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From: Adam Stephanides <adamsteph@EARTHLINK.NET>
Subject: Re: (whorl) What Happened? (re: "It's Mostly the Ending")
Date: Thu, 12 Apr 2001 22:34:47 

on 4/11/01 10:27 AM, Dan'l Danehy-Oakes at ddanehy@siebel.com wrote:

> Viz writes, viz:
>> There are two major areas where the book as a whole lets us down
>> on, and we've beaten them both to death, but I'll say again:
>> a) we get the huge buildup on the secret of the inhumi, and it
>> turns out the secret doesn't meet the expectations that the
>> narrative builds up for it. We were expecting something more than
>> we guessed in the first volume, but that was it.
>> b) the fact that the narrator is Horn in Silk's body has been
>> obvious since the first volume, so the climactic revelation that
>> the narrator is Horn in Silk's body falls flat.
> 2. Contrariwise perhaps this is a case of "Who killed the Comedian?"
> -- for non-Watchmen-readers, that would be a special kind of red
> herring, where the writer putts puzzles with clear solutions in
> plain sight so as to obscure the real puzzles.
> If so, Mr Wolfe's use of the technique is different from Mr
> Moore's: those who, like me, participated in the excited discussion
> of each issue of WATCHMEN as it came out will recall that, long
> before the conclusion, we realized the ethical and philosophical
> questions the story raised were far more interesting than the
> murder mystery (which, however, contributed its share to those
> questions); here, the readers are caught up in the red herrings and
> unwilling to recognize them as such.

Unlike Vizcacha, I wasn't disappointed by the revelation of the narrator's
identity; and I was, conversely, disappointed by a number of other things.
But I don't think that Wolfe intended either the secret of the inhumi or the
narrator's identity to be a "red herring."  The positions in which both
revelations are placed, and the ways in which the revelations are presented,
convince me that Wolfe intended us to view these revelations as a big deal.

And TBOTSS is a novel, not a philosophical treatise.  While I can imagine a
novel in which the protagonist's identity turns out to be a "red herring,"
TBOTSS ain't it.  Nor is TBOTSS a novel in which the plot is just a pretext
for discussing philosophical issues.  And human-inhumi relations, of which
the secret is an integral part, are vital to the plot.

> Which is a shame. We've had some small discussion of what
> these novels are really about -- the nature of identity; the
> application or applicability of Christian soteriology to a people
> that have no chance of knowing (by natural knowledge) the Gospel;
> the possibility of salvation for "demons"; what Charles Williams
> called the "Web of Exchange"; etc., etc., etc. -- questions, btw,
> to which the questions of "who is the Narrator?" and "What is the
> Secret?" are quite relevant, but in an almost reversible manner;
> understand identity and know who the Narrator is, understand
> the Web of Exchange and know the Secret of the Inhumi.
> Granted these are more difficult to grapple with, especially
> after a single reading; granted, they don't appear at the raw
> plot/surface level the way the Comedian-problems do; granted, it
> will take years rather than weeks to tease them out of the texts
> at hand... still, aren't these really more interesting questions?

No.  To be specific:

Frankly, I don't believe Wolfe has anything particularly profound to say
about "the nature of identity."  In fact, this whole question is so obscure
in RttW (Wolfe's intent that Horn's spirit departs Silk's body in between
the next-to-last and last astral trips to Urth seems clear to me, but what
exactly this entails I have no idea) that I doubt any coherent "position" on
this can be extracted from the books.

I don't know "what Charles Williams called the 'Web of Exchange,'" but I
don't see that Wolfe in RttW has any more to say on the subject of exchange
than that if you're cruel to people, they will be cruel to you, and if
you're nice, they'll be nice.  An uplifting sentiment, but again hardly

As for "the application or applicability of Christian soteriology to a
people that have no chance of knowing (by natural knowledge) the Gospel;
the possibility of salvation for 'demons,'" I have no interest in these
questions, and no desire to use RttW as a springboard to discuss them.

For me, the bottom line is that Wolfe is a novelist, not a philosopher or
theologian.  I'm interested in his philosophy or theology only insofar as it
helps me understand his novels.  I'm not interested in discussing his novels
in order to understand his philosophy or theology.


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