(urth) The assassin

Chris rasputin_ at hotmail.com
Wed Sep 22 01:09:30 PDT 2004

I especially like the last two paragraphs of this post - it also tends to 
reinforce the association of Valeria with old Urth, in that it duplicates 
the "severe" necessity of the old order to perish in the creation of the 

I do think that the assassin isn't so easily attributable to Severian's 
imagination as all that, though I can see the argument for it. An assassin, 
even far from the throne room, could have very good reasons for having a 
weapon drawn. The House Absolute is a dangerous place, what with white 
wolves roaming and such. Then again I see the Miles incident as very open to 
question as well.

>Pursuant to Jeffrey Lefstin's "Valeria = Urth" post of 9/4/04, a few 
>I, for one, have long wondered about the identity of the "assassin" whose
>body Severian stumbled over in the Secret House in Book V of the Urth 
>I don't recall much in the way of discussion about his identity but,
>considering where the episode occurs in the story -- just as Old Urth is in
>the throes of its death agony -- he must be important, if only 
>I would suppose that the lack of speculation about his identity is due to
>the fact that the text tells us almost nothing about him. In fact, the only
>thing that seems reasonably certain is that he is male. No physical
>description whatsoever is given -- not features, age, dress -- nothing.
>Further, the few characteristics he is stated to have or supposed to have 
>our narrator are suspect. Those qualities are: that he was in fact an
>assassin, that he wielded a poisoned knife and that he was a "swordsman of
>Severian had entered the Secret House after emerging from his cenotaph. He
>had been surprised to discover that he was thought to be dead and wondered
>who had caused the monument to be erected. He had no way of knowing at that
>time that he had been gone for forty years; from his point of view he had
>been gone for "fewer perhaps than a hundred days all told." Unconsciously,
>however, as he states in the first paragraph of chapter XLII, he had 
>the Secret House to "learn who it was who sat the Phoenix Throne, and to
>reclaim it if I could."
>His unconscious moods are significant, as he had been compelled to learn a
>few chapters earlier. Severian had been seething with anger when he boarded
>the _Alcyone_, and sulking about Burgundofara leaving his bed for 
>Unconsciously, he had caused the big storm that threatened to wreck the
>ship, and which was calmed only by his conscious will. Immediately before
>the storm struck, as related in the third paragraph of chapter XXXIV, and 
>yet unaware that he was not on Urth in his own time period, Severian had
>been brooding over the identity of the "monarch" he had heard mentioned,
>"the suzerain who had replaced Father Inire", as he then believed. He
>intended to reclaim the throne, thinking that the New Sun would not arrive
>in his lifetime. A few days later he left Typhon's era for the Brook
>Madregot, from which he tried to find his way back to his own time, then
>stepped from his cenotaph. He knew by then that the "monarch" had been a
>thousand years before his own time, but the fact of the cenotaph meant that
>someone else was sitting on his throne -- and he didn't like it!
>What I'm trying to say is that the identity of the dead man with the knife
>in the Secret House _before_ his revivification is not only unknowable, but
>unimportant. He had been dead "for a year at least". We don't know what was
>going on on Urth a year before the deluge. As Severian reveals in the same
>paragraph where he relates stumbling over the man, on any given night the
>Secret House might harbor a "round dozen" or even a "hundred" "intrigues".
>The dead man's body was far from the throne room; why then should he have
>the knife ready in his hand if his intended target was Valeria? He may have
>been on some personal vendetta or involved in some lovers' triangle. But 
>term "assassin" implies a target of prominence, as distinguished from a
>common murderer. I believe that when Severian immediately termed the dead
>man an assassin he unconsciously influenced the man during the process of
>revivification, in effect turning him into an assassin.
>There is precedence for this. The anonymous dead soldier who became known 
>Miles was also the product of an unconscious resurrection. The unwitting
>resurrections of both the soldier and the assassin are also uniquely 
>by the presence of flies attracting Severian's attention. That anonymous
>soldier came to exhibit some of the essence of Jonas. I don't think I'm the
>first to suggest that the Jonas in Miles had been put there by Severian at
>the time of revivification, because Jonas had been on his mind.
>After fleeing from the assassin Severian eventually made his way to the
>throne room, where he discovered a much older Valeria holding forth. With
>flooding immanent, he picked her up and sought to escape via the Secret
>House. Baldanders' final words were to Severian: " .. . [t]he rest do not
>matter. Save yourself if you can." Severian "nodded without thinking", and
>when he commanded the door to open the assassin entered and struck. The
>assassin did not seem concerned with the person of Valeria in particular,
>but with _whoever_ wore the crown. There are no renowned swordsmen in the
>Urth Cycle. That Valeria's thin body proved to be such a poor shield is 
>testament to Severian's character than to the assassin's skills with a
>blade. Valeria died with Urth, and there was no attempt to bring her back,
>consciously or otherwise, even though Severian was then at the height of 
>god-like powers, which is why he reflected, shortly after boarding the 
>on "Valeria rotting underwater".
>The sentiment he expressed a few pages later that Valeria "somewhere
>survived" the flood does not mean that she survived the thrust of the
>poisoned blade; she didn't, as the above makes clear. She lived on only in
>Severian's memory.
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