(urth) The Piteous Gate

Chris rasputin_ at hotmail.com
Thu Feb 23 20:54:38 PST 2006

Well, logically we can separate the "how" and the "why" of the Piteous Gate 
incident, and perhaps that will help. (Though as a side note I do not 
understand the sort of universal fascination with this incident - which 
doesn't seem to be provoked by historical discussions on the list because it 
is shared by people who haven't read the archives - given that as far as I 
can tell it isn't crucial to the overall interpretation of the story.)

The "mundane" aspect of the uhlans and the laws concerning the use of the 
roads can be considered a fully adequate explanation as to how the incident 
came about. If uhlans were guarding the road to make sure that people coming 
out of the city didn't go any further on it, then even a small disturbance 
could provoke a reaction from the guards that would incite a general panic. 
It wouldn't take Hethor's extraterrestrial beasties, or any particularly 
devious physical means, to create the situation - though of course, such 
means could be employed.

The second aspect is the question of motive. If we press the mundane 
account, it is simply a random occurence - there is no motive. If we don't 
accept this, then we look for a reason why some character in the story would 
want to incite such a panic. To get very specific on this count we'd have to 
come to some determination as to *whose* motive it is; instead let's remain 
general, and treat the question in terms of what the possible results of 
such a panic might be that would benefit anyone.

It might be that the goal was to kill one of the members of Severian's 
party, most probably Severian. If so, the prospective murderer chose a 
method so indirect that it couldn't possibly be very effective; the odds of 
your particular target being killed in the general chaos are rather low.

It could be that the goal was to escape apprehension by the guards waiting 
outside the gate. This could be a motive for a few people, but particularly 
I am thinking of Baldanders; he is of the same general type as the undines 
and Abaia et al., and if he believed he had been spotted by the cacogens in 
the wall he might have feared some kind of trap waiting outside the gate. 
This seems to be a live candidate, but I do not see any real evidence that 
points to it.

The third possibility (that I can think of, at any rate), is that someone 
wanted to split the party. This allows for a truly bewildering array of 
possibilities. One party member might have wanted to shake off another one, 
or on the other hand might have wanted to shake off most/all of the others, 
or might have wanted to get themselves alone with a particular individual. 
Another variation would be one in which a third party, like the current 
Autarch, wanted to separate Severian from one of the others who might cause 
him harm (Hethor, Baldanders). Here again we have discrete possibilities to 
choose from, and possible realistic motives, but not a lot of evidence for 
any particular one.

To me this seems like a dead-end question, there are too many possibilities 
with not enough evidence to make any one of them more plausible than the 
others. I guess the only vague clue I can come up with is that if I remember 
correctly the tone of the conversation, when the groups reunite, implies 
that one of the parties might not have tried as hard as they could have to 
reunite with the other one.

-- Chris

>Well, I'm torn. I find the "Uhlan" explanaition attractive since it is
>mundane and doesn't require the invention of an entire narrative that is 
>refererence elsewhere.
>On the otherhand, I understand why a more elaborate theory is sought. If 
>explanation is so mundane, why cover it up? Why not mention it? Severian 
>Jonas must have gotten some idea of what it was about by the time they
>passed the gate. But they didn't know at the end of SOTT. I reached the end
>of the fourth book convinced that there would be conversation that 
>it. To no avail. I read UOTNS still hoping for a clue. Nope.
>If they're looking for Severian, they didn't seem to find him because he 
>Jonas go through all right. If they're looking for Hethor...well, I don't
>see any evidence that he is on the run.Why wouldn't the possibility that
>they are looking for Jonas be just as reasonable? After all, he's an
>expensive piece of equipment. Or Baldanders! He and his butler seem to be 
>the run. There are a heck of a lot of miscreants on that road. But they
>could have gotten any of them better by waiting for to reach the end of the
>It was one of Hethor's pets? Come on. Nothing in the text says that; not
>that I know of. And why release one in the middle of the gate. To release
>one in that setting would be as dangerous for Hethor as anybody else. He
>could release them almost anywhere else without as much danger. One
>explanation, I guess, is that the authorities were on to Hethor and were
>about to catch him so he released the pet to cause the confusion and get
>away. But typically when you're tracking someone (as Hethor is tracking
>Severian), you follow BEHIND him so you can keep your eye on him. Up ahead
>is the wrong place for him.
>Nothing so far satisfies me. I'm tempted to suggest that there is no Lupine
>"explanation". That it is just an awful traffic jam whose only narrative
>purpose is to split Sev and Jonas from the rest of their group. But Dorcas
>*says* that they are turning around because they are frightened.
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