(urth) The Piteous Gate

Roy C. Lackey rclackey at stic.net
Tue Feb 21 23:08:12 PST 2006

msg quoted and wrote:

>Mr. Ellis writes:
>>The soldiers are driving people off the road, because it's illegal to
>>use the roads of commonwealth.
>>We're given all the facts we need before Severian even sets off on his
>>journey. Master Palaemon tells us: "...there is a redoubt, so I've
>>heard, every fifty leagues... [the roads] are patrolled by uhlans under
>>orders to kill anyone found on them, and since they have permission to
>>loot the bodies of those they slay, they are not much inclined to ask
>>excuses." Shadow, XIII
>Here's something I don't understand, however.
>If it's illegal to travel via the roads, how exactly are all these people
>planning to get to where they're going? On the day in question Severian
>claims the highway leading to the Piteous Gate is "*crowded* with carts and
>wagons and traffic of all kinds." Surely, most of these people are aware
>that traffic is prohibited on the Commonwealth's roads. So what will they
>once they've passed beyond the Gate? Jump into the Gyoll and start
>(River traffic does seem to be tolerated.) Melt into the woods and follow
>crude dirt paths--with carts and wagons and beasts of burden? Hide in the
>bushes whenever they sense a uhlan nears?

The question of what happened at the Piteous Gate has, indeed, been the
subject of sometimes heated debate here over the years. So far as I recall,
however, Mr. Ellis is in the minority regarding his rather mundane
explanation. <g> Most seem to believe that something happened to spook the
stream of travelers just as Sev's party was entering the gate. Explanations
for the panic vary; naturally, I prefer my own, which is that Hethor
precipitated the panic, probably by unleashing one of his mirror beasts.

I would have sworn that I made a rather longish post a few years ago about
Hethor, in the course of which I addressed this issue, but I can't seem to
find it in the archives. Maybe I only sent it to a couple of people. In any
event, here is the relevant paragraph from the original, fwiw.

"The dialogue at Casdoe's also goes a long way toward explaining the why, if
not the exact how, of the events at the Piteous Gate. Sev notes, in SWORD,
how Hethor never seemed to come near him when Jonas was close by,
speculating that this was because Jonas, like Hethor, had been a sailor on a
starship, and that Hethor feared that Jonas might recognize him in some way.
Why Hethor should fear that recognition is another issue. Jonas makes his
first appearance in the story as the company of players, Hethor with them,
nears the city gate. As they enter the gate Hethor walks with his head down.
Most of the speculation about why he does that centers on a supposed fear of
being recognized by some authority watching from within the walls of the
gate. I find that prospect doubtful. Dr. Talos's comment about the pandours
possibly watching for a particular miscreant was aimed at Sev, not Hethor,
because Sev had just told him that he had unfinished business with the
Pelerines in the city, whose tent-cathedral had just gone up in smoke. Given
the unreliability of space/time travel, some version of Space Rangers on the
lookout for intergalactic desperadoes is untenable. I believe that Hethor is
trying to avoid the notice of Jonas, who has unexpectedly attached himself
to the group, if only temporarily. Further, I believe that Hethor, possibly
by means of one of his creatures, caused the disturbance within the gate for
two reasons: one, to create a distraction so that Jonas would not notice
him, and, two, to possibly cause Sev's death, and/or Jonas', either by being
trampled in the stampede of vehicles and animals, as some were, or killed,
as many more were when they were caught up in the panic and ran out onto the
road, by the soldiers stationed on the other side of the gate to keep people
off the road. It was not a good plan, but it was the best he could do on the
spur of the moment."


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