(urth) The littlest apprentices

Nathan Spears spearofsolomon at yahoo.com
Tue Oct 31 19:03:52 PST 2006

First of all, it is possible that the wet-nurses live very near the Tower but are not housed in the grey metal cells, leading to Severian's deduction.  It's difficult to imagine Wolfe's torturers changing diapers and holding bottles.

Second, in your interpretation, it's not just that the breastfeeding passages contradict each other, but that the passage where Severian recalls breastfeeding and a moment later says that the children the torturers take know no breasts is self-contradictory in an unsubtle way.  In order for it not to be self-contradictory, while still creating a conflict between the two passages, you have to interpret the "know no breasts" as excluding the possibility of wet-nursing, but not mother-before-death-nursing.  That doesn't make much sense to me.  However, for the sake of ending a debate over a point so minor that resolving it would not lead anywhere, I concede on all grounds.

----- Original Message ----

From: Brent Dyer <brentdyer at sbcglobal.net>

To: The Urth Mailing List <urth at lists.urth.net>

Sent: Tuesday, October 31, 2006 7:08:40 PM

Subject: Re: (urth) The littlest apprentices

I agree that your explanation is a possible way to harmonize the two inconsistent statements, and I didn't understand that it was being made before. But I don't see how it is supported by the text.  Nothing in Severian's narrative indicates that he ever lived any where other than the Tower.  Indeed, aside from the "nursing" memory, the earliest memory that Severian recounts is "stacking pebbles" in a Tower courtyard at a very young age (my impression was that he was about 2, or maybe even younger).  When do these children in the off-site nursery come back to the Tower?

I also think that the "off-site" explanation pushes the "taken" vs. "taken by the torturers" distinction past the breaking point.  I agree that there is a difference between children (born and unborn) who are being held along with their mothers and children who are "taken" by the torturers just before their mother's excruciation, but I don't think there is a third, "limbo" state for children whose mothers have had their sentences fulfilled, but who are not yet old enough to be "taken" by the torturers.  To the contrary, Severian makes it clear that there is a cut-off for boys who are too old, but says nothing about boys who are too young.

Ultimately, however, my main problem with the "off-site" explanation is that it minimize what I think is a significant incidence of deliberately contradictory statements by Severian.  I don't think that the inconsistency between two statements are a mistake by Wolfe. Breastfeeding is mentioned exactly twice in the novels, and the two mentions are facially inconsistent.  I think that the inconsistency is deliberately created to make the reader question why Severian seems to be contradicting himself and try to figure out his motives.

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