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From: Michael Straight <straight@email.unc.edu>
Subject: (whorl) Silk's Religion
Date: Tue, 10 Jun 1997 09:51:35 

[Posted from WHORL, the mailing list for Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun]

I think one of the most well-done parts of this series is the way it is
able to portray Silk's religious experiences and faith in the Outsider in
a way that is compelling, but without the author definitively
authenticating them.  At the very beginning, when Silk was enlightened, I
thought, "This is interesting, Wolfe seems to be telling the reader that
God really exists in this universe."  And then when Crane made his casual
statement about brain seizures, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  And the
whole thing is further complicated by the revelation that the book is not
by an omniscent third person but by Horn, who might very likely tend
toward hagiography. 

The only chink in the ambiguity is that Silk knew the Whorl was surrounded
by stars long before he saw them.  Is there an explanation for this other
than that the Outsider's enlightenment was real?  The best I can think of
is that, as an engineered embryo, Silk might have some latent Mucor-like
psi-powers that enabled him to see people all over the Whorl and pick up
knowledge about the Whorl.  Or maybe Typhon planted some kind of
"time-bomb" in his brain that when it went off would reveal to him the
nature of the Whorl so that he could lead the Exodus. 

Was Silk really the devout, humble man Horn portrays him as?  Not only do
we have cause to doubt the Outsider's existence, but we don't really know
how much of Silk's good qualities were given to him by Horn.

One of my favorite parts of the series were the long prayers Silk prays,
first to several of the gods, and then to the Outsider.  The prayers to
Molpe and Tartaros and Hierax were very affecting in their echoes of the
Psalms (will I die and never serve you again?), in their humility, and
strict self-examination.  

But then the contrast between these prayers and the prayer offered to the
Outsider is even more beautiful.  In the first case, he promises to
sacrifice animals if the gods will spare his life.  In the second, he
offers his own life if the Outsider will forgive Silk's enemies (making
Silk quite the Christ figure). 

But how likely is it that Silk recounted his prayers to Horn?  Aren't
these more likely prayers Horn wrote to put in his mouth?  Only Wolfe
could make me sad that parts of a work of fiction might be fictional! 


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