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From: "Daniel Fusch" <dfusch@hotmail.com>
Subject: (urth) Narratives
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1999 17:55:41 PDT

William Ansley:

"We have some data to consider the question.  Severian repeats several
stories not of his own invention.  Do they show any of the same
idiosyncrasies as Severian's narrative?"


No, they don't. They have their own idiosyncrasies. Each is different from 
the others, in structure, narration, and form. (I'll talk more about this in 
a few paragraphs.)

When you say that we have no evidence that the storytelling of Severian's 
culture is significantly different from our own, I have to answer: Every 
culture has its own species of storytelling. Homeric storytelling is 
infinitely different from modern Euro-American storytelling (after all, the 
epic begins in the middle of the story, and works both backwards into the 
past and forwards into the future!). Native American storytelling is 
different from Euro-American storytelling. Consider modernism and 
metafiction as opposed to realist fiction. Also consider postmodern 
narratives from African nations. You could argue that Achebe's "Things Fall 
Apart" follows the structure of a Western narrative, but what about Ngugi's 

So narratives differ in structure and form even in the present. In "The 
Sound and the Fury" there are four different narrators (five, counting the 
Appendix). The first is autistic; the second is in the last stages of 
suicidal psychosis; the third lies to everyone, including himself. The 
reader is invited--required--to interpret the narrators. The reader can not 
always take them at face value.

If Severian's time is far ahead in the future, with an entirely different 
culture and social order, it would almost certainly have different standards 
for storytelling. Its people would expect different things.

Indeed, in Severian's own time, there are different types of stories. There 
is the story told by Loyal to the Group of Seventeen, for example. There is 
Foila's story, which resembles a medieval romance. There is Melito's story, 
which is like a classical fable. There is also Hallvard's story, which is 
realism. Note that Severian never gets the chance to judge between these 
stories; nor does he tell the reader what judgement he might make. The 
implication is that all four are worthy. Consider that the Ascians invent a 
mode of storytelling to work around Correct Thought. They adapt their 
storytelling to fit their culture.

Also consider the stories in the brown book. The story of the student and 
his thesis, for example, which Severian relates in "The Claw of the 
Conciliator." This story starts out with one protagonist, then focuses on a 
second, then returns to the first--and ends with a theme--indeed, with a 
moralist statement--that seems disconnected from the rest of the work. This 
story may well be "unsatisfactory" by contemporary standards of 
Euro-American realist storytelling.

In the story of The Little Boy Called Frog, the plot bounces all over the 
place! What does the end of the story have to do with the beginning of it? 
Note, too, that the distance from the main character changes 
throughout--until in the fifth section of the story, the narrator relates 
future events in Frog's life very distantly, as if recounting a distant 

Severian's world is filled with extremely different types of narratives, 
because it is filled with extremely different cultures. Remember, too, that 
Hallvard, who is a realist storyteller, is disdainful of Melito's 
storytelling, which is based on moral fables. Hallvard may well consider 
Melito's story to be an "unsatisfactory" narrative.

Anyway, my point is that Wolfe is examining--and indeed, playing around 
with--the structure and nature of storytelling. He presents us with 
Severian, an unconventional narrator who is in many ways a modernist 
storyteller, and Severian presents us with stories, tales, and fables that 
differ radically in narration and in narrator. In one sense, Wolfe is 
allowing us to survey the vast variety of storytelling methods. By not 
having Severian pass judgement on the four stories in Foila's 
contest--indeed, by removing the opportunity for Severian to judge them (the 
contestants all die)--Wolfe is saying that ALL types of narrators are 
satisfactory narrators, and that ALL styles of storytelling are satisfactory 
styles, because storytelling is unique to the culture and it is also unique 
to the individual. Storytellers with different backgrounds provide you with 
different stories. Because the story is the work of the storyteller, you 
will have as many different kinds of stories as you have different kinds of 

With all this in mind, I rejoice in the fact that Severian is unreliable! 
Severian's narrative puts my mind to work--and I, as a reader, have come to 
expect intellectual stimulation from a story (I suppose one's judgement of 
whether a narrative is "satisfactory" depends, in the end, on one's 
expectations as a reader).

I don't think Wolfe has failed with this narration; I think he has succeeded 

That said, I hope to continue to examine Severian's unreliability and try to 
pin down exactly what sort of narrator Severian is--just as I might examine 
Jason Compson's or Quentin Compson's unreliability in Faulkner's "The Sound 
and the Fury," in order to better understand the work and what the author is 
trying to say about the human condition. --And, of course, to increase my 
enjoyment of the work.

I hope this clears up my viewpoint a little,

Daniel Fusch

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