From: "James Wynn"
Subject: Re: (urth) Sev's not-so-perfect memory Date: Thu, 10 Jul 2003 01:24:10 -0600 Bravo, Roy! Excellent detective work. I believe you are right about this, and apparently others suspected it as well (http://www.urth.net/urth/archives/v0028/0443.shtml). You see, my reporting of history -- my claim that Bill's query got no reaction from the list -- is not so accurate either, but then, Crush was not there to remember it). -- Crush ----- Original Message ----- From: "Roy C. Lackey" To: "urth" Sent: Wednesday, July 09, 2003 10:32 PM Subject: (urth) Sev's not-so-perfect memory > What follows is a post I originally tried to send in late September 2000, > but it was the night Moonmilk turned to cheese, so it never arrived. When > the list was back up and running, weeks later, the big PEACE debate was on, > so I let it slide. Recent discussion of Severian's memory seems sufficient > excuse to re-post it now. > --------------------------------------------- > > In my rereading of the Urth Cycle, looking for--and > finding--mistakes (most of them, hopefully, Severian's) relating to Sev's > reliability as a narrator, especially those relating to his famous memory, I > have come to develop a theory regarding Wolfe's handling of Sev's memory in > the memoir. It is unprovable, in part, because the memory-based text is all > we have to go on, and the mistakes are subtle, of course, or the issue would > have been decided twenty years ago. The theory is just this: that wherever > in the text Sev starts vaunting his perfect memory, not always, but often > enough, that the particular memory then recounted, or another close by in > the text, will be flawed. > > Those recollections, when they are of an incident which has been > related elsewhere in the text, can be verified by the careful reader, but > not so those of which we are given only the transient memory, such as piling > pebbles, crying in a basket, or those subsumed from Thecla. This second > category of memory becomes even more suspect, in light of the provable > errors of the first category. > > Sev's mistakes of memory tend to go unnoticed because the reader, > caught up in the story, becomes spellbound by it, like some of the denizens > of the Botanic Gardens, succumbing to Wolfe's wizardry as a story teller and > his sleight-of-hand and stage-magician's misdirection in his plotting. > Wolfe's style of writing is one of the reasons it is often hard to find a > particular passage, because the reader doesn't associate it with the context > of the story where it is actually found, e.g., that of Gurloes being a > master for twenty years is found in the middle of Sev's account of his > escape from the mine of the man-apes. > > In addition to the errors I have pointed out in the past (not > going/going swimming, not returning/returning to the mausoleum, etc.), or > that others have found (doeskin/manskin bag, Roche/Drotte seeing the pikes, > etc.), here are some more. Although most of the errors of memory are of > details, there are too many of them for them all to be Wolfe's mistakes. I > have endeavored to include only those of which there can be no reasonable > doubt. There are, of course, others subject to interpretation. > > A) "Whatever I possess I would give to become one of you, who complain every > day of memories fading. My own do not. They remain always, and always as > vivid as at their first impression, so that once summoned they carry me off > spellbound. > "I think I turned from the innkeeper and wandered into the crowd of > pushing rustics and chattering vendors, but I saw neither them nor him. > Instead I felt the bone-strewn paths of the necropolis under my feet, and > saw through the drifting river fog the slender figure of Vodalis as he gave > his pistol to his mistress and drew his sword." (II, I) > > That's not quite what happened. He gave the pistol to Hildegrin, > from whom Thea then took it. (I, I) However, the same mistake he makes above > is repeated by Wolfe in the appendix to CITADEL. > > B) Shortly after returning to Saltus from the mine of the man-apes, Sev > questioned Jonas: > > "One last question," I said, "and then I promise I won't ask you anything > more. When we were going through the Wall, you said the things we saw in > there were soldiers, and you implied they..." (II, VIII) > > No, he didn't. Sev specifically asked Talos what the creatures in > the Wall were, and it was Talos who answered him, saying they were soldiers. > (I, XXXV) That Jonas doesn't bother to correct him _may_ indicate the error > is Wolfe's, not Sev's. > > C) While camped, with Dorcas and Jolenta, by the stream where the odalisque > appeared, Sev slept, woke, and: > > "...lay down again to watch the birds voyage among the constellations and > enter that world of memory that, no matter how sweet or how bitter it may > be, is never wholly closed to me. > "I sought to recall that celebration of Holy Katharine's day that fell > the year after I became captain of apprentices; but the preparations for the > feast were hardly begun before other memories came crowding unbidden around > it." (II, XXVII) > > Here, we have an example of Severian the deceiver. He goes on to > recall an incident from infancy, which captures the reader's attention and > distracts from what he wrote. The first part of the last quoted sentence is > worded so that the casual reader may not realize that he is referring to his > _own_ feast day, when he became a journeyman. Why he chose to phrase it that > way, I will not speculate upon. The second part of the sentence sounds > innocent enough--someone recalling a sequence of events and beginning at the > beginning. But when Sev in fact described that feast day, when he reached > the point in the ceremony where he raised the fake sword to strike, he > wrote: > > "When I think back on that time, it is that moment I recall first; to > remember more, I must work forward or backward from that. In memory it seems > to me I stand always so, in gray shirt and ragged trousers, with the blade > poised above my head." (I, XI) > > The second sentence in the above second quoted passage I included > because it, too, I believe, contains an error. When Sev gave his brief > account of the feast day when he became captain of apprentices, he wrote: > > "We apprentices were to serve the feast, and before we did so were to > doff the relatively new and clean clothes we had been given for the > ceremony." (I, V) > > The clothes worn by the apprentices for the ceremony were their > version of their "Sunday best". If they had been their normal rags, there > would have been no need to change clothes, so I doubt that Sev was wearing > "ragged trousers" for his own elevation. > > D) When Sev first visited the jacal of the two sick children in Thrax, he > wrote: > > "I braced my hands on the mud and wattle wall beside the door and > straightened up. The boy said, 'You see she is very sick, sieur, My sister.' > He held out his hand again. > "I saw it--I see it before me now--but it made no immediate impression on > my mind. I could think only of the Claw; and it seemed to me that it was > pressing against my breastbone, not so much like a weight as like the > knuckles of an invisible fist. I remembered the uhlan who had appeared dead > until I touched his lips with the Claw, and who now seemed to me to belong > to the remote past; and I remembered the man-ape, with his stump of arm, and > the way Jonas's burns had faded when I ran the Claw along their length. I > had not used it or even considered using it since it had failed to save > Jolenta." (III, III) > > Wrong. The second paragraph contains not one, but two errors. Sev > touched the uhlan's forehead, not his lips, with the Claw. (II, XIII) And he > used the Claw again on the broken arm of the herdsman at whose hut they had > stayed. (II, XXIX; last paragraph) > > E) From the top of the donjon at Acies Castle, Sev recalled the view he had > had from the top of the Matachin Tower: > > "When I had gone there to make my farewell to the only place I had known, > I had stood at one of the loftiest points of the Citadel, which was itself > poised atop one of the highest elevations in the whole area of Nessus. The > city had been spread before me to the limits of vision, with Gyoll traced > across it like the green slime of a slug across a map; even the Wall had > been visible on the horizon at some points, and nowhere was I beneath the > shadow of a summit much superior to my own." (III, II) > > Contrast the above quote with what he actually wrote about the view > from the top of the Matachin Tower: > > "The mountains [to the north] I could see with my mind's eye, but not > with the body's: only the rolling expanse of the city with its million > roofs. And to tell the truth, the great silver columns of the Keep and its > surrounding spires blocked half my view." (I, XIII) > > Either he had a panoramic vista from the tower, or he didn't. > Perhaps his memory of home became idealized in his exile. Neither did he > make any mention of being able to see the Wall from there at the time, > though he did say, later, as they approached the Piteous Gate: "I've spent > my life so near the middle of the city that the Wall was no more than a dark > line on the northern horizon when we looked from the glass-roofed room at > the top of our tower." (I, XXXV) Note that he said the Wall was visible only > at the one point, not "some points". > > F) When Sev and his motley crew of lake people arrived at Baldander's > castle, he: > > "...asked--a rhetorical question--if they knew from where the sky ship > above the castle had come. And when they assured me they did not, I > explained that I did (and so I did, Dorcas having warned me of them, though > I had never seen such a thing before), and that because of its presence here > it would be better if I...". (III, XXXII) > > Well, no, Dorcas didn't say any such thing. She made no mention of a > spacecraft or its occupants. It was Cyriaca who had warned him: "...that > cacogens had landed somewhere in the north." (III, XII; first page) > > G) Sev to Miles-Jonas at the lazaret: > > "But Jonas, Jolenta is gone--I watched her die, and..." (IV, VI) > > No, he didn't. He was passed out in the mud when he was awakened by > Dorcas calling him. He returned to the roof of the tomb to find "...Dorcas, > alone, bent over the body of Jolenta." (II, XXXI) > > H) Of his jungle prison cell, following the flier crash, Sev wrote: > > "I, who had worked outside so many, thrusting in trays of food to the > disfigured and demented, now knew again a cell of my own." (IV, XXVI) > > Not true. Sev was a journeyman-in-good-standing for less than 72 > hours, and apprentices were forbidden interaction with "clients". > Apprentices carried trays for the inmates down to the oubliette, but it was > up to the journeymen on duty to disperse them. In fact, the day Sev returned > from the library with the four books, Drotte was busy with a client and > asked him to "'...finish shoving their food at the rest for me, if you've > got a moment.' > "I hesitated. Apprentices were not supposed to deal with those committed > to the guild's care." (I, VII) > > The same objection applies to what he wrote three pages later, when > Agia visited him and "...described the torments she and Hethor had contrived > for me when I was strong enough to endure them. When she finished, I told > her quite truthfully that I had spent most of my life assisting at > operations more terrible..." That is a lie, both to Agia and the reader. > > BTW, it also means that Gurloes was probably lying when he said that > when he was Sev's age, they had him "cranking the alternator". > > I) On the morning that Sev, then autarch, passed through the necropolis, > with Drotte, Roche, and Eata, on the way to see Ouen, he wrote: > > "The death roses I had hesitated to pick for Thecla still showed a few > autumnal blooms, and I found myself thinking of Morwenna, the only woman > whose life I have ever taken..." (IV, XXXVII) > > Not true. From chapter XX: "One of the enemy put her head from > behind a clump of brush some way up the slope. My contus struck her with a > bolt of flame; she leaped by reflex, then curled up as spiders do when > someone tosses them among the coals of a campfire." > > J) During the blackout aboard Tzadkiel's ship: > > "In my youth, when I had traveled from Nessus to Thrax with Dorcas, and > from Thrax to Orithyia largely alone, I had carried flint and steel to > kindle fires." (V, VI) > > Wrong again. Oddly, for all the dearth of detail in his accounts, > that specific lack is addressed in the accounts of both those legs of his > journey. By the stream mentioned in C), above, and when he found the dead > soldier, Miles: > > "We had broken a good many and laid our fire before I remembered I no > longer had my striker, having left it with the Autarch, who must also, I > felt certain, have been the 'highly placed servant' who had filled Dr. > Talos's hands with chrisos. Dorcas had flint, steel, and tinder among her > scant baggage, however, and we were soon comforted by a roaring blaze." (II, > XXVII) > > "...I had the impulsive need to kindle a fire. > "There had been no fire-making gear in his pack, but I knew every soldier > must carry such things. I searched his pockets and found a few aes, a > hanging dial with which to tell time, and a flint and striking bar." (IV, > II) > > K) Sev, just before his "Examination", having cried upon seeing the eidolon > of Thecla: > > "If I had ever wept before, it was when I was so small I can scarcely > remember it--apprentices learn not to..." (V, XVIII) > > He wept when he left Dorcas in Thrax. (III, XII) He wept when he > found, among the rocks below Baldander's castle, the remnants of the gem > which had held the Claw. (III, XXXVIII) He wept in the autarch's pavilion > when he saw the claws of the cat-women. (IV, XXIV) > > -Roy > > > -- > --