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From: Michael Straight <straight@email.unc.edu>
Subject: RE: (whorl) Fallible Narrators and Even More Fallible Copyists: a
Date: Thu, 14 Jun 2001 09:41:52 

On Wed, 13 Jun 2001, Jerry Friedman wrote:

> Whether skeptical explanations sound contrived and
> improbable is important when evaluating putative
> sacred texts (if that's something one is interested
> in).  In the Long/Short Sun books, I think the
> important thing is that that those explanations are
> literarily pointless (unlike the ambiguity in _A Case
> of Conscience_, which is a large part of the point).
> It may be mildly amusing for us readers to note that
> a fictional reader on New Viron is in much the same
> position as a reader of the Gospels, but I don't think
> that means we readers get anything out reacting the
> same way as someone for whom the truth of the
> narrative is important.

I disagree on two grounds.

1.  I think this business of objective vs. subjective narration is an
important theme of the Long/Short Sun books.  Wolfe is asking us to
examine the assumptions we make when we read a story in third-person
"omniwscient" voice; contrast them with the assumptions made when told a
story from an individual's limited point of view; perhaps realize how
unreal and artificial third person/omniscient views are when they describe
what's going on inside other people's heads.  In real life, we never know
that.  We have to take it on faith that inner life inside other people's
heads even exists; we can never observe it for ourselves.  There's a big
difference between Wolfe telling us Silk thought such-and-such and Horn
telling us Silk thought such-and-such.

2.  Contrary to your opinion, I think this ambiguity is much more
aesthetically interesting (different tastes, I guess).  I thought it was
quite striking that Wolfe seemed to begin the Long Sun series asking us to
accept the existence of a God who enlightens Silk as an axiom.  Just when
I'd started to take it for granted, Crane invited me to re-examine it
(even if his explanation turns out not to be very plausible), which I
thought was very interesting.  And then Horn shows up and throws the whole
thing into question again--it turns out Wolfe himself doesn't ask us to
assume the existence of the Outsider for the story, he merely creates
characters who believe it.  Again, much more interesting.

I've said before, I was quite moved by Silk's inner life, by the prayers
he offers, particularly the progression, comparing the long prayers to the
Nine he makes in prison with the similar long prayer to the Outsider.  So
I was shocked when Horn revealed himself and I began to ponder how much of
that Horn could really have known, how much was the way Silk wished to
present himself to others, how much Horn's wishful thinking.  For me,
pondering those issues gave me lots to think about after reading the books
and upon re-reading them, and I think it makes the series much stronger,
deeper, and more interesting.

In a sense, I get to participate in the story.  If I believe in Silk's
goodness and Silk's god (and I do!--in the context of the story, I mean),
it's not just because Wolfe asked me to believe it so that he could tell
me a story based on that assumption, but because he created characters who
convinced me to believe in them and I've chosen to do so.


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