(urth) Wolfean theologies

David Stockhoff dstockhoff at verizon.net
Thu Feb 5 07:28:31 PST 2009

That's a very interesting and useful analysis of Frodo---not just the correspondences, which are easy enough to create/find/project/whatever, but the construction of the orthodox or doctrinaire Christ (let's just call him the OTC, or One True Christ, and assume we are talking about the Catholic one). 

It did occur to me that even the OTC is an incredibly complex idea with any number of aspects. You point to 3: Cross-bearer, Teacher, and SoG. This last one is the most problematic for any kind of analysis (I can't decide whether it's central or peripheral!), and I almost threw it in with the stigmata etc., but it seemed too big. One could add Healer. One could also add, from medieval literature, Lover. Thus all the high-medieval love songs to Jesus (see a certain episode of South Park as well). 

It makes sense that a work of literature would pick at most 2 of these aspects or divisions (I don't know what to call them) to examine. It also makes sense, then, to regard a character that is OTC-like in only 1 or 2 aspects to be incomplete, not whole, NOT an attempt to replicate the OTC entire. And Severian seems to relate most of all to the Crossbearer (but ironically, since he is the Torturer) and to the Healer. He seems to be a Lover too, although
perhaps that can be taken as sci-fi convention. SoG he ain't---but then there is that passage. Nor is he a Teacher. Characters with these limited connections would legitimately be termed "figures."

Thanks, John, this is really useful! For Silk as well, as you suggest.

So I gather you read that passage not as God/Severian suddenly, briefly, being conscious of fitting himself into a tiny human mind, but as Severian getting a "high" off the Increate's doing so to him. Severian therefore is not himself divine, merely "touched by His noodly appendage." 

As you say, even this momentary experience of divinity could have huge and problematic implications as far as the Increate's implied approval of Severian, his puppetmasters, his crimes, etc. And the stronger the connection, the bigger the problem. I wouldn't want to bring all that in on the strength of this single passage.


Message: 2
Date: Wed, 4 Feb 2009 11:33:46 -0500
From: John Watkins <john.watkins04 at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: (urth) Wolfean theologies
To: The Urth Mailing List <urth at lists.urth.net>
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On Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 11:17 AM, David Stockhoff <dstockhoff at verizon.net>wrote:

> > Dan'l:However, outside the work, I personally don't see much difference,
> > because to me they are all characters, and the world is plainly big enough
> > for infinite variations. Christ himself was partly derived from characters
> > who preceded him. I would identify a character with stigmata and a spear
> > wound who carries the Divine Spark as one with a much more *specific*
> > relation to the Christ than Frodo would have.

I chuckled here because this isn't a great example of your point (which I do
take.)  Frodo obviously does not have a stigmata or a spear wound in the
side (he is stabbed in the side by a spear, but his mithril coat deflects
the thrust.)  But there is specific imagery from the Stations of the Cross
applied to him--he is wounded three times in the text (stabbed in the
shoulder, stung by Shelob, and loses his finger) paralleling Christ's three
falls carrying the cross.  What we're supposed to take from this, of course,
is that Frodo partakes of the Christ-nature in a very specific way--he is a
type of Christ the Cross-bearer, not Christ the Teacher or the Son of God.

Likewise I think Severian might be an attempt to isolate and examine
Christ's career as a miracle worker uninformed by moral teachings.  (It is
logical that such a figure would at least have pretentions of being an
divine figure.)  Silk (in Long Sun, anyway) might be said to be the
opposite--a great moral teacher and religious/political leader who is not a
miracle worker or disguised transcendent being.

> >
> > Second, I asked, if Severian experiences in TUotNS, as he relates he does,
> > at least a glimpse of what it's like to be God/a god/a godling/whatever (I
> > don't see support in the text for useful distinctions between these), then
> > what does that mean for the work? To this question, I got John's suggestion
> > that Severian's divinity might have been temporary, and Brunian's. It's
> > still open. Is this passage part of TUotNS's New-Sun-for-Dummies role, or
> > does it tell us something specific, like Severian is divine? is he divine
> > temporarily or inherently? Or am I jumping to conclusions? Perhaps, read
> > properly, it tells us Severian is NOT divine?
> >
I think it tells us that Severian is an instrument of the something far
greater than himself--it's his experience, one might say, of being
"possessed."  I think there are parallel sequences in That Hideous Strength
when planetary angels possess mortals--Lewis does not thereby posit that
planetary intelligences are equivalent to God, but just that to a human
being, the angel is sufficiently above him to induce a numinous experience.

What I think it doesn't tell us is that Wolfe's conception of the divine in
compatible with the flaws in Severian's character.  That is too wildly
implausible for a writer of Wolfe's background to suggest.  My biggest issue
is not with the idea of interrogating Severian's role as a chosen one, an
instrument, or a savior figure--it's with imputing moral sanction to all of
his actions and especially the destruction of Urth simply because Wolfe is a
Catholic and bestows Christ-like attributes to Severian.


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