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From: Michael Straight <straight@email.unc.edu>
Subject: Re: (urth) New Sun miscellany
Date: Thu, 18 Jun 1998 10:15:19 

On Wed, 17 Jun 1998, adam louis stephanides wrote:

> 5) My final question is one that probably only Wolfe can answer, though
> the answer may be in some interview.  We know that _Urth of the New Sun_
> was not part of Wolfe's original intention, but was written as a
> compromise with his editor.  And _Urth_ makes explicit a number of matters
> highly relevant to BotNS, but which are much more obscure there, and would
> often probably have gone unsuspected without _Urth_.  My question is
> twofold: In doing the final revisions of BotNS, did Wolfe have the
> eventual existence of _Urth_ in mind?  In other words, would these matters
> that are made explicit in _Urth_ have been equally explicit in BotNS, had
> Wolfe gained his first preference and not written _Urth_?  And to what
> extent can we assume that Wolfe's vision of the New Sun universe is the
> same in _Urth_ as it was in BotNS?

Wow!  I've been considering for days now how to ask this very question.

Like many people, I read the BotNS and was entranced but knew I wasn't
getting all of it, and now know that I missed much more than I suspected
at the time.

I read Urth directly after BotNS and was so disappointed that for a while
I wanted to ignore it, pretend I'd never read it.  The answers it gave to
questions raised in BotNS were so different from the provisional ones I'd
come up with, it was hard to reconcile.  

I was also disappointed with the flow of the book.  The first half spends
a long time on Severian's journey in the ship to Yesod, a leisurely pace
that I suppose is in keeping with the BotNS, but which made me impatient
at the time, seeming too much like a digression.  

Then the second half of the book seemed really rushed, like Wolfe had this
checklist of things Severian needed to do to fulfill all the prophesies -
do miracles and become the Concilator (check), meet Typhon for the "first"
time (check), go back in time to become Apo Punchau (check), bring the New
Sun (check).  They all just seemed kind of tacked on and not fully fleshed
out.  In light of you comment about Wolfe making a "compromise" I almost
wonder if he initally wanted to leave these scenes to the reader's
imagination but the editor convinced him to spell things out that he only
wanted to hint at.  

I also admit that I liked my initial impression that in BotNS the
Concilator legend was a jumble mixing stories of Jesus with a contemporary
of Typhon and possibly other historical/mythological figures.  So I was
disappointed to see Severian acting it out so literally.  If the
Conciliator is "just" Severian and not in some way also a memory of Jesus,
then it's harder to place Severian as the "Christian figure" Wolfe wants
him to be.  And it seems then like the New Sun/Long Sun multiverse is
merely a new, self-contained, mythology rather than an extension of
Christian mythology (which I would find more interesting, and I thought
was Wolfe's intent). 

Getting back to Adam's comments, I'm reminded of Borges, who was very
interested in the idea of how our reading of a text changes because of
what else we've read.  (See especially "Pierre Menard, Author of the
Quixote" and "Kafka and his Precursors").   I think Wolfe very
deliberately and successfully created with Exodus a book that almost
rewrites the earlier books in the Long Sun series and am fascinated by how
different a re-reading of them is after finishing Exodus.

Reading this list has convinced me that what Wolfe has done with Urth does
in fact make BotNS more interesting than my original reading, and I'm way
overdue in re-reading BotNS, but I'm also still interested in BotNS as it
stands without Urth.  I'd be interested in alternate interpretations of
events in BotNS that Urth rules out.  Is it certain, for instance, in the
first four books that Severian himself will one day become the
Conciliator?  Are there any reviews or discussions of BotNS I could get my
hands on that predate Urth? 

-Ramblin' Rostrum

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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