(urth) The Piteous Gate

James Wynn thewynns at earthlink.net
Fri Feb 24 06:55:07 PST 2006

Roy opines
>If we assume that the uhlans made a *sudden* appearance and started killing
>people on the road, causing the panic in question, then we have to account
>for a sudden appearance....It might be argued that the uhlans were hiding
>in the woods, just waiting to ambush the foolhardy. If that were the case,
>why didn't they act sooner, before Sev's group ever got to the Gate?

While reminding everyone that I'm not satisfied with the uhlan explanation,
I'll say this:
The uhlans had to show up sometime. It could have been a fluke. They showed
up then. If they hadn't Severian wouldn't have recorded the event. The group
would not have gotten split up. Book Two would have proceeded very
differently from the way it did. (Seen the movie "Slackers"?) That's the way
it happened.

Quite apart from the whys and wherefores, this event serves at least two
purposes (as Roy said):
1) It is a cliffhanger. It encourages readers to go and buy the next book.
2) It separates the Severian and Jonas from the group for whatever purpose
Wolfe wanted that to happen.

In the old serial Westerns, the movie would end with, for example, the hero
riding off a cliff. How could he possibly escape? Often he couldn't. The
next episode would be slightly changed from the previous ending allowing the
hero to escape. Why? Because the cliffhanger was its own justification.

By not telling the reader what caused the foul-up, Wolfe ensures he will pay
attention for the first couple chapters as he sets up a new narrative with a
new rhythm. This way Wolfe doesn't have to top the suspense of the ending of

There are lots of reasons why having the uhlans show up at the end of the
book purely by coincidence makes perfect sense. There is even a reason for
the foul-up not having the significance the book implied when SOTT ended.
One last added benefit of the uhlan theory is that there is *sort of* a
potential explanation for the foul up offered in COTC: the dream. As I said,
I like the Uhlan theory for a lot reasons. But I find it unsatisfying.


More information about the Urth mailing list