(urth) Ship Volant

matthew at calmeilles.co.uk matthew at calmeilles.co.uk
Wed Feb 18 01:08:15 PST 2009

jwilson at io.com wrote:
> in the web references I saw, the Heraldric(?) uses of the term indicates
> flying, and usually shows wings. and then with the description of the coin 
> "flying ship" it would seem to indicate, at a glance, that this ship is 
> in flight, in both bas-relief images, blazon and coin.  hmm.  How the heck
> can one make a ship look like it's flying without wings?  confounding! 

There are several deliberate ambiguities here.

First in heraldry a navire volant is a ship under full sail, those sails bellied by the wind.  So the description of the coin and other instances can be read in an entirely conventional manner if you just have that small bit of knowledge.

Second Severian throughout the narrative makes little distinction between a ship of the conventional water going type and a ship of space such as the craft that hovers above Baldander's tower.  So here too is an interpretation of "flying ship" that might not really surprise the reader.

Third - and this is something that is perhaps not made really explicit until Urth I think although either Hethor or Jonas allude to them - space, time and universe spanning ships, maybe only one ship, such as that on which Severian travels really do have keels, masts, sails and all the other appurtenances of an ocean going vessel.  So a ship flying through the air or space with the mirror sails of high technology (indistinguishable from magic as AC Clarke's famous aphorism has it) is quite conceivable.

I'm curious to know why these successive constructions are presented and my guess is that at least one reason (not to say there aren't several others intended concurrently) is to ease the reader into the suspension of disbelief that allows Tadzekiel's ship to literally sail through space and time.


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