(urth) urth Digest, Vol 26, Issue 12

Daniel D Jones ddjones at riddlemaster.org
Mon Oct 16 19:50:59 PDT 2006

On Monday 16 October 2006 15:25, Kieran Mullen wrote:
> >> I agree that The Death of Doctor Island is accessible in terms of
> >> understanding the plot, but I also find it to be one of Wolfe's most
> >> disturbing and offensive stories.  I can't imagine what a mass
> >> audience
> >> would make of it.
> >
> > Care to expound on why you find it offensive?
> I am not David, but I can write why I find the story disturbing:  an
> innocent young girl is brutally murdered in order to salvage one
> mentally disturbed adult male,  drive an innocent boy catatonic,  and
> manifest the more useful subdominant personality in the boy.   This
> is all based on some utilitarian calculus:  the low probability that
> the girl will be cured, the preference for the subdominant
> personality in the boy, the chance that the man will be cured.   It's
> the cold sacrifice of one life to improve another's life.    But I
> think that's the type of death offered by Doctor Island, and this is
> the point of the story.

No question that the story is disturbing.  If the story doesn't disturb you, 
then you have serious problems.  But there's a great deal of difference 
between calling a story disturbing and calling it offensive.  The story is 
meant to disturb.  That's it's whole point and purpose.  And it succeeds 
masterfully.  But I disagree that that makes the story offensive.  If a story 
doesn't move you in some way, is it worth investing the time to read?

I first read the story many years ago while in high school.  It was the first 
thing I'd ever read by Wolfe, although I didn't realize that until recently.  
I only recently picked up a copy of IoDD&OS&OS.  When I started reading DoDI, 
I literally jumped out of bed and shook the book in my wife's face.  "This is 
it!  This is it!"  I then had to explain that I'd read the story some 25 
years ago but had had no idea who'd written it.  I couldn't remember the 
details of the events but it was one of the most powerful, most disturbing 
stories I'd ever read and I couldn't wait to read it again.  It did not 
disappoint on the second reading.

It's not often that a book or story literally gives me cold chills but this 
story did.  Both times.  It's incredibly disturbing and incredibly powerful.  
But that doesn't make it offensive.  Quite the opposite.

More information about the Urth mailing list