(urth) Agilus and Agia

David Stockhoff dstockhoff at verizon.net
Wed May 8 15:03:44 PDT 2013

On 5/8/2013 1:09 AM, Jeff Wilson wrote:
> On Tue, May 7, 2013 21:12, David Stockhoff wrote:
>>> Or maybe the face has lived on to be fit to a new owner. Sev's twin
>>> sister
>>> was taken in by the witches and who took a bit at a time and the woman
>>> called Merryn who looks like an old woman with a young girl's face is
>>> exactly that.  It totally would fit for the alien Cumaean to be working
>>> through a coven of rhinoplastic ghouls the way FB&O work through a
>>> vivisectionist and Inire through a succession of brain-eating bawds and
>>> lechers.
>> That it would. But simply stealing a young face seems too horrible even
>> in that context, and it would leave the hypothetical sister dead.
> They don't have much of a standard to live up to:
> The torturers seem to expend more than a few apprentices, and Sev recalls
> the grinding poverty he was subjected to, yet there is somehow money for
> trips to Echopraxia and to support Brother Porter who is able bodied but
> apparently does nothing other than sit by the tower door. We know that the
> older apprentices are allowed to bully the younger. Who knows what happens
> to the boys who aren't bright or strong or quick enough?
> Well, we do know. Little bones, anywhere one digs in the yard....

Good point. Not quite the same as systematic murder, but I don't want to 
be guilty of underestimating Wolfe's capacity for depicting evil. He 
does bring up those bones fairly quickly, even if part of the point is 
the depth of time, not just the brothers' callousness.

As you suggest, inevitably this brings us to the Vodalarii. As far as we 
know---having nothing to go on but Severian's feast and suggestions that 
they do a lot of exhuming---they don't murder their victims. However, 
the talk of some of the participants leaves room for doubt. I think 
there must be consistency in the Citadel: if the witches murder for 
beauty and the Bear Tower people rape animals and the Torturers do 
pretty much everything if without much relish, then the Vodalarii must 
murder for their rituals. There can be no bottom. These people do all 
the worst things Wolfe could think of.

At points like this I feel one of the big threads of inspiration for BNS 
must have been a contemplation of how Cthulhu's worshipers would act if 
they were real. That is, if Cthulhu himself is merely ravenous and 
amoral, it is his followers who are truly and deliberately evil---that's 
their response in the face of the amoral hunger of the void. (Then you 
have the very Catholic question of whether there is real evil in the 
world at all, i.e., Satan.) How low can humans sink in a fallen 
universe, and can it be depicted in a novel that subordinates this 
depiction to a moral scheme rather than glorifying it?

Sometimes Urth doesn't seem too bad---the Autarch seems kind, and 
Vodalus honorable enough. Even Typhon appears almost a straight shooter. 
Severian seems unaware of the depths of evil around him, and it's hard 
for us to see it too, with all the decadent ornamentation.

So to turn it around, if the Vodalarii kill, then the witches can't 
simply be volunteering their precious fluids in exchange for later 
beauty. They must cannibalize their own for it. That's how Merryn can be 
Severian's sister without being named Severa.

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