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From: "Roy C. Lackey" <rclackey@stic.net>
Subject: (urth) Messianic?
Date: Thu, 18 Nov 1999 16:29:09 

Alex wrote:
>>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
small and 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 :).<<

(A) is too strong a summation of my approach. I think the text is roughly
accurate--so far as it is given--but Severian deceives himself often enough
that his judgements can't be taken at face value. As he says to B,F,&O when
questioned about what he had gained from his predecessor besides his

     For the first time in many years, I felt the blood rise in my cheeks.
"I lied," I said. "I am he, just as I am Thecla. You three have been my
friends when I had few, and I should not lie to you, though so often I must
lie to myself." (V, V)

When he lies to himself he distorts reality, or rather, his perception of
it. When he then relates his perceptions to the reader he is lying to the
reader by commission; when he fails to relate something altogether he is
lying by omission. I cannot seriously entertain the notion that he lies to
himself but tells the truth to the reader.

I'm not making these quotes up. Wolfe put them in for a reason, I suppose,
not just to pad the text. We can argue about which things Severian relates
that he is not telling the truth about, to what extent he is not telling the
truth, why he left out something that obviously should have been in his
account, but I don't think it can be doubted that not everything he tells us
is the truth.

Sometimes what he tells the reader isn't true, but he isn't lying; he's just
too dense to understand what is going on around him. He then misleads the
reader by making unwarranted assumptions.

(B) is an interpretation advanced by Ori Kowarski. I don't entirely agree
with it--but arguments can be put forth in support of it. I'll leave that to
him to pursue if he wishes, but I will point out one thing which has been
mentioned before here, which is hard to ignore.

Remember the Infernal imagery in URTH right before Sev and Gunnie left
Yesod? Sev would not recognize it as such--but the reader does. Maybe Sev
finally figured it out. Maybe he left things out of his manuscript because
they were the evidentiary links in the chain that bound him to his destiny
as a hapless pawn in a cosmic game--which is just how Captain Tzadkiel spoke
of Sev and his kind when he last saw her. (V, XXIV) He didn't even get his
Gethsemane scene; he hadn't a prayer of passing the cup, because the game
was rigged before he was even born. The Yesodians would keep picking him up,
dusting him off, and sending him back again and again until he got it Right.

Your "fallen angel" comment may be closer to the truth than you think. Why
*did* Wolfe put the Dante bits in? Lucifer, too, was a star, the "light
bringer": "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!"
(Isaiah XIV, 12)

>>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 PEACE).<<

Yes, well, hmm, unlike Weer, Severian really *did* kill everyone on Urth.
<g> Given what I know of Wolfe--strictly from his work and transcripts of
interviews and some personal anecdotes from people on this list--it's hard
to interpret TBOTNS other than in a religious sense. The Biblical elements
are certainly there, but I have a very difficult time seeing Sev in a
Christ-like, Christic, Everyman, or even Christian role. Not being religious
myself, he shouldn't be able to offend my religious sensibilities, because I
don't have any. But Wolfe manages it with Sev. I've read the BIBLE, I
recognize the parallels, and I've read the arguments and explications
tendered on this list in support of that reading. I remain far from
convinced. I'm even rather surprised that devout Christians aren't outraged
at comparisons of Sev to Jesus. Perhaps they are; this list is hardly
representative of the people who read Wolfe. To me, despite the parallels,
Sev of the Urth Cycle is about as far from the character of Jesus as
portrayed in the Gospels as two members of the same species can be.

You know all the points where they correspond; let me point out some rather
glaring contrasts. Jesus never killed anyone. He didn't have sex with every
female he could get his hands on. He knew who his parents were. He didn't
earn his daily bread by being very good at hurting people. He was not a
soldier. He was not a temporal ruler. He never slept with his grandmother.
He didn't have a sister or wife, etc., etc.

In the Christian tradition Jesus suffered and died to save mankind. Severian
the messiah destroyed mankind, then got to go sit on the beach drinking
margaritas and watching the girls go by, writing his memoirs and basking in
his new-found godhead. I just don't see any meaningful comparison, in or out
of a religious context. Ushas isn't even pie-in-the-sky for all those
corpses floating on the tide; they're just dead.

If Wolfe intended Sev to be seen as Christ-like, why make him so
unchristian? If Tzadkiel and his followers were meant to be angelic, why
make them liars and deceivers, puppet masters in a shadowy theater? Why the
images of hell in Yesod? Wolfe is at least sending mixed messages.

Given that the manuscripts are the only extant artifacts of an otherwise
unknowable universe/world, Sev's word is all we have to judge them by. I
used the term "literary solipsism" because that was the phrase used by Alex
in his Nov. 5 post to describe the de facto situation.

Sev at times addresses the hypothetical reader of his manuscripts directly
to somehow qualify what he has written or will write. This serves to remind
the reader that *all* that he writes is addressed to that reader and that
all of his writing is qualified--by his abilities, his perceptions, his
understanding. When he writes that he lies to himself, the reader is given
warning that all that he relates cannot be trusted to be true. People who
lie to themselves do so because they cannot face the truth. Human nature is
such that people lie to themselves about things that they regard as
important to their sense of self-identity, self-worth, the core values of
their being. This colors and otherwise distorts their worldview; all that
they perceive is filtered through that lens. This causes people to see
things not as they are, but as their ego will allow them to see them. If Sev
has to lie to himself then he has no choice but to lie to the reader when he
relates something that conflicts with his preferred view of what he is
relating. And the fiction is that in his manuscripts he only related what he
thought was important to his life, from torturer's apprentice to godling on
the beaches of Ushas.

When his reader reads his own statements that he is a liar, that he has lied
and will lie, even to the masters of his universe, is he telling the truth?
Or is that just another lie?


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

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