(urth) Shapeshifting Evidence and Principles

Roy C. Lackey rclackey at stic.net
Sun May 28 13:13:21 PDT 2006

Bsharp wrote a well crafted little essay that I almost wish I didn't have to
take issue with.

>If you find it impossible that 5th Head of Cerberus could be part of the
>history before BotNS, then you should skip this first paragraph. In this
>book we see (very hazily) that during a wave of human space migration, they
>encounter an alien shape-shifting species which can imitate humans almost
>exactly, manual dexterity being the most difficult part.  Dr Veil (Aunt
>Jeannine) teaches that shape-shifting to imitate a human cannot be perfect
>because that would involve losing the ability to shape-shift. And evolution
>would not allow for a creature to lose its most advantageous trait.

5HC may have taken place in Urth's past, but if so it was a very distant
past and for that reason little or no more related to the Sun Cycle than
PEACE or PANDORA, which may also have taken place in Earth's/Urth's past.
The level of technology evidenced in 5HC does not seem to be all that much
advanced from what we have on Earth today, or, more properly, what has been
envisioned for decades by many science fiction writers to be available in
the relatively near future. But the more telling indicator that 5HC is not
far removed from our present is the pronounced French and English influence
evidenced on the twin planets. Historical enmity between the two nations on
Earth has obviously been extended to the colonies. The Urth of Severian's
day is so many thousands of years in the future of either country that
neither of them exists, even as a legend. The "Saint" part of the colony
names shows a strong Christian influence, whereas on Urth Christ has been
long forgotten.

If the twin planets in 5HC had a place in Urth's history, it would have to
have been early in the First Empire, a time that had long passed before
Typhon came on the scene and tried to rekindle a second empire.

>Now, perhaps Gene Wolfe has created an Urth in which shape-shifting legends
>and aliens could visit, but never do.  Perhaps the abos of Sainte Anne were
>wiped out and that's all there is to the story.  Maybe the Urth stories
>within the story are no more than pure fiction.  Perhaps dinosaurs are not
>dragons, just bones. Maybe these myths and legends are just a fun way for
>Wolfe to place false clues and mislead fanciful readers who might still, in
>their hearts, long for a Pegasus.  We each have our own view on that, I

Now how the hell am I supposed to argue with that? <g>

Earlier, bsharp asked:
>So, when Roy says "I see no evidence of shape-shifting in NEW SUN,", is he
>saying Urth legends are not evidence? Or that shape-shifting is a pegasus,
>a piece which does not fit his mental picture?

Yes to the first question, with the exception of Tzadkiel, previously noted,
who isn't a legend -- in the story. Yes to the second question, also. I
realize that to ask you to point out your "Pegasus" in the text would be
unfair, given the nature of what we have to work with, but at least show me
the bones and feathers of a flying horse. I don't think you can. Belief
isn't proof -- and I'm hardheaded.

I don't see that any plot purpose would be served by a shape-shifting Inire.
He remained the power behind the throne for the decade of Severian's
autarchy. Severian's first manuscript was written at the end of that decade.
How could he have remained ignorant of Inire's alleged abilities for so
long, and if he wasn't ignorant of them, why would he have concealed that
knowledge from his theoretical readers? After learning of Tzadkiel's
abilities, why would he not have connected Inire to such an ability, if he
thought Inire had it, and said something about it in his second manuscript,
where Inire is hardly even mentioned? The show was all over when he wrote
the second manuscript, the deed was done; why hide it?

We learn from Tzadkiel that less than fully-mature Hierogrammates cannot
change their shape. We know that Inire was a cacogen. Therefore he would
have to be a Hierogrammate on the order of Tzadkiel in order to change
shape, or else be a member of another species that has that ability, and who
is *also* working for Tzadkiel, in effect a "holy slave". I don't think that
Inire is a Hierogrammate. The Hierodules were created by the Hierogrammates
to tamper with human destiny, and Tzadkiel said that the ability to
shape-shift cannot be designated. Though Inire need not belong to the same
species as B and F, who do not seem to have that ability, it seems to me a
stretch that Wolfe would create a character with that ability, when no
meaningful plot purpose is served.

Why would a being who could make himself look like a man call attention to
himself by running around a lazaret looking like a monkey if he had a choice
in the mater?


More information about the Urth mailing list