(urth) The Wizard - do not read until Jan 1

Don Doggett harlekin at earthlink.net
Tue Dec 28 17:38:51 PST 2004

Hey everyone,
	I'm moving to a new apt. so I'm posting early.  I'll probably check my 
mail at the library but I don't know how much I'll be posting for a few 
weeks.  There's plenty to be touched on in these two books but I'm 
going to give a few general observations and then hit on a very 
specific point.  First the generalities:  I think Wolfe erred in making 
Able a modern kid from America.  It's the single thing that keeps this 
book from being a great work.  It constantly pulled me out of the book 
and it says a lot for the power of the story itself that I invested 
major effort in forgetting Able's origins whenever possible.  Still IMO 
it's a major flaw.  Maybe this is my problem, but I doubt I'm alone in 
this.  Also the first part of the Wizard with Toug and Mani in Utgard 
threatened to bog down the whole book.  The story hits its stride when 
Able appears again though, and it achieves some very high points.  I 
love Wolfe's characterization of Skai and its inhabitants.  I wasn't so 
keen on his hierarchy of beings.  Too reductionist for me, but GW let's 
me get around it by having fallible narrators.  I would like to ask an 
open question.  Is it useful to look at this work as a source of 
answers for themes in Wolfe's other works, especially NS, LS, and SS?  
I personally think it is but I don't want to bother going down that 
path if we have to argue whether it is indeed useful first.  Did anyone 
else see Severian in the Black Caan?  Because this is technically a YA 
novel, it seems to me that Wolfe was a little more straightforward in 
his themes and maybe it will shed some light on other books that have 
been murkier.  There are still space creatures, giants, clones, 
artificial intelligences, and composite beings.

Ok, the specific thing I want to post on is Able's real name,  Arthur 
Ormsby.  Anyone who has read GW knows that he doesn't hide a name for 
two books and reveal it in the utter last moment and not have it mean 
something.  A big something I think.  Someone (I think it was Marc) 
said that they wouldn't be surprised if Able and Arnthor turned out to 
be the same person in the end.  I Think this is essentially correct.  
In my last post (and thank you for the kind words Charles)  I said that 
I felt that Silkhorn was the ideal Silk of Horn's book of Silk, a Silk 
that the man of that name fell short of.  Able says that he was raised 
up by the Aelf to be a messenger to Arnthor and that in order to 
deliver this message he had to be a worthy messenger.  Hence his 
trials.  This is wrong.  Able isn't the messenger, he's the message.  
Able is the Aelf's rebuke to Arnthor, rubbing his face into how far 
short he has fallen.  He carries Eterne (excalibur) a sword Arnthor 
can't even draw.  His coat of arms bears a dragon.  Shame is what 
causes Arnthor to imprison Able.  I think that Wolfe is riffing off the 
idea of many versions of Arthur in history and legend.  This recalls to 
me the scene in "The Last Temptation of Christ" (I haven't read the 
book) where the Jesus who saved himself from the cross confronts Paul 
and calls him a fraud.  And Paul says he doesn't care who Jesus is, the 
people need someone and he would happily make up the whole story if 
necessary.  Able is sort of that Pauline Jesus (Silkhorn too, for that 
matter) Anyhow, on to the name.  Arthur is evident.  Orm means "elm" so 
essentially Ormsby means "of the elm".  This brings up several 
interesting associations.  The first is that the elm (or Ailm) is an 
Aleph symbol (at least according to Graves, and even though Wolfe has 
said he was a crackpot, which is true, I'm certain he finds him 
thematically useful).  Another is that the elm is a symbol of death.  
Recall that Able's new puppy is a white dog with red ears, a dog of the 
Goddess in her death aspect and one of the hounds of Annwyn as well (I 
think, but clearly a death symbol- by the way Farvan, as far as I can 
find, is another word for Pharaoh).  Most interesting to me, one of the 
variants of the Death of Arthur has him being killed by a youth (who 
seems to be from faerie) on a horse wielding a spear made of the elm.  
I'm not sure why GW chose these associations, but I'm pretty sure 
they're not random.



More information about the Urth mailing list