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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


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