(urth) Long Review Essay on Wizard Knight

Chris rasputin_ at hotmail.com
Tue Sep 18 15:32:03 PDT 2007

I would agree with what you are saying to a point - it is a dangerous practice to assume that simply every tiny detail is crafted and planned to have a deeper, inscrutable meaning.
However the reason I pointed to the particular things that I did was that these are not items that are at all inscrutable or obscure. The problematic ethics are standard fare in Wolfe, and it's almost never safe to assume that they simply present straightforward mouthpieces for Wolfe's position on a given issue. (Even with characters like Silk who seem much more plausible "heroes" than Able).
The advantages heaped on Able are a transparent mirror to those that are really, really common in the fantasy genre. The fact that they usually do not appear in such a jarring, obvious way makes it less plausible, if anything, that Wolfe was unaware of what he was doing. And further, given how Wolfe exploits a number of disconnects, including the difference between the romanticized knight and what the knight, as described and put in context must have actually been like, it doesn't seem just "possible" but rather sort of glaringly obvious that genre conventions are going to be turned around.
I did not point these things out to nitpick, or to claim to have some obscure mystical knowledge of Wolfe's master plan. I pointed them out because I feel they are very basic and not tremendously controversial or arcane. Whether it makes a big deal to your review I suppose depends primarily on how deeply these considerations affected your initial orientation when you set out to interpret the books.-- "When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set." -- Lin Yutang

Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2007 17:13:55 -0400To: urth at urth.netFrom: sfrug at post.harvard.eduSubject: Re: (urth) Long Review Essay on Wizard Knight

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 effect.

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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