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Date: Tue, 26 Nov 2002 16:10:49 -0600
From: "Charles Reed" 
Subject: Re: (urth) Quetzal On Urth? (responding to Charles' arguments)

I like this back-and-forth stuff.  It helps me to think better.  This is 
kind-of long, so let's go:

James Wynn wrote:

>Ok. Two points...no...three.
>First, when did we out-law ranting on this list?

Point taken.  From now on I'll feel free to rant away. :-)

>Second, I assert that my arguments -- that Quetzal was on Urth and
>manipulated Typhon to start the Whorl project -- is textually supported.
>Quetzal is *clearly* (clear to me anyway) identifying himself with the cobra
>in the A-man/Wo-man story (the story is in the Chrasmological Writings btw).
>He could not have enticed A-man and Wo-man into his tree from Green (as far
>as I can see). Therefore he had to be on Urth. This is textual evidence.

Well, I don't see it that way, though I'll grant that this is a matter 
of interpretation.  Quetzal identifies himself with the cobra in the 
sense that he's trying to lure A-man and Wo-man from the garden (the 
Whorl) up into his tree (Green) by doing everything possible to carry 
out the Plan of Pas.  My interpretation differs from yours in that you 
see Urth, rather than the Whorl, as "the garden."  Each interpretation's 
validity depends on the point of view.  Yours is valid if Quetzal was on 
Urth, which I do not believe him to have been.

>I've no reason to believe (yet) there was a colony of inhumi on Urth or any
>more than one. I have thematic reasons to doubt there was.
>Furthermore, if, as Wolfe said, Typhon did not know about the inhumi, then
>neither he nor his scientists had ever been to Green. This seems reasonable
>from the way the Plan played out. So he sent this massive project to a star
>system without reconnaissance - no recon by mirrors nor by the sort of ship
>Severian rode in. That's faith, man. What reason did he have to believe
>there were inhabitable planets there? My explanation is that he was assured
>that there were hospitable planets by Quetzal. That's not textual evidence,
>but it's not extra-textual either. It's just making sense of the narrative.
>Perfectly fair.

Yes, it's fair, but I don't see what other supporting evidence there is. 
 I also think there are other explanations that make far more sense. 
 Two of which are as follows:

(1)  There are apparently lots of "aliens" on Urth in Severian's time 
and I would presume that there were lots of aliens on Urth during 
Typhon's time as well, and perhaps even other humans from other systems 
that aren't under the "space-travel quarantine" that Urth is under. 
 Typhon no doubt would have ways of gathering information he wanted 
(such as star charts of other inhabitable systems) from such 
interstellar travelers.  No need at all for Quetzal to show up on Urth.

(2)  There is already a tenuous connection between Blue and Urth (as 
different planets) in the form of Abaia, Scylla, and the other giant 
(and not so giant) underwater creatures.  In SotT, Severian remarks that 
Abaia was "carried [to Urth] from the farther shores of the universe in 
anteglacial days."  And in RttW, the Greater Scylla of Urth teaches 
Horn/Silk how to communicate with the Mother of Blue.  Some might see 
this as evidence that Urth=Blue, but I don't, due to (among other 
things) the comment about Abaia coming to Urth from somewhere else. 
 That is, I see it as evidence that the Greater Scylla's race was 
brought to Urth from another planet -- perhaps from Blue but not 
necessarily.  This means that Typhon could have learned of the 
Blue/Green system from these sea creatures.  I think there are other 
implications here too, which I haven't really thought out very well, 
regarding Typhon's relationship with these beings.  In any case, this is 
another explanation (supportable strictly by  the text) in which there 
is no need to have Quetzal show up on Urth.

Explanation #1 has the advantage of being the easiest and the most 
logical.  It has the disadvantage of being a little boring.

Explanation #2 has the advantage of being quite provocative in its 
implications without calling for the need for something extremely 
far-fetched, such as Quetzal being on Urth.  It has disadvantage of not 
adhering to Occam's Razor, but I don't consider that such a severe 

Of course, the two explanations could be combined.  Typhon could have 
learned from "other aliens" where the giant sea creatures originally 
came from, and sent his starcrosser to that place once he confirmed its 

>Third, I wish to defend the tact of analyzing literature from extra-textual
>clues. You have pointed out that we frequently base theories on Wolfe's
>works on extra-textual clues (Catholicism, etc.).  Frequently, entire
>theories are dispensed with by saying "Wolfe wouldn't do that." 

I wasn't attacking such tactics; I was merely stating that my first 
preference is to argue from the text itself.  It feels like "cheating" 
to do otherwise.

But as far as basing/dispensing theories on the "Wolfe wouldn't do that" 
argument -- I think this is extremely dangerous.  Just this week, there 
was an exchange in which Don Doggett stated, "I cannot believe that 
Wolfe would have his main character commit incest, knowingly or 
unknowingly, and especially without any good reason" and outlined a 
theory for why he didn't think Dorcas was Severian's grandmother.  Marc 
Aramani then replied, in what I thought was really good argument which 
summarized the various sexual relationships in the NS books, that it was 
in fact essential to his interpretation that Dorcas be Severian's 
grandmother.  "Wolfe wouldn't do that" is simply a bad way to argue a point.

Wolfe is a Roman Catholic, and that can be used to a certain degree -- 
but ONLY to a certain degree -- in interpreting what his characters 
would or would not do.

>That is not unreasonable as far as that goes. Furthermore...
>--- If an extra-textual source is found to so closely relate to the
>narrative that it could not coincidental,
>--- And if a character is found **standing in the very place of a entity of
>that extra-textual narrative*,
>--- And if someone says, "Even though I wouldn't have said this otherwise,
>this character is clearly a type of this extra-textual entity...
>Well that is NOT reading off the text. That's reading FROM the text.

Consider this.  Severian is a Christian figure.  He died and was brought 
back to life.  He turned water into wine.  He healed the sick with a 
touch of his hand.  He raised the dead.  These are definitely 
non-superficial similarities.  But was Severian's story a retelling of 
the Christ story?  No.  Clearly no.  Severian is not Christ.  Just 
because there are similarities -- even non-superficial similarities -- 
does not meant that Wolfe is writing an allegory in which everything 
stands for something else in an already-told story.  

>FOR EXAMPLE, does Silk see events from the life of Jesus Christ during his
>enlightenment? I'd say yes. I think most people would say yes. But the only
>way you would know that is if you were *extra-textually* familiar with the
>events of the life of Christ.

You're correct, and that's why strict "formalism" ultimately fails in 
interpreting literature.  It is, however, the starting point for 
interpreting literature.

>Based (partially) on this, many say that the
>Outsider is God. Yet, Jesus Christ is NOT mentioned in the text.

It  is, however, stated in the "Gods, Persons, and Animals Mentioned in 
the Text" of EXODUS that the Outsider is the "god of gods."

>If someone
>were not familiar with the details of the life of Christ, and not aware that
>Wolfe is a Christian, it would NOT be self-evident to that person that Jesus
>is referred to.

That's true, and it's also not necessary to the understanding of the 
story.  There are images seen in the Silk's enlightenment that might not 
be understood by a Christian-ignorant person.  Heck, there are scenes of 
his enlightenment that I don't necessarily understand.  That's all 
right, though.  Allusion *enhances* the work and provides the reader 
with perhaps a greater depth of understanding, but if the reader MUST 
understand the allusions in order to understand the story, then the 
story isn't really a story -- it's an allegory.  That's not what the 
NS/LS/SS books are, though.  At least, that's not how I see them.  Even 
if a person knew absolutely nothing about the life of Jesus, it would 
still be (grasping for adverbs) munificently clear FROM THE TEXT that 
Silk views the Outsider as the only god worthy of being worshiped, and 
that's the important part.

>Yet, it still would be TEXTUALLY self-evident. There are
>other equally obvious references to someone that arrives at the text with
>certain background knowledge. To those that do not have that background
>knowledge, the most likely initial response will be, "Wolfe is simply not
>that clever. No one is that clever."  This is the thought that goes through
>my mind all the time when reading the LS/SS cycle.
>And that's what I've got to say about that.
>Still ranting,

Here's the problem that I have with some of your ideas.  You seem to 
think that just because the LS/SS story bears some non-superficial 
resemblance to certain Greek myths, the entire LS/SS story has to be a 
strict re-telling of those myths.  I think that's false.  The myths can 
enhance, illuminate, and even explicate the story to some degree but you 
cannot insist that the story has to be viewed through the lens of the 
myths.  To do so, I think, is to sell the story short  -- to rob it of 
its natural power and turn it into a game in which you wind up 
interpreting the story to fit the myth, rather than working to interpret 
the story on its on grounds first and then seeing how the myth might 
further illuminate it.  

Well.  That's it for now.  Keep ranting, Crush.  I'm looking forward to 
your response, because even if I don't agree you, you make me think.



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