(urth) BotNS Interpretation points

b sharp bsharporflat at hotmail.com
Sat May 20 20:56:32 PDT 2006

At the risk of being trite I'd like to mention some scenes in BotNS which,  
I think, are Wolfian guides on how to interpret that book (and surely others 
of his).

1. In Sword, Severian is climbing down a cliff toward Casdoe's house when he 
encounters a well preserved tile mosaic on the face of an ancient building.  
(in excerpts) he notes:

><What the design was those tiles traced I never knew; as I descended the 
>cliff I was too near to see it.  As I walked I saw it as an insect may be 
>said to see the face in a portrait over whose surface it creeps.  The tiles 
>were of many shapes, thought they fit together so closely, and at first I 
>thought them representations of birds, lizards, fish and suchlike creatures 
>all interlocked in the grip of life.  Now I feel that this was not so, that 
>they were instead the shapes of a geometry I failed to comprehend, diagrams 
>so complex that the living forms seemed to appear in them as the forms of 
>actual animals appear from the intricate` geometries of complex molecules.  
>I strove understand what might be depicted there (whether it was writing, 
>or a face, or perhaps a mere decorative design).  I could not; and perhaps 
>it was each of thsoe, or none depending on the position from which it was 
>seen and the predisposition the viewer brought to it.>

So should we dispair of ever making common sense of BotNS because it is too 
complex and because every reader's position and predispositions are 
different?  Maybe, but perhaps not. While each reader's viewpoint is 
different, we all share some things in common. And one thing does remain 
(fairly) constant, which is the position and predisposition of the AUTHOR 
which, no matter how masterfully disguised and cloaked, may be possible to 
discern. Especially if we work together.

Gene offers some hope with these:

2. As Severian stares at the stars in the mountains he says,

>"At first the stars all seemed a featureless mass of lights.  Soon, of 
>course I began to see that some were brighter than others, and that their 
>colors were by no means uniform.  Then, quite unexpectedly, when I had been 
>staring at them for a long time, the shape of a peryton seemed to spring 
>out.  In a moment it was gone but soon returned, and with it other shapes, 
>some corresponding to constellations of which I had heard, other that were, 
>I'm afraid, entirely of my own making.  An amphisbaena, or snake with a 
>head at either end, was particularly distinct.>

3. As Severian contemplates a painting of a garden with a llanero playing 

>"The painting was of that irritating kind which dissolves into mere blobs 
>of color unless it can be >seen as a whole.  I took a step backward to get 
>a better perspective of it, then another.......">

So how many steps back must we take to fully grasp BotNS?  I think at least 
two.  One, perhaps obviously, to encompass Urth of the New Sun. But another 
to put Fifth Head of Cerberus into the picture. I think in interviews Wolfe 
has disavowed this view or pleaded ignorance.  But I agree with those who 
suspect that the two stories are not only set in the same universe but are 
intimately linked.


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