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From: CoxRathvon@aol.com
Subject: (whorl) groping in the dark
Date: Tue, 11 Feb 1997 14:04:39 

[Posted from Whorl, the mailing list for Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun]

In response to Dave Lebling's comments (about Silk sometimes being mistaken),
Jim Jordan wrote: 
"In both the Severian Quintet and in the Long Sun Quartet Wolfe gives us a
central character who is slowly working his way out of a bad beginning. In
Silk's case, it is idolatry. Slowly he comes to understand that the Outsider
is the only real God, and all the rest are false. After that, he comes to
appreciate that even these false gods carry fragments of truth with them.
Idolatry is a major interest in many of Wolfe's works, but never more than
here. Silk's gradual understanding of the Outsider's command to him is part
of that process of illumination and deliverance from bondage."

I quite agree with all of that, and at the risk of overdoing the analysis
(but hey, what's this forum for?) I'd like to add that Wolfe has always
seemed to me to be interested in the limits of knowledge.  Many of his
characters begin in darkness and work their way toward some (often ambiguous)
assurances.  Consider: the kid in "Devil in a Forest" who is locked in a dark
cellar hearing the story move forward without him; the soldier Latro in his
"mist" of amnesia; the mental patient Green who steps through a door into a
parallel world; Severian who grew up in a sheltered guild; the characters in
"The Fifth Head of Cerberus," all unable to find self-knowledge; etc.  

This theme has always intrigued me; in fact it's a major reason why I read
Wolfe.  Vladimir Nabokov has a novel ("Invitation to a Beheading") in which a
condemned man is imprisoned in a high turret with a single narrow window;
Nabokov later confided that this tower was a metaphor for the human head,
which swivels helplessly as it contemplates the universe through a severely
limited door of perception.  In many of Wolfe's books, I find a similar
metaphor: knowledge being a thin splinter of light which the main character
pursues in a huge, dark world.  What we can know is always so minuscule in
the face of what we can't know!

Anyhow it's no wonder Wolfe's characters are often mistaken as they grope
their way.  As if in compensation, Wolfe sometimes gives them gifts: Latro's
ability to see the gods, Severian's memory, Silk's vision and/or implated

Having dispensed with this heavy-osity, I welcome additional mentions of
Silk's being mistaken.  It's useful to compare his misunderstandings to our

--Henry Rathvon

Questions or problems to whorl-owner@lists.best.com

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