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From: Alex David Groce <Alex_Groce@gs246.sp.cs.cmu.edu>
Subject: Re: (urth) Liars, TWHF
Date: Wed, 17 Nov 1999 12:57:18 

(All re: Roy's post)

This interpretation of BOTNS can be supported from the text, with a lot of 
work, but I strongly disagree with it.  It seems to me that you're seeing smalland largely disputable points in Severian's narrative as evidence that 
(A) Severianis a bald-faced liar and the narrative we have is not merely 
incomplete, but actually a complete distortion of actual events we can never, 
in any way, know, and (B) the cosmic plan outlined (why we should believe in 
it at all, I'm unsure--why not say Severian is a poor torturer's apprentice 
who, in a fever, dreams he is a savior of the world?) is in fact the work of 
what seems almost a fallen angel, or, perhaps, as others have stated some time
ago on the list, a kind of sneaky  colonization plan by Empire-builders from 
Yesod :).

As I argued before, this way lies complete literary solipsism--given that 
Severian  acknowledges that he lies to other people from time to time (which 
strikes me as the admission of a fairly honest narrator) and that his memory 
is, I would argue, perfect enough that Severian certainly BELIEVES it to be 
accurate to call it perfect, and given the fact that at least some of the 
inconsistencies are pointers to the existence of more than one past for
Severian (or more than one Severian, depending on how you look it)--this is a
fairly difficult interpretation to reach.  Ignoring the fact that from external
evidence Wolfe didn't mean BOTNS/Urth to be an ironic examination of a liar's
distortion of his past, it seems to break a general Occam's razor of narrative:
before one interprets a narrator as unreliable to this extreme (willful lying,
as opposed to incompleteness or misunderstanding), I think it's best to have
MUCH stronger evidence than what has been given.  Some of the points are
certainly worth bringing up, and I myself have swung over more to thinking that
Severian only has a VERY powerful memory, but imperfect, and only believes
himself to have a perfect memory.  However, I think the extrapolation is

In fact, given this approach, I'm curious--could you elaborate on what you see
BOTNS as "about," in this case?  It strikes me that most of the underlying 
themes I see in it are undercut by this interpretation (which reminds me of the
"Weer is a mass-murderer, and kills EVERYONE in Cassionville" version of 

The statement:
"He is like all those oh-so-dangerous-people who are absolutely convinced that
they are Right; *they have no scruples* when it comes to establishing what 
they think is Right--especially when they have the power to impose their 
beliefs on others."
would seem to be the heart of this conception, but I don't for a moment 
believe Wolfe meant to make such a cliched idea the heart of his masterpiece.  
Anyway, I have a feeling Wolfe is, to some extent, one of those 
"oh-so-dangerous-people who are absolutely convinced that they are Right", in
the sense being considered here.  I think the text makes it clear that despite
the awful price, <the author> thinks that Severian was absolutely right to 
bring the New Sun's purging floods, and avoid the safe but ultimately dead
future of "Ragnarok."  Typhon's there for contrast, not as a mirror of the

(By the way, Tzad's laughter as Small Tzad strikes me as being possibly related
to Chesterton's comment that the one thing never heard in the Gospels in
Jesus' laughter, possibly because the humor of God is too awesome for us to

"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:32
Alex David Groce (agroce+@cs.cmu.edu)
Ph.D. Student, Carnegie Mellon University - Computer Science Department
8112 Wean Hall (412)-268-3066

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

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