Roy C. Lackey rclackey at stic.net
Sun Jan 29 23:18:31 PST 2006

Adam wrote:
>>1. I really would like to accept Wright's reading of UotNS, and by
extension the first four volumes, that the whole religious aura with which
the Hierogrammates surround themselves is a conscious deception. Doing so
would render UotNS much less frustrating. But I can't. The religious
elements in UotNS just don't read like they're a fraud; and if they are, too
much of UotNS doesn't make sense or becomes irrelevant. (This may seem to
contradict my position in the argument with Roy he refers to, but it
doesn't. I argued that there was no evidence they Hierogrammates had any
direct or privileged access to the Increate's will or commands. They still
believe themselves to be carrying out the Increate's will, just as believers
in the real world believe themselves to be carrying out God's will.)<<

Then we are largely in agreement that the Hierogrammate's actions were
religiously motivated. The only real difference is whether or not they in
fact had the Increate's ear, so to speak. I had argued that I didn't think
they would have been allowed to intervene so drastically in human destiny
unless it was by the will of the Increate, and I took that position because
of Wolfe's known Christian proclivities. As a Christian, he necessarily
believes in a Judeo-Christian God who takes particular, even unique,
interest in humanity.

As such, I find it incredible that Wolfe would write a pentalogy with an
overt religious theme, then go to great lengths to disguise a secular alien
agenda underlying that religious veneer, as Wright contends.

>>Subsidiary to this, in Wright's discussion of short stories by Wolfe which
he views as guides to interpreting the New Sun series, he mentions (iirc)
several stories where religious symbols are used to manipulate people, but
ignores the more numerous stories where the religion is real.<<

And in his attempt to explain away Severian's miraculous powers, he invokes
the theory put forth by Dorcas, that time was somehow bent back to a time
when the resurrected person was still living, or bent forward to a time when
wounds were healed. The time twisting he lays at the feet of the
Hierogrammates. But in the case of Herena's withered arm, that was a birth
defect. There had never been a time when the arm had been normal.

>>2. Why would the Hierogrammates go through all this rigmarole? Surely they
have the capacity to place a white fountain in the Sun without Severian's
help. If their only interest is the reproduction of their species and they
don't believe in their "religion," why bother to put a black hole in the
Sun, spend a thousand years trying to "uplift" the humans of the
Commonwealth, and only then recruit Severian as their "Conciliator," after
first arranging for him to become autarch? Wright doesn't have a good answer
to this. Iirc, he suggested that the Hierogrammates did all this so that the
religion of the Conciliator would be passed down to the Ushasites. But, as
we see at the end of UotNS, it isn't: the people Severian meets have
forgotten it, and Severian makes no effort to enlighten them.<<

There is much too much to quote, but Wright's answer, such as it is, in
Chapter 5, is to the effect that humans have an innate need to impose order
and meaning on the universe by creating religious myths to live by. The
Hierogrammates exploit this need by creating the cult of the Conciliator to
pacify mankind and secure its cooperation in the death of Urth and the birth
of Ushas, a necessary step in the evolution of man to Hieros, their

The Conciliator cult didn't survive the transition to Ushas because it was
no longer needed. Rather, as Wright notes (p. 79, trade paperback) when he
quotes the text of URTH , in the post-diluvian world "that the House
Absolute and our court had become the frame for a vague picture of the
Increate as Autarch."

I agree that Wright seems to pick the textual evidence that best supports
his theories, to the exclusion of anything not convenient to them, but he's
hardly the only one to do that. He even denigrates some of Borski's
theories, but isn't above using whatever parts of them that help his case.
While I appreciate scholarly books with lots of notes (alas, endnotes), too
many of them for my tastes appeal to general authorities that have nothing
to do, directly, with Wolfe or his work. That makes it difficult to quote
his text without having to do too much explaining. Nevertheless, learning of
other opinions is often interesting and sometimes enlightening.


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