(urth) Close Reading: Torturer Chapter I

JWillard aldenweer at charter.net
Mon Sep 4 04:28:31 PDT 2006

Maybe this is a dumb idea, but I thought today that it might be 
interesting to start a close-reading project, beginning at the beginning 
with Shadow of the Torturer.  Anyone who's interested could join in.  In 
a thread like this title, we could start to gather questions and 
observations (specific and general), for each chapter and inch our way 
forward.  (A chapter every few days or every week wouldn't take too much 
time away from any other reading.)  I know that I've reached a point of 
frustration: I keep wanting to gather what I have learned (think I've 
learned) from Wolfe's books, but find my thoughts are more and more 
scattered and that I have less and less time to just sit down and 
re-read each book from cover to cover on a regular basis.  I wonder if 
going back to square one and bouncing ideas off of each other will yield 
something of worth.

If you think this sounds like an invitation to navel-gazing, well ... 
I'd say our devotion to these particular works has already marked us all 
as navel-gazers.  I reject any sentiment along the lines of: "That 
sentence is very important, but that other sentence doesn't mean 
anything.  I just know!"  As no one has delivered a comprehensive key to 
the Wolfe opus, I don't believe in trivial trivia, provided one can ask 
an interesting question or defend an interesting observation about it.

So, in a nutshell, starting with Chapter I, everything you think is 
important about it:  characters, events, onomastics, rarefied vocabulary 
choices, things, foods, Urth-specific names (mystes, asimi, etc.), the 
obvious, the not-so-obvious, nagging doubts/questions, wild 
speculations.  I realize that things will be repeated: the idea is to 
gather them so that we're not constantly searching.

So, to leap in:
I find Drotte's line, "You must know that for certain simples to attain 
their highest virtues they must be pulled from the grave by moonlight," 
darker now, as Vodalus and crew are pulling a kind of simple from the 
grave by Lunelight.

Did Wolfe pick saint names by language for a reason?  Why Roche, and not 
the Latin form, which I come across often.  Why the odd form for 
Vodalus?  Where's Eata from?  Are these clues?

A reminder of why I walk through Wolfe like a minefield: description of 
Vodalus, "I could see him through the fog, very tall, slender..."  Very 
tall of course implies something familiar upon first reading, not alien 
basketball player.

Thea:  "nearly as tall as ... Vodalus."  Two dove metaphors: "Her voice 
was like a dove's call..." and "As if a dove had momentarily commanded 
an arctother ..."  Why?  Significance of the heart-shaped face?

Is there anything odd about Hildegrin never having used a pistol?

"and what power of Erebus's gives you the right to come here and do 
something like this?"  Something interesting I found in the W2 awhile 
ago:  According to some sources, Charon is the son of Erebus.  Is Erebus 
somehow Severian's great-grandfather?  Is this line a joke: Severian 
being the "power of Erebus"?

A Vodalarius is a follower of Vodalus.  What is Severian a follower of 
(figuratively or literally)?  There are, if I recall, many saints named 
Severus.  Is there a hidden Severus in BOTNS?  W2 def. for Severian: 
Eccl. Hist. a One of a sect of Encratite Gnostics of the 2d century.  b 
A follower of Severus, the Monophysite patriarch of Antioch of the 6th 
century, who taught that the body of Christ, prior to his resurrection, 
was subject to corruption.

Suspicious sentence:  "The knife had somehow fallen from the dead man's 
neck.  Perhaps he had pulled it out in his agony."  Whenever Severian 
uses a perhaps, or one of its relatives, I get nervous.  What other 
purpose would the line have?  Is this someone half-healed by Severian's 
presence?  Something entirely different?

"Of those values ... I accepted only one: loyalty to the guild."  Used 
to think this was noble.  Now wonder, programming?

Who was dug up?  On a whim, thinking the line "we'll have her out like a 
carrot" was somehow oddly specific, I googled 'carrot symbolism' and 
found a coat of arms:  "Among the earliest people to bear the Carrot 
name were the Carrot family who lived in Cornwall.  This name is derived 
from Welsh surname Caeriw, meaning dweller at the fort on the hill."
Worthless?  I don't know.

So this is a scattershot version of what I'm proposing, but there it 
is.  Any takers?

More information about the Urth mailing list