(urth) 5HoC and BotNS
bsharporflat at hotmail.com
Mon May 22 18:11:28 PDT 2006
We know that Fifth Head of Cerberus started as a novella and became a novel
with two added sections. I suspect that Wolfe considered it an imperfect
work, perhaps because nobody could fully understand it. I think he hoped
BotNS would perfect his 5HoC (novella) themes and become his masterwork. I
think he succeeded in these goals but didn't guess that after 20 years of
intensive analysis nobody would fully understand this one either.
Both 5HoC and BotNS depict a future in which a past era of earth is somewhat
re-enacted. BotNS is further in the future and recreates a more distant
past but the mood is similarly dark at least to start. Both stories focus
on a protaganist thrust into an occupation at the underbelly of society
(prostitution and torture). Both protaganists are tall and thin (as adults)
with dark hair and eyes. Both stories feature an ingenue with violet eyes,
dark hair and a prominent widow's peak. Cerberus (Wolfe) has 5 heads, while
a mausoleum with 5 coffins holds a key to Severian's future (or origin?)
5HoC rather openly discusses the mystery of cloning but has a subcurrent
mystery regarding shape shifters and human duplication. This mystery is
blurted openly once, through "Veil's Hypothesis" or twice if you count #5's
rant at Dr. Marsch then shrouded for the remainder. We get only glimpses
and hints in the rest of the story despite its central importance. The
boundary between beast and human is a subtext (I think that's the right
term) topic as the story progresses.
BotNS (with UotNS) introduces time travel paradoxes and the boundary between
human and angel is also explored. These topics are not especially veiled.
But I believe the mysteries of cloning and shapeshifting remain in play and
are veiled. In fact, each is mentioned (a la Veil's Hypothesis) only once
or twice openly (I think). Cloning is mentioned by the old Autarch to
Severian in reference to kaibits. And shapeshifting is mentioned explicitly
in Melito's and Foila's stories. But I think both cloning and shapeshifting
are hinted at and glimpsed indirectly all throughout BotNS.
Wolfe has stated his books tend to be a bit autobiographically inspired (was
his first girlfriend violet eyed, dark haired with a widow's peak?). It is
easy to guess that #5 and Severian are likely Wolfe proxies. I think others
in this Community can offer other candidates. I think Wolfe may also have
projected himself into one unlikely character, Agia.
I say this based on a description of Agia by Dorcas. Severian thinks Agia is
more clever than him but Dorcas says no,
" She's the sort of woman who's good at making puzzles for other people, but
not at solving ones she didn't make herself. I think she thinks--I don't
know--sidewise. So no one else can follow it."
I don't know whether Wolfe has undestimated his own intelligence or
overestimated the intelligence of his readers but I can't imagine he foresaw
that only the research and mind-melding functions of the magical tool called
the internet would allow many of his mysteries to finally approach solution.
But perhaps some mysteries will always remain.
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