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From: Michael Andre-Driussi <mantis@sirius.com>
Subject: (urth) The God & His Man, a note & spoilers
Date: Fri, 17 Dec 1999 07:52:30 

I continue to toy with this Urth story (collected in ENDANGERED SPECIES).

It was the first published work to mention Urth, yet is not an extract from
TBOTNS (as two other magazine stories were: "The Tale of the Student and
His Son" and "Fiola's [sic] Tale: the Armiger's Daughter"); nor is it
mentioned in TBOTNS (as is the case with EMPIRES OF FOLIAGE AND FLOWER);
nor is it given a more detailed context or framing ("The Boy Who Hooked the
Sun" is subtitled "a tale from THE BOOK OF WONDERS OF URTH AND SKY," which
helps to fit it into place).

And the story!

Anyway, I mainly wanted to report a finding.  The magic cloak (of
invisibility) in the story is called "Tarnung," which struck me as being a
Lord Dunsany-sounding detail, but a quick search on the Internet shows that
tarnung is German for "cloak," yet it is also used to refer to the painting
patterns on military airplanes (i.e., "camouflage"?).

SPOILERS to follow

The god's name is "Isid Iooo IoooE": this looks an awful lot like the
sacred unspeakable name of the one true Hebrew god (safename "Jehovah";
today's true name "Yahweh"; ancient magical versions include "IAOOUE,"
"IAOUAI,").  Or a Joycean parody of the same name (was it in the nighttown
section of ULYSSES where the text takes on the format of a play, and
character "God" says some windy vowels, continued by character "Dog" who
howls more vowels?  A sense of parody might be in the first name, which
reads "I said," making the whole name a sentance: "I said, `Iooo IoooE.'"
As if to correct bumbling mortals who heard it as "Yaweh."  "I said" also
reminds me of "I am that which I am" or somesuch line attributed to God in
the Old Testament; also "In the beginning was the word," where this name
says something like "I said the Word."

This god is a starship orbiting plant Zed.  ("Zed," as a name for the
letter Z, suggests the last in a sequence.)  Zed has three types of people:
desert dwellers (ala Middle East), jungle dwellers (ala equatorial Africa),
and cold land dwellers (ala Europe).  The recently arrived god has
plans--since he likes the Europeans best, because they are most like him,
he is going to engineer their colonization of the planet.

Hmmm.  That does sound like a criticism of Christian sanction of
colonization.  Chosen people; conquer in my name; God is on our side.
Especially sharp as it traces colonial impulse to the god (which is Yaweh
or a parody), rather than the "mankind uses the name of God to unholy ends"
line of reasoning.

Speaking of authorial context, if this story was written by Michael
Moorcock my interpretation of it would be relatively cut and dry--I have
read enough Moorcock work that is a variation on this theme, so that I
wouldn't give it a second thought.  Elric and Arioch, that sort of thing:
we might call it "Elric's Revenge."  When Moorcock takes a swipe at Big
Religion it is often targeted at Roman Catholicism, but sometimes all of
Christianity.  The name of the god seems rather close to a swipe at the
Jews, which seems uncharacteristic of Moorcock, so I'd transfer this to the
early Christian church (and we're back to Catholic bashing).  (I can't
think of a case where Moorcock writes positively about any religion.)

But because it was written by Gene Wolfe, and because it was published
before TBOTNS, it serves as a sort of overture to TBOTNS.  Which makes it
very interesting to me.


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

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