(urth) Long Review Essay on Wizard Knight

Stephen Frug sfrug at post.harvard.edu
Tue Sep 18 14:13:55 PDT 2007

Thanks for the comments so far!  I think I'll wait until I reply 
fully, hoping that there will be more of them.

And don't worry about "piling on" -- I knew what I was doing when I 
posted a largely critical review of a Gene Wolfe to a Gene Wolfe 
board.  I expected disagreement -- in fact I hoped for it, since I'm 
curious about other's views.

But I will ask responders to keep in mind two (related) things.

First, please don't assume I've never read Wolfe before, and/or don't 
understand how complex his works can sometimes be.  I worked hard to 
make it clear that I have read a lot of Wolfe (not everything he's 
written, but a great many of his books), and that I *do* understand 
how complex he can be.  I know that Wolfe "has never in his life told 
a straightforward tale" -- that's why I quoted John Clute to that 

It's simply that I don't think that *everything* about his work is 
that complex; I would argue that there is a surface *as well as* 
depth to his works.

Which leads me to point two: I don't think it's a sufficient answer 
to say that any criticism must *a priori* be wrong since this book is 
written by Wolfe.  I made -- I trust -- a good prima facie case about 
some problems in The Wizard Knight (problems that I *don't* think all 
his work has -- thus my examples of The Book of the New Sun and The 
Fifth Head of Cerberus as more complex and, I argue, ultimately more 
successful works).

This, it seems to me, switches the burden of proof.  I *acknowledge* 
that Wolfe is a subtle, devious writer who uses unreliable narrators 
and tells his stories in oblique and hard-to-decipher ways.  *Despite 
this* I claim that the criticisms I made hold.

Thus it's not answer to say that "perhaps something more complex is 
going on", or "Wolfe's narrators are sometimes unreliable": I think 
that you have to actually *argue* that in *this* case this is true 
*in ways relevant to my critiques*.  Either make the case here, or 
present a link to another case.

I think this is true in all of the aspects of this argument.... but 
most especially in terms of a sentiment like "If you found the ethics 
to be problematic then perhaps the situations were intended to cause 
the reader to reflect on those problems.", where I not only made a 
textual case, but also pointed towards a lot of extra-textual 
evidence about Wolfe's views and intents.

None of this is to say that I think my position is unassailable: on 
the contrary, I posted the review here because I am interested in 
counter-arguments.  But I am interested in counter-*arguments*, not 
unsubstantiated claims that it is (or, worse, a priori must be) more 
complex than I am presuming.

I look forward to more arguing against my position!  (Or, heck, for 
it too.  If people pile on great, but I wouldn't *mind* agreement. :> 

Stephen Frug

PS: Oh, and remember that "glory, honor, courage, or hallow" is a 
*quote* -- from Ernest Hemingway -- not my words.  I presented it as 
an exemplar of a broader change in attitude that occurred (in complex 
ways at various times, but most especially) after the first world 
war.  If you think I'm wrong that this happened, or this attitude's 
wrong, then fine.  But to nit-pick the choice of those four words is 
to miss the point: they weren't my words, it was my citation of 
another's words.

(The block-quote is clearer in the blog-version of this review, which 
you can find here:
-- I apologize if my unfamiliarity with the formatting of the Urth 
list made what was a quote and what wasn't less clear than it should 
have been.)
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