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Date: Sun, 16 Feb 2003 15:38:06 -0600
From: James Jordan 
Subject: Re: (urth) Wintry thoughts on Wolfe

At 08:02 AM 2/16/2003, Adam wrote:
>Last month, Nigel Price suggested that the "theologies" implicit in Wolfe's
>fictions aren't necessarily the same as the theology Wolfe believes is true
>in reality.  This is a good point, which can be extended beyond theological
>specifics to basic world-views.  Behind many of the posts here which seek to
>provide a "Christian" interpretation of Wolfe, there lurks the belief that
>because Wolfe is a believing traditional Christian, all his works must
>relate to Christ's redemption of humanity, and therefore must ultimately
>provide some sort of redemption.

         I know this is not pointed at me (Pat the Nut) above anyone else, 
Adam, but I certainly don't think "all" his works are put in a Christian 
worldview. And of those that are, I don't think all include the notion of 
redemption. Like you, I tend to think Wolfe is more at home displaying the 
horror of sin and/or of human failings and their consequences. If there is 
salvation, it's off the page, something maybe reading this or that story 
might make the reader desire.
         On the other hand, however, in terms of a general Christian 
worldview, not the specifics of redemption, I do think one sees this 
throughout Wolfe's major works. *Peace* has something to do with either 
hell or purgatory. TAD shows Mama & the Italian Restaurant interested in 
redeeming Lara and the goddess-world from itself. Christian sacramental 
allegories/images are all over the "Sun" dodekology. Ben Free is a 
semi-Christ (a sort of "American Messiah") in FLF, and the characters get a 
new birth via time travel self-remaking. A pre-Christian world is displayed 
in the *Soldier* novels -- not a friendly pagan world, but a world in 
desparate need of something better. As for *Castleview,* I'll give it a pass.
         But Wolfe likes to write about worlds and worldviews. The clash of 
religious worldviews, and their possible reconciliation in Christianity, is 
thematic in TAD and the *Soldier* books, and perhaps most notably in the 
*Long Sun,* where idolatry is a major theme.
         I think it is mainly in his shorter fiction that Wolfe plays games 
in other gardens outside this worldview. And of course, occasionally his 
shorter fiction is rather explicitly Christian ("To the Seventh," 
"Westwind," "Detective of Dreams").

>  But in most of Wolfe's major works, there
>is either no redemption at all -- PEACE, 5HC, "The Island of Doctor
>Death...," "The Death of Doctor Island," "Forlesen" -- or what redemption
>there is fails to outweigh the horrors that have preceded -- UOTNS, BOTLS,
>BOTSS.  One could argue that the lack of redemption is due to the
>characters' lack of faith; but even when Christianity is mentioned in these
>works, as at the end of PEACE, the works as a whole don't present 
>redemption through faith as a real possibility.  If one reads Wolfe's 
>works purely for what is in them, he's one of the bleakest authors I know; 
>perhaps bleaker than he consciously intends.

         I tend to agree. I think a tragic sense pervades much of Wolfe, 
and as John Clute pointed out during his brief sojourn here, the Christian 
worldview is comedic. Wolfe likes Chesterton, but he sure ain't Chesterton. 
Redemption is present only as glints and glimmers. Characters fail 
frequently. I do think all these glints and glimmers and failings and very 
partial salvations are designed to point outside the text and, within the 
text, to an eschaton.
         I do get the impression that fewer of Wolfe's later works are 
horrific than his earlier ones.

>Something else that contributes to my sense of Wolfe's bleakness is the
>absence of love from his works.

         Yeah. When I first read Wolfe many years ago, I thought "He's a 
lot like Cordwainer Smith, except that Smith wrote one love story after 
another, and Wolfe writes one horror story after another."
         I have come to think this, though. Wolfe may not be very good at 
writing about love, and so does not try very much. But he does give "glints 
and glimmers" of it, and if this is part of his craft (maybe making good of 
his weakness), then it is much like what he does with redemption and 
         Wolfe may be a Thomist, but he seems to function with an extremely 
Augustinian and Calvinian conception of human depravity. Human beings can 
and do ruin everything. They aren't much good at love. Human love is 
questionable, and is linked up with appalling selfishness. I think this, 
again, "points off the page" to the need for a better Lover and a better Love.

Patera Nutria


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