--or rather my question--isn't Gene Wolfe, through Severian, 
asking us to examine the way we perceive storytelling? Consider that 
storytelling is thousands of years old, and has passed through many 
forms--at one time it was an oral form in which the audience was invited to 

Consider the modern Japanese--I don't know about their stories, but in their 
nonfiction, they consider it an insult to the reader if they outright state 
the conclusion for the reader. The reader is expected to put the pieces 
together and draw the conclusion.

Severian's fictional audience may not expect the same manner of storytelling 
that we expect. "The Book of the New Sun" should really be treated--for all 
intents and purposes--as a work translated from another culture. That, after 
all, is the effect that Wolfe is trying to achieve.

My 2 cents,

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