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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
> 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,
> have come to develop a theory regarding Wolfe's handling of Sev's memory
> the memoir. It is unprovable, in part, because the memory-based text is
> we have to go on, and the mistakes are subtle, of course, or the issue
> 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
> 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
> of the Botanic Gardens, succumbing to Wolfe's wizardry as a story teller
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> (I, XXXV) That Jonas doesn't bother to correct him _may_ indicate the
> is Wolfe's, not Sev's.
> C)  While camped, with Dorcas and Jolenta, by the stream where the
> appeared, Sev slept, woke, and:
>    "...lay down again to watch the birds voyage among the constellations
> 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
> feast were hardly begun before other memories came crowding unbidden
> 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
> worded so that the casual reader may not realize that he is referring to
> _own_ feast day, when he became a journeyman. Why he chose to phrase it
> way, I will not speculate upon. The second part of the sentence sounds
> innocent enough--someone recalling a sequence of events and beginning at
> 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
> 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
> He held out his hand again.
>    "I saw it--I see it before me now--but it made no immediate impression
> 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
> 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,
> 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
> used the Claw again on the broken arm of the herdsman at whose hut they
> stayed. (II, XXIX; last paragraph)
> E)  From the top of the donjon at Acies Castle, Sev recalled the view he
> had from the top of the Matachin Tower:
>    "When I had gone there to make my farewell to the only place I had
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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,
> I had never seen such a thing before), and that because of its presence
> it would be better if I...". (III, XXXII)
>         Well, no, Dorcas didn't say any such thing. She made no mention of
> 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
> Dorcas calling him. He returned to the roof of the tomb to find
> 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
> up to the journeymen on duty to disperse them. In fact, the day Sev
> 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
> to the guild's care." (I, VII)
>         The same objection applies to what he wrote three pages later,
> Agia visited him and "...described the torments she and Hethor had
> 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
> 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."
>    "...I had the impulsive need to kindle a fire.
>    "There had been no fire-making gear in his pack, but I knew every
> 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
> 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
> -- 


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