(urth) Piaton; apocalypse

Chris rasputin_ at hotmail.com
Mon Sep 27 01:12:34 PDT 2004

In response to Andrew's excellent post, some thoughts:

I don't have a precise answer about Abaia's place in the post-apocalyptic 
world, but I do have something like an argument, I suppose, based on what I 
consider to be the role of the Megatherians in Severian's story. This is 
obviously going to be arguable, and if you think there's nothing to it by 
all means say so, but it does make a great deal of sense to me, at least.

I would start by saying that there is a large difference between what Typhon 
is and what Abaia is, but that the two are solidly related to each other, 
akin to type-and-token, but not quite. The Megatherians, I would say, are 
more like ideas or ideologies. Thus, Typhon can stand in for the individual, 
the Stalin or Hitler, while Abaia would be something more like 
"totalitarianism" in the abstract. Some aspects of the Megatherians:

1) They are planted, "below the surface", and at least rhetorically speaking 
have or are the seeds of the destruction of human civilization.

2) They seem to grow over time, but aside from when they have their day in 
the sun (ie Baldanders, during the time we get to see him), they are hidden 
and seem to exert their influence powerfully and *indirectly*.

3) The fact that the Ascians are influenced/enslaved by one of these 
Megatherians gives us a picture of what kind of idea these beings are. 
Baldanders and the kind of things you find in his castle provide another 

There is also a distinct difference in how Baldanders and Typhon are treated 
by Wolfe, morally speaking - despite the fact that Severian ultimately 
fights them both. We have no trouble morally judging Typhon, he is the 
individual. Baldanders, on the other hand, presents himself as morally 
neutral, as if his actions were the work of an impersonal force or as if he 
were something to which morals do not properly pertain. Unfortunately I 
don't have a copy on hand, but it seems to me that the original story that 
Severian reads describing the origins of the Megatherians was also somewhat 
morally ambivalent... despite being objects of dread, I did not get the 
impression that they were "evil" in that story.

Ultimately I found that this helped me to reconcile the seeming 
inscrutability of their motives. If it seems difficult to figure out what 
they want, perhaps it is because they don't "want" anything at all - they 
simply act/influence according to their nature. The exception is Baldanders 
when he's still above the surface, and in that case he seems to act 
primarily to perpetuate himself.

So, did Abaia want the New Sun to come, or did he want to stop it? Did he 
help or hinder Severian? My guess is that the closest answer to the first is 
that he is indifferent to the prospect. That said, he may well have both 
helped *and* hindered Sev.

My wild guess about the original question is that, since Urth seems to have 
a cyclical history, Abaia may be gone when the "reset button" is pushed, but 
human nature being what it is, he'll be back someday. I am speculating that 
the undines are something more elementary, like Numena compared to Abaia as 
a more fully articulated mythological god/creature, and that they wouldn't 
be affected by the cataclysm - if anything, they would be more loose to play 
in simpler times (and minds).

>Jeffrey's excellent "Valeria = Urth" post somehow made clear to me the 
>symbolic aspect of Sev's destruction of Typhon by killing Piaton. Piaton 
>surely represents the old Urth, innocent in itself but hopelessly infected 
>with the old evils, which it will continue to breed and suffer from, until 
>it is put out of its misery. Kind of a "doh" moment for not having seen it 
>that way previously.
>But there is a fundamental question about Sev's apocalypse which remains 
>very unclear to me. How do Abaia and the others fit into this? Very simply, 
>a global inundation isn't something which is going to cause them much 
>grief; and indeed we see the undines leaping from the waves (or something 
>like that) to greet the New Sun. Abaia etc definitely have a place in the 
>post-apocalyptic world - just as The Mother has a place on Blue ("respect 
>but do not worship", as Silk's final injunction to the community in New 
>Viron puts it).
>It my be that this was not Wolfe's intention in the first four books, but 
>at least by the time he wrote UOTNS, these beings occupy a completely 
>different space in the taxonomy of evil than creatures such as Typhon and 
>the governess of the proto-Torturers' Tower. They survive, Typhon and the 
>governess don't.
>But why? Is a race of enslaved Ascians a better cosmic outcome than a race 
>enslaved by Typhon? And to the extent that Abaia wants to enslave humans, 
>won't this be much easier to accomplish with humanity reduced to a 
>scattering of souls & returned to its primitive beginnings?
>And you see something of the same puzzle in the different tretment of 
>Typhon and Baldanders. To me it is clear enough that they are the "alpha" 
>and "omega" of the same type - Sev first kills the original tyrant, and 
>then comes down the mountain & deals with the new wannabe tyrant. But 
>Baldanders doesn't perish, then or in the Flood (presumably).
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