(urth) The Salamander Again (Long)

Macronaut macronaut at yahoo.com
Mon May 29 12:26:21 PDT 2006

I remember when Robert Borski first proposed that the salamander was Mother Pyrexia.  I found it unconvincing then and still do.

The alcalde of Saltus described Mother Pyrexia as something that could be handled by a group of men armed with torches and maybe simple weapons (hence similar preparations for the breaking of Barnoch's house).  Claw p. 223.  We know from his description that the Pyrerxia-thing disliked fire and light.

By contrast, the salamander in Thrax is completely unafraid of men, even soldiers armed with pyrotechnic lances, and must be untroubled by fire because its body is contstantly setting fires in Thrax while it hunts Sev, without apparent negative reaction from the creature.  Most subtle but most convincing to me, Wolfe portrays the salamander as a completely otherwordly being that seems to perceive the world with an alien set of senses that are ill-adapted for operating in an Urth environment, eg. bad vision, but good at sensing things like the Claw.  As I see it, that's too alien to be something adapted for life on Urth, and the Claw-sensing ability is too convenient a power for a random creature that just happens to have evolved in Saltus in time for Sev to show up -- it sounds much more like an alien brought to Urth for the specific purpose of hunting Sev.

Furthermore, there's the fact that the alcalde and his men seem to have put an end to Pyrexia 18 years ago -- surely if they hadn't the alcalde would have mentioned that she's still out there somewhere -- a nice, chilling touch from someone who clearly likes to tell stories.  Then there's the fact that, if the salamander is the same Mother Pyrexia we're talking about, she's been hanging about Saltus and/or Thrax for the last 18 years without being noticed or dealt with -- again, all highly improbable.

OTOH, I think the Pyrexia story has some intriguing connections to the salamander.  The most interesting comes from the earthly legend of the salamander.  That legend is based on the real earthly amphibean (often red in color), which was thought (incorrectly) to love fire  because people often observed them scurrying out of fires.  The real reason they did so is that salamanders like wet damp places like rotting logs, and people like to burn logs, and when you do any salamanders inside will run out to escape the heat.

With this in mind, look at the alacalde's description of the Mother Pyrexia-thing: "I'll say this -- a woman sealed in the dark long enough can become something very strange, just like the strange things you find in rotten wood, back among the trees."  Claw p. 223.  This seems to tie her to the salamander. It can cut both for and against the transformation theory: it may be only to suggest, like the difference btw the earthly salamander and the mythological one, that she isn't the alien salamander Sev encounters in Lictor.

But then there's the name folks gave her: Mother Pyrexia.  The medical definition for Pyrexia is an increased body temperature as the result of infection or other pathology -- including microganisms (I've also seen it defined as fever of unknown origin).  That can be read to support a theory that she transformed into a creature associated with heat, and thus Borski's theory that she became the salamander.

But ultimately, I think the two beings are so different that we have to look for a different explanation.  So I speculate that she was (1) some type of alien masquerading as a human, whose confinement without food in the dark somehow broke down her disguise; or (2) a human transformed by the same type of mysterious process that Jonas cites as explanation for the mine-apes' descent from men (Claw p. 260).  Another question: what did that sweet old lady do 18 years ago that was so bad she got the brick house treatment?

I may have mentioned some of this back in the days when I was responding to Borski, so if I'm repeating I apologize.


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