From: "Nigel Price"
Subject: (urth) Promises of Spring, or, The Presence of the Unstated Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2003 22:53:47 -0000 On the subject of Adam's interesting "Wintry thoughts" and Nutria's helpful response (I'm waiting to see where Mantis is going before I comment!)... My previous reference to the possible divergence between the world-views Wolfe writes about and his own religious beliefs was partly cautionary, and partly admiring. Others have picked up and followed through on the first aspect, but I would also want to stress the second. Wolfe applies and extends the science fictional delight in speculation and the exploration of "what if" scenarios to include matters theological as well as scientific. He is not, of course, alone in doing this, but he does it superbly well. Occasionally, he does it for playful effect, but mostly, and especially in his longer fiction, his concerns are deeply serious. I would certainly agree that Wolfe is essentially a tragic rather than comedic author. His fictions, whether science fictional or fantastic in emphasis, are characteristically dark. Adam's comments on his narrow range are well made, and (Adam, correct me if I'm wrong!) descriptive rather than evaluative. The absence of, or lack of emphasis on, romantic love may simply reflect his choice of mode or genre, rather than, as Nutria suggests, a lack of interest or expertise. Given his tragic themes, an abundance of happily married couples and contented lovers would be inappropriate. They would undermine the sombre mood of many of his stories. The same might be said of the absence of clearly redemptive motifs. I have already described my initial confused response to reading Wolfe's books and trying to understand the author's underlying beliefs. Now I've read more of his works, my impression is that Wolfe is doing something quite deliberate with the presentation, or non-presentation, of his own Christian beliefs. I take Nutria's point about certain strategic absences in his books pointing "off the page" to humanity's need for God. As ever, he makes the point well, but I think that there's more to it than that. In the same way that Wolfe, as far as possible, deliberately removes plot explanations, leaving but a single reference or clue to each key fact needed to explain what is really going on in the story, so he also, I think, plays a sort of game of literary minimalism in which he sees how much explicit evidence of God's existence and work he can remove from his stories without actually denying his faith. This is just another aspect of Wolfe's familiar literary shiftiness, that wilfully obscure and playfully misleading quality for which I and many others here love him to bits but which at times drives many of us to distraction. He hates explicitness in stories and loves indirection and misdirection. In his writing, he is the builder of the Solar Labyrinth, that maze which compounds the difficulty of solution by constantly moving the walls as the shadows shift with the passing of the sun. This puzzle building is part of Wolfe's essential artistry, his joy and heart's delight, and to read him is to go gleefully along with the game or else scream out in sheer frustration. We're used to his unreliable narrators, disguised explanations and sudden shifts of theme away from the things we want to know. Well, consider his choice of locations and stories as part of that same literary mind set. Where would it be really difficult to find any obvious signs of God at work? Where would there be the fewest signs of Christian belief? How about a story set in a universe where the parousia is so long delayed that even Jesus' name has been forgotten? Where those in holy orders have become torturers? What about a story set in a pagan world well before the time of Christ? Or how about a sealed, pocket universe, made by a mad dictator and ruled by a family of artificial pagan gods who have devised their own religion and their own parody of the church? Wolfe clearly likes a challenge, but the game seems to be not to exclude God, but to show that even when you make it apparently "impossible" for him to be there, he is still, inescapably, there, and all sorts of unlikely and apparently inappropriate things turn out to reveal, even if only fleetingly, partial and distorted images of his love and power. He is the Increate, but for Wolfe, it would seem that all created things retain evidence of his fingerprints - somewhere. That's what I think is going on. Wolfe is a writer of tragedies and dark romances whose delight is to hide clues to what is really happening. Nigel --