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From: Adam Stephanides <adamsteph@earthlink.net>
Subject: (whorl) Authorship of RTTW third-person sections (spoilers)
Date: Tue, 06 Mar 2001 00:08:05 

on 3/1/01 8:21 PM, Michael Andre-Driussi at mantis@sirius.com wrote:

> Adam wrote:
>> Unlike Wolfe's narrative games
>> in other works, I can't see that the children's authorship of the
>> third-person sections is anything more than a device to increase Wolfe's
>> mystification of "Horn"'s identity.

What I meant by this comment was not that the children's authorship should
not affect our interpretation of RTTW.  Rather, I meant that I don't find it
believable that the children wrote these sections, although I am compelled
to accept it as "true". [1]

As I said in an earlier post, the children are from a poor colony, and three
of them are from not-well-off families, while one is a servant.  It is quite
unlikely that they would have received an education which would develop in
them sophisticated literary tastes, or skills; nor is there any indication
that any of them have such interests, iirc.  I find it hard to believe,
therefore, that they would write prose like "from time to time ... some
motion of Pig's evoked the soft speech of foliage.  A faint and liquid music
succeeded it, waking his tongue and lips to thirst." (50)  (Compare this
with the sections written by Hoof and Daisy individually.)

Moreover, as Nutria pointed out in the post that started all this, the
children employ narrative strategies which are typical of Wolfe.  The
concealment of "Horn"'s identity I have already discussed.  Another example
is the "'Seen me h'ears'" passage.  We are given these words of Pig's but no
description of his ears, and left to make the correct inferences ourselves.
This is quite typical of Wolfe; why the children should be playing coy in
this manner I have no idea.

Add to these the absence of any discernible difference between "litSilkhorn"
and "real Silkhorn" as seen in his own narration.  All in all, to me the
third-person passages read as if Wolfe had originally written them as
"objective" third-person narrative, and only after the fact decided to
attribute them to Hoof, Hide, Vadsig and Daisy.  (I have no way of knowing
whether he really did this or not, of course, and in fact I doubt that he
did.  But there's nothing in the experience of reading the passages to
disprove this that I can see.)

> The kick of all the Whorl stuff being written by people who have never
> actually been on the Whorl, and never are going to be on the Whorl . . .
> well.  It is somewhat like having the fictional framing of "`A Story' by
> John V. Marsch" (an anthropological reconstruction/romance) eroded and put
> through the pretzel machine in the course of "V.R.T.," only much moreso.
> Because we read those Whorl chapters as being "true," "from the Narrator
> named Horn by his mother," "based upon firsthand experience," etc.  Just as
> OBW and IGJ had been.
> The poignancy of N meeting Horn's father; the intensity of the dark; the
> sacrifice of the eye; visits by "ghosts" from the beginning (Remora) to the
> end (Crane); N's sense of what any of it means; all vppppt!  Gone into a
> different plane.

I'm afraid that I personally did not get a "kick" from the revelation of the
children's authorship (both in the sense of enjoyment, and of a jolt).  I've
read a few books, not by Wolfe, in which large portions of narrative, which
we have accepted as true, are suddenly revealed to be fictional.  I did get
a jolt from these.  The difference with RTTW, I think, is that there is no
alternative account of the events on the Whorl; on the contrary, the
children tell us that the account is as accurate as they could make it, and
we have no reason to disbelieve them.  Nor does the revelation of the
children's authorship lead us to reevaluate the characters of either
Silkhorn or the children. [2]

> This particular fanfic angle might also lead to some of the more tricky
> ("potentially destabilizing of a given reading") questions inspired by John
> Crowley's ENGINE SUMMER, since the same can be said of it in its entirety.
> To the same sort of reader disappointment/thwarting, etc.

(Spoilers for ENGINE SUMMER)

Presumably by "potentially destabilizing" you mean the revelation at the end
that Rush's story is not only being narrated by an artificial copy of Rush's
mind (which we've guessed), but by this mind projected into a living person,
and that different "projectees" tell Rush's story in different ways; and by
"thwarting" you're referring to the fact that we never find out what
happened to Rush after he was copied.  There is indeed a formal similarity,
which I hadn't noticed. I can't be sure, without rereading the book, why my
reaction to ENGINE SUMMER was so different.  But at a guess, and without a
copy at hand, I would say that the revelation in ES serves to fulfill a
major theme of the book, so that when it comes it has a resonance that the
revelation in RTTW doesn't.  Similarly, because of its thematic role, we
recognize that it is an appropriate "completion" of Rush's story, nice as it
would be to know what happened to the flesh-and-blood Rush; while I have a
more difficult time accepting the conclusion of RTTW as a satisfactory
conclusion of BOTSS (and it's even harder if you believe, as I don't, that
Horn's spirit is still present at the end).  But, as you say, either you
like it or you don't.


1)  To repeat, just so there's no misunderstanding: I am not arguing for an
inteprertation of the book in which the children are lying about their
authorship of these sections.

2)  With one exception: although I hate to admit it, one could make a case
that the children have, consciously or unconsciously, planted evidence that
Silk's spirit was in "Horn" from his "arrival" on the Whorl and that his
giving an eye to Pig had nothing to do with collecting Silk-in-Pig.  But I
still don't think this reading improves the book.

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