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From: David Wells <adw@ovum.com>
Subject: (urth) Free will in BOtNS
Date: Thu, 29 Jan 1998 18:33:00 +0000

[Posted from URTH, a mailing list about Gene Wolfe's New Sun and other works]

(apologies for the length of this - I'm rarely able to post here)

Recent discussions have raised this fascinating subject (Free Will in   
BOtNS), which has always intrigued me. The (apparently radical)   
manipulation of Severian's life by outside forces seems to me (an atheist   
determinist) a brilliant metaphor for the hardest test which life throws   
at us - the realization that some or all of our "Free Will" may be   
entirely illusory. But it sits uneasily with the view I would expect   
given knowledge of Wolfe's spiritual orientation. Especially as   
Severian's actions are Judged for the salvation of all mankind(*) - this   
seems a bit of a cheat since arguably the judge was pulling the strings   
all along (I am trivializing the argument, but I'm sure you see what I   

In similar vein, I have often toyed with the idea of analyzing Severian's   
"deaths" through the series. There seem to be at least four types of   
 1) Severian _really_ dies in the timeline we are reading about, and   
neither supernatural intervention nor the Claw/New Sun can save him. (But   
the only time this happens(?) he is resurrected as an aquastor (eilodon?   
I can never recall the difference) so that he can save mankind after his   
own death...)
 2) Severian "really dies" in the timeline, but is supernaturally saved   
by the Claw/New Sun. (e.g. shot by the Big Gun in the Citadel, the avern   
 3) Severian nearly dies in the timeline, but is saved by the natural   
intervention of a supernaturally-well-informed being (e.g. saved by the   
Undine in Ch 1).
 4) Severian nearly dies in the timeline, but is saved by natural good   
luck/skill/heroism, etc. There are surprisingly few examples of this -   
given that such hero-escapes-from-peril stuff is the very basis of most   
"fantasy" fiction - but Severian's besting of Typhon is a spectacular   
example (also his escape from the notules and from death in battle, I   
guess). But I imagine that if Severian had failed to heroically survive   
these, they would have been "converted" to a type 3)...

But what really puzzles me is how the "Apu Punchau experience" fits into   


(*) I was initially completely wowed by the idea that Severian wasn't   
actually going to be "tested", but simply called to account for the   
actions of his life. What a fascinating concept. It took me an amazingly   
long time to figure out where this idea came from (yes, OK, stop laughing   
out there - but I simply don't think about religious ideas on a day to   
day basis).

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