(urth) Wolfe: Misogynist? and accessibility

Jack Redelfs jackredelfs at gmail.com
Wed Oct 18 16:20:55 PDT 2006

b sharp said:
> On one end there are men who fear and/or
> loathe women, on the other end are men who feel
> women deserve a higher degree of respect,
> protection and caring than men

Wolfe is a misanthrope. "All men are wolves,"
says Latro, and I don't think that it's far off from what Wolfe believes. He
is NOT a humanist. He has no faith in human rationality, science, law,
philosophy, or even priests. I think he believes that all of the
institutions of man, no matter how positively spun, are twisted into tools
or weapons by carnal men (and women). Wolfe puts his faith in higher things,
and he believes that people of goodwill are rare pearls, gemstones to be

In that light, how can Wolfe fill his pages with honorable female
characters? Or male?

I just don't see how we can neatly say that a
chivalrous author will refuse to put his female
characters in harms way. That's like saying only
an anti-semite would write novels about Auschwitz,
isn't it?

In order for there to be a true appreciation for chivalry, perhaps you
should make it clear that women are in great danger? Perhaps if, as an
author, you shepherd your female characters from indignities, you paint
a rose-colored picture of the world. And if your readers believe in that
picture, they will feel no urgency to be chivalrous in their own conduct.
They will feel that it is a nicety, not a necessity.

> Mo's observation that few women seem to
> become Wolfe fanatics is germaine.

Perhaps it is. I don't know. Tolkien is incredibly masculine, perhaps more
insulting to women by reason of simply ignoring them, treating them as
nonentities, bit players. Yes, Eowyn, Arwen and Galadriel notwithstanding
(and the latter two are mythical creatures, not ordinary human women).
And yet vast throngs of women are in love with his writings.

How do we explain Mo's observation, if it is correct?

1. despite the fact that his writings are kind of beyond genre, he is
pigeonholed into SF, a male-dominated genre, and 2. even in the genre, his
profile is rather low. Sure, he may be a highly influential author, and a
critical darling, but in flat numbers, his readership is quite small.

b sharp also said:
> I think we can all agree Wolfe is
> writing from his heart and his deeper feelings
> about women are expressed.

Perhaps. Wolfe's writing is so oblique, I am hard pressed to identify what
his feelings are on ANYTHING. Even what I said earlier in this post is based
mostly on his interviews. His political leanings are also inscrutable in his
fiction, beyond generalities like an abhorrence of despotism. The fact is,
Wolfe has a gift for presenting contradictory arguments (through the
dialogue) that are very intelligent.

Wolfe's writing is so unusual, and so varied, that I have a very hard time
identifying a consistent Narrative Voice. Every Wolfe novel seems to come
from a different world. Maybe he does really find them in ancient urns, or
floating in space?

On a related note, vis-a-vis Wolfe's small profile, I think a lot of the
blame lies with _The Book Of The New Sun_. It's a great achievement and an
anchor holding him down. It's widely seen as his best series, and not
unreasonably so, and so I'll bet that many curious readers pick "Shadow Of
The Torturer" as their first foray into Wolfe. I know did. And I was
delighted by the bizarre vocabulary, philosophical discursions, and the
baroque feel of the writing. But in my experience, most people find it to
be a very inaccessible book. I wonder how many people tried to read it and
gave up early on because it was too "hard."

I really hope we'll start inviting curious people to start with _Nightside
The Long Sun_, _Devil In The Forest_, _The Knight_, even _Soldier Of The
Anything, really. No matter how delightful we may find it, _Shadow Of The
Torturer_ is Wolfe's least accessible novel.

One more thing: this may be a strawman, but perhaps it has been said by
someone, somewhere that Wolfe is incapable of writing a sympathetic female
character. How about Io? She seems to be totally respectable and good. She's
honest, wise, loyal, kind and brave. She does unsuccessfully try to seduce
Latro, at one point, but only after travelling with him for the better part
of a year and falling in love with him. One does not get the impression that
she is unreasonable or wanton.
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