From: "Dan'l Danehy-Oakes"
Subject: RE: (urth) Re: Tony's Ellis Island Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 08:17:13 -0700 Tony Ellis wrote: > My reading is that at some era predating all known civilisations on > Earth, a (now long-dead) civilisation arose on Earth that developed > space travel, colonised St Anne, and became the 'abos'. Gondwanaland > is one place, among others, where that civilisation may have arisen. H'mmmm. While interesting, this ignores two things. First, that _all_ the names in the list are of mythical or fictional places. (Yes, I know: Gondwanaland is a geological hypothesis. And I say, and believe Wolfe would say, that this is just another kind of mythical or fictional place.) Second, that all the names in question were coined in the last three thousand years or so. Okay, you can fudge the latter by supposing that the OWO doesn't actually say "Atlantis" but the real Atlantean name for Atlantis -- or whatever ... though this doesn't help with (for example) "Poictesme," which was the invention of a specific human being (James Branch Cabell) in the early Twentieth Century and not a "myth" in the sense of, say, Atlantis at all. One could, of course, postulate that the Shadow Children, or perhaps the abos, came from _all_ these places -- that there were repeated waves of migration, running from the time of Gondwanaland right up to medieval France (which is the locus of Poictesme); somehow this just doesn't seem right. This is an example of my "Why does VRT tell this story?" question. Frankly, there's no way I can believe that, if it's a true story, the OWW actually used those names. VRT uses names that mean something to _him_. So (first) why does he use those particular names, why does he suggest that the original home of the abos (or perhaps the Shadow children) is _mythical_? And (second) how much else in "A Story" is such VRT-added detail? Alternatively: how much of "A Story" is fictional?" I believe I have established right here that _some_ is; there is thus a greater-than-zero lower limit. Is there an upper limit short of "he made the whole thing up?" What, if anything, in "A Story" can we consider verified or verifiable, within the context of the whole 5HC? Tony, I'm sorry, I don't think we can reasonably assume that it's all basically true. Not just in niggling little details like that; it just doesn't fit Wolfe's general pattern for "A Story" to be fully true -- or fully false. Wolfe's concern with the frame of narration isn't just a personal quirk; it's fundamental to the way Wolfe approaches narrative. Every story is told _by_ someone _for_ some reason. Example: Severian (at least in tBotNS) is writing his official Autarchial memoir; we must assume, even though he is so often self-critical, that he will tend to justify himself. Latro is not writing for a future audience, but to create for himself a kind of substitute for the continuity from day to day he has lost, and will write what he thinks he needs to remember, not what makes a connected narrative. Horn writes (tBotLS) to persuade everyone that Silk is the Good Man, and so his accounts of Silk's goodness has to be taken with a small grain of salt. Etc., etc., etc. This flies flagrantly in the face of the usual SF convention of a neutral narrator. Even first-person narrators in SF are usually presumed to relate events more or less as they actually saw them. Wolfe is saying, in effect, "Nobody ever does that," and his fictions give us example after example of who give us what they need us to hear instead of what we, perhaps, think we need to hear; but we, if not cautious, think we've heard what we need to hear. This may seem a belaboring of the point that "Gene Wolfe uses unreliable narrators," but it isn't. It's saying, rather, that Wolfe's narrators _can_ be relied upon, but not for a straightforward factual account; and it places directly in your court, or the court of anyone who wishes to say (as you did on Tuesday)that "all of 'A Story' should be taken literally," the question of _why_ we should consider VRT in this account any more literal than any other Wolfe narrator? Some thoughts on the telling, if not its reasons: I think it reasonable to suppose (as you suggest) that VRT is retelling some "lore and stories passed onto him by his Annese mother." But why? Even if we accept your idea that he's telling them to please himself, what about such a story would most please him? We don't even actually know whether he wrote it in his cell -- it is equally plausible to suppose that this was part of the anthropological work he was doing for the University. (Clearly the University places _some_ value on him, or his work; we learn near the end of part 3 that someone at the University is agitating for his release.) Could "A Story" in fact be his major publication prior to his arrest? And, if so, was gaining position at the University -- recall his failure at the University on Ste-Anne -- (one of) his motivation(s) in writing it? Dismissing it as a story told to please himself and scratch an anthropological itch, while simultaneously assuming that it's a literally true story, is just, well, too simple. In my opinion. --Dan'l --