And so as you read along, you develop a rich framework of meanings, potential meanings, associations, connotations, none of which have any particular foundation. There are some fairly heavy-duty themes flying around these books, not the least of which is the idea of the protagonist as a sacrifice. One commentator attempted to conjoin Jesus and Apollo and come up with Severian, although I tend to see Severian as much more of a Dionysian figure, no matter his ostensible dispassion.
There is also the fact that Wolfe, like any other good postmodern writer, has made style into substance, and done it very well: the elements of the story — the diction, the unreliability of Severian, the events themselves — raise questions on the nature of reality and how we experience it. This is a mere sketch of The Book of the New Sun , quite deservedly considered a masterpiece.
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Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun
Severian finds himself wandering around when he first happens upon a dead soldier whom he revives with the Claw. The soldier remains unable to speak as they make their way to the Pelerines camp. In the camp, Severian suffers a fever and is treated along with others injured in the war. While recovering, Severian judges a story telling contest.
Before leaving he returns the Claw by putting it in an altar. Outside the church Severian is tasked to visit a friend of the Pelerines in the mountain, to bring him back from the danger of the war to the safety of the camp. Severian arrives to the man's house but, due to time-travel related phenomena, the man disappears as he is led away. Upon returning to the camp, Severian discovers it has been attacked and abandoned.
Severian soon finds the new camp where most of those he met during his stay are dead or dying. Eventually, Severian is drawn into war against armies of the North composed of people known as Ascians. Severian nearly perishes but is rescued by the androgynous spy he met in the House Absolute, the Autarch of the Commonwealth.
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Severian is nursed back to health and converses with the Autarch about his role in the Commonwealth. They board a flier and while heading out over the war zone, they are shot down. The Autarch is dying and tells Severian to consume the alzabo vial around his neck and consume his flesh, as Severian is to be the next Autarch. Severian does so and thus he acquires hundreds of consciousnesses that the Autarch once had. Before the Autarch died, he messaged Vodalus that the Autarch was aboard the flier. Thea and a group of Vodalus' men descend on the crash site and rescue Severian from the Ascians.
Severian is held prisoner and is visited by Agia who attempts to kill him once again. He survives and is rescued by the green time traveler whom he rescued earlier in The Claw of the Conciliator. The green man opens a passage through time in which Severian is then visited by an alien who takes the form of Master Malrubius and Triskele. Malrubius tells him that he must one day face a challenge that will either allow man to return to the stars if he succeeds or strip him of his manhood, leaving him infertile, and unable to produce an heir if he fails.
Severian realizes that the last Autarch must have failed which feminized him and gave him his androgynous looks. After the meeting, Severian is left on a beach. He discovers a bush covered in thorns. He claims the single black one, grown from a species of bush that grow exclusively white Claw shapes, and ponders the meaning of the Claw in relationship to higher beings, time-travel and the New Sun. Severian makes his way back to Nessus aboard a ship whose crew revere him on sight. He visits with people of his past and assumes the role of Autarch.
He returns to the waiter who slipped him the note in the Shadow of the Torturer saying that Agia had been there before. The note was meant for Dorcas who reminded the waiter of his mother.
A picture of Dorcas in a locket around the waiter's neck confirms this suspicion. Severian also notes that the waiter very much resembles himself and it is implied that the waiter is Severian's father. The book ends with Severian exploring the citadel and retracing Triskele's steps through an underground building. Seeing the dog's footsteps and his own he follows the latter, returning to the Atrium of Time. The book is yet again a continuation of Severian's narration of the aftermath of his ascent to the throne and subsequent journey "between the suns" to be judged and win back the fountain of life that will rejuvenate the slowly dying sun and revive life on Urth.
When the book begins, Severian has already rewritten his accounts of before and is beginning his new log aboard the spaceship that will take him to Yesod, an enigmatic planet, home to the godlike beings who have the power to grant Urth and its sun a new lease on life. Aboard the ship, Severian meets Zak, a mysterious being, who begins small and soon develops human form and turns out to be the all-powerful Tzadkiel of Yesod.
Once in Yesod, Severian faces an immense task of facing all the deceased people he has encountered since his childhood, including Thecla and Master Malrubius. When he faces the tribunal to be judged by Tzadkiel, he is told that the trial was already successfully passed.
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Severian is made the New Sun. After his return to Urth from Yesod, he finds the sun still dying, and that the New Sun is still very far, far away, but nevertheless moving relentlessly. He learns that many years have passed backwards. He also learns that he possesses healing power that he once attributed the Claw of the Conciliator. He encounters an earlier version of Typhon who attempts to kill him. He manages to escape via the Corridors of Time.
There, with the aid of a version of Tzadkiel, he travels back to the future. In his palace he finds his wife Valeria sitting on the throne attended by his old enemy Baldanders who has grown enough to match the size of an undine. Shortly after Severian reveals himself, an apocalyptic flood washes away the citadel and much of the land of Urth, thus bringing destruction and rebirth. Severian, the main character and narrator to the series, can be interpreted as a Christ figure. His life has many parallels to the life of Jesus , and Gene Wolfe, a Catholic , has explained that he deliberately mirrored Jesus in Severian.
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He compares Severian's profession as a torturer to Jesus's profession as a carpenter in The Castle of the Otter : . It has been remarked thousands of times that Christ died under torture. Many of us have read so often that he was a "humble carpenter" that we feel a little surge of nausea on seeing the words yet again. But no one ever seems to notice that the instruments of torture were wood, nails, and a hammer; that the man who built the cross was undoubtedly a carpenter too; that the man who hammered in the nails was as much a carpenter as a soldier, as much a carpenter as a torturer.
Very few even have seem to have noticed that although Christ was a "humble carpenter," the only object we are specifically told he made was not a table or a chair, but a whip. Severian's life parallels Jesus' occasionally, with his descent into the cave of the man-apes being a Harrowing of Hell scene, his resurrection of Declan being a Lazarus of Bethany scene, and his friendship with Jonas reflecting Ahasuerus.
In this respect he represents the wandering Jew. Also mirroring the crown of thorns, the Claw of the Conciliator, a thorn that causes Severian to shed blood, later becomes a religious relic due to its relation to Severian. Terminus Est represents his crucifix , with Severian describing his sword in Urth of the New Sun as a "dark cross upon my shoulder. Peter Wright calls the series an " apotheosis " of traditional Dying Earth elements and themes, and Douglas Barbour suggests that the book is a foundational mosaic of that literary heritage:.
Wolfe has not only written a truly marvellous science fantasy set millions of years in our future on a dying 'Urth', he has written the book on such works Traces of this literary tradition can be found throughout the book. In The Sword of the Lictor , Cyriaca tells Severian a legend about an automated city, with rebirth as a central theme. This mirrors John W. Campbell 's Twilight , where sentient machines remove the need for human labor. Wolfe himself said that when he was a teenager Twilight had a great effect on his writing, and this homage to that story is not just a passing reference, but an allusion to a literary predecessor.
Later in the story, Wolfe alludes to The Time Machine , with the scene where Severian meets the glowing man-apes mirroring the Time Traveler's confrontation with the Morlocks. In both stories the protagonist holds up a light to awe the cave peoples, but in the Book of the New Sun Severian relates to the humanity of the man-apes with the glowing Claw of the Conciliator, while in The Time Machine the Time Traveler intimidates the Morlocks with his fire.
Don Maitz illustrated the cover of the first publication, and Bruce Pennington illustrated the second cover. The original tetralogy has also been split into two volumes, appropriately named Shadow and Claw and Sword and Citadel , both published in by Orb Publications. Each book has been separately translated into French , German , Dutch , and Japanese.
The Urth Of the New Sun
The Japanese printings of the tetralogy and coda were illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano. Each of the four original volumes won at least one major fantasy or science fiction award as the year's "Best Novel" as shown by the table below. Gene Wolfe uses a variety of archaic and obscure terms throughout the series, and Wolfe himself, in the appendix of The Shadow of the Torturer , explains that the words are used because they are the closest translations in our current language, and no words are created:.
In rendering this book—originally composed in a tongue that has not yet achieved existence—into English, I might easily have saved myself a great deal of labor by having recourse to invented terms; in no case have I done so.
Thus in many instances I have been forced to replace yet undiscovered concepts by their closest twentieth-century equivalents. Wolfe admits, however, that some mistakes may have been made in spelling or exact meaning. His choice of words often come from an English—Latin dictionary or an English—Greek dictionary, where he finds roots of words to use. Wolfe states that he uses strange and arcane words because he "thought they were the best for the story [he] was trying to tell. He compares the narrator, Severian, and the reader to an English-speaking person and a German-speaking person building a boat: .
Urth Of The New Sun: Gene Wolfe: Trade Paperback: Powell's Books
They were actually doing something, you see; and the German understood what it was they were doing. Because they were working together exactly as a writer and reader must the unintelligible request was heard as "I need something," and the German had little difficulty guessing what was needed. Why bother, in that case, to learn English?