(urth) Urth before Earth
bsharporflat at hotmail.com
Tue Jul 18 09:38:24 PDT 2006
When I first read Shadow of the Torturer back in the 80's, like many I first
thought it was set in our past. Later with references to anti-gravity,
interstellar travel, polychrome sand and endless depths of archaeology it
was clear the story was set far in our future. But why change the spelling
of our planet to Urth?
I have come to think that the spelling is to indicate that Urth is not our
Earth but a similar planet in a future (not past) time frame, perhaps in
I think of Yesod being in the future of Briah because you have to travel to
the end of the Briah, end of time (big collapse, final black hole?) to reach
the beginning of Yesod (big bang, white fountain?). I think time in Wolfe's
universes is arranged in a spiral (hence the Hiero's preference for that
shape) allowing shortcuts to bridge between the coils, between one universe
The key piece of evidence for Earth being in Urth's future starts with The
Last House. The structure and function of this place is clear: You travel
a labyrinthine path exactly and reach a vertical structure. You can't find
the place if you don't follow the path exactly. The bottom floors of this
structure are earlier in time and the top floors are progressively in the
At the end of Citadel of the Autarch, Severian can't find the Atrium of Time
until he follows a marked path exactly. The Atrium itself isn't a time
travelling structure (nor does time stand still there, the seasons change).
But the Atrium is surrounded by towers and surely there is time travel
available in them. The towers are guarded by four sorts of extinct beasts,
Glyptodons (gigantic heavy-armored armadillo), Barylambdas (1500 lbs.
pig-like creature), Arctothers (giant bear) and Smilodons (sabre-tooth
tiger). I will speculate that the speed of each animal might denote the
amount of time travel each tower provides but that is just a guess. (I see
evidence that Ultan's Library and the Naviscaput's lair are also time
Valeria lives in one of the towers and her antique appearance may result
from her residing in the lower levels. In fact, she has never gone to the
upper levels of her tower where I am pretty sure you can find the Path Of
Air to the House Absolute. (more evidence for that someday, when I try to
present my ideas on Severian's family tree)
Another labyrinthine path leading to a vertical structure can be found in
the Jungle Room of the Botanic Gardens. In fact, when Mannea gives Severian
a map to find The Last House, Severian thinks of the Jungle Hut for no
explained reason. In the Jungle Hut, Severian sees people who are
apparently from Earth. An Earth book (Bible) is quoted from and we see a
yellow sun and an airplane. Following the pattern of The Last House, if
Earth was in the past, Severian should have to descend to find a view of it.
Since he ascends, Earth must be in the future of Urth. But since Earth is
at a much earlier technological stage than Urth, it must exist in another
universe or time frame. Some evidence points to Yesod.
The only other place I know of in BoTNS where an Earth book is quoted is L.
Carroll's Through The Looking Glass, in the Antechamber, by Jonas. Jonas
knows the real story of Theseus, Kim Lee Soong is familiar, so Jonas must be
from Earth. His shipmates also. A normal spaceship couldn't return him to
where he came from but Father Inire's mirrors could, traversing space and
The only things we see appearing in Father Inire's mirrors are a
(Christian?) silvery fish and the angelic Tzadkiel. Since everything in
Yesod looks sort of heavenly, I tend to think Inire's mirrors are a path to
Yesod, which is where Jonas wants to go. So..I think Earth is in Yesod and
in Urth's future.
p.s. I submitted these ideas in an essay to Ultan's Library but they weren't
interested. So, UL readers must make do with the last entrant there,
Mantis' Lions, Tigers, Bears from 2003. I have a lot of respect for Mantis'
scholarship (who doesn't?) but I can't say I easily accept the view that the
Jungle Sorcerers and Master Ash are symbolic bear guardians nor that tigers
and bears in the Atrium of Time are addressed but glyptodons and barylambdas
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