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From: "Dan'l Danehy-Oakes" <ddanehy@siebel.com>
Subject: RE: (whorl) Re: Digest whorl.v012.n106
Date: Thu, 19 Apr 2001 09:44:32 

Tim Reilly, in response to my remark that "god" in SS is "a 
deliberately ambiguous, multivalued and multiordinal term,"

> This is what troubles me.  LS at least drew a distinction between
> the real thing (the Outsider) and the computer scans of malevolent
> human beings in Mainframe (called "gods" but really technological
> manifestations).  But TBSS blows this out by using "god" to mean
> almost anything, and thereby depriving the concept of any real 
> meaning.  At least, I can't define what a "god" means in TBSS.  

Try this: The Narr uses (or seems to use) the word "god" to refer 
to a general concept, "beings vastly more powerful than bios and 
chems, who use their power to manipulate or influence the behavior 
of bios and chems, and want [or seem to want] obedience and ritual 
worship from bios and chems." 

Great Scylla, the Outsider, and the Pas-and-His-Pals show certainly
fit this descirption. The Mother is more problematic, in that she 
does not show any immediate sign of wanting human worship, but then 
the Narr refers to her as one of the gods of the Neighbors, and 
assumes (rightly or wrongly) that they worshipped her.

The key point here is that this is, more or less, what "god" meant
to a pre-monotheistic pagan -- again, vide also the _Soldier_ books
for more on Wolfe's thought on this subject. The Whorl is a pagan 
society with no real clue of the existence of a unique God (Pas,
like Zeus and Odin, is more a "first among equals" than a singular
God of the sort believed by the J/C/I tradition and postulated by
Aristotle); Silk's enlightenment marks a transitional point at 
which monotheism begins to supplant paganism. 

About which more below.

> If it can mean a space alien (the Mother), why aren't the
> Neighbours (or even theoretically the inhumi) "gods"?  

Nowhere _near_ the order of power represented by the Mother, great
Scylla, etc.; nor do they show any intention to be worshipped by 
humans -- though both do in fact manipulate humans: but then, so 
do humans manipulate other humans. 

> We're never told the difference even in the Narrator's mind between
> all these.  

Ummmm... I don't think there _is_, at first, a clear distinction.

> I could understand if he groped his way to the conclusion that the
> only real god is the Outsider, but while he often suggests this it
> doesn't disqualify all the others as also being described as "gods"
> by him too.  One wonders what his definition of a god is.

I've made a suggestion above.

I think that the Narr, like just-Silk, comes to the conclusion (the
correct conclusion, certainly from my point of view and Mr Wolfe's)
that, regardless of the existence in nature (including technology;
"nature" here means "the physicial universe") of beings of vast power,
the being referred to in the series as "the Outsider," and in the NEW
books as "the Increate," is a being of a higher and different order, 
and transcendent wrt nature. On the other hand, the acceptance of this
one God does not instantaneously wipe out in the minds of either Silk
or the Narr the existence of "gods." This is consistent, btw, with 
the history of monotheism among the Hebrews; in the earlier Writings,
it's clear that, though God is God and Israel is to have but one God,
there are other "gods." This is why the Decalogue has that very odd
wording, "you will have no other god _before me_"; this is why the 
Israelites keep worshipping the local gods of the territories they
conquer; and this is why, for example, the priests of Egypt actually
are able to work miracles in their small way. It's a big step from
the nearly pantheistic view of paganism to the idea of a single
immanent-and-transcendent God; it's another step, nearly as big, to
the idea that these other things aren't gods at all -- so big that
the early Church couldn't think of any other way to account for these
"gods" except as demons. (Yes, Paul wrote, as did a few of the more
advanced OT writers, of the idea that these "gods" were just things
made by human hands; but the early Church was not, in general, as
advanced in its thought as Paul; and it believed, as does Wolfe, as
do I, that belief in these "gods" came from somewhere more than just
the imaginations of the believers. For that matter, Mister Orthodox
himself, C.S. Lewis, seems to have believed, or at least considered
plausible, something of the sort -- viz. the wizard on the island of 
the Dufflepuds (in THE VOYAGE OF THE "DAWN TREADER") and the entire 

Anyway, both Silk and the Narr are persons raised from infancy with
the above-described pagan conception of "a god." Persons raised in a
Christian or post-Christian environment find it very difficult (I 
know I did for years) to really grasp the very different way in which
someone raised pagan -- really raised pagan, I mean, and not in the
semi-serious neopagan headset, which is more postmodern than ancient
-- understands the concept of "a god." Even Silk's prayer is not "I
know that you are the only God," but "I know that you are the only 
god for me." 

The gods of Mainframe, the Outsider, pose no special problem. The
Mother and Great Scylla certainly fit the overall definition; the
only problem seems to be that they are _different_ from the gods
the Whorlians grew up with. But that would not, in fact, be a 
problem for the Whorlians, who knew all along that Pas'n'Co are
the gods of the Long Sun Whorl and that there were other gods on 
the old Short Sun Whorl (though they believe that Pas had been one
such). This is roughly analogous to the way that the Greeks and 
Romans would travel to another country and quite placidly accept
that that the folks here had different gods -- though, to be sure,
the more intellectual sort of Greek in later years tended to start
classifying the gods of foreign parts as to what Greek god they 
"really" were: Thoth is "really" Hermes and all that sort of thing.

Timothy, I thank you for calling my attention to this point, 
because, while I hadn't really realized it until you did, this is
actually one of Wolfe's clearest _successes_ in the Long and Short 
Sun books: he successfully portrays, from within, the attitudes of
a pagan who is just beginning to grapple with the idea of One 
immanent and transcendent God.

Continuing to flog the red spot on the pavement where the dead horse
used to be:
> Re LS I don't agree that a subjective sense of enlightenment that
> may or may not be due to an aneurism can possibly be compared with
> FTL astral travel that breaks every physical rule in the book of
> science.  

Pfui. Crane's hypothesis doesn't hold water for thirty seconds; Silk
gains too much actual _knowledge_ from his enlightenment to be the
result of an aneurism. You can try explaining it away as the momentary
emergence of some random psychic power, but it ain't no aneurism.

> I agree that in NS "miracles" occurred but not anywhere near this
> order 

Ummm. The resurrection of the dead (including the long-dead, i.e., 
Typhon -- maybe -- and Apu-Punchau -- definitely) isn't "anywhere 
near this order?" The fight with the Sorcerers doesn't "break every
physical rule in the book of science"? Pish and tosh.

> Re why the Narrator doesn't at least try to astral travel
> somewhere he says he wants to be:

... As I believe I said in an earlier post, I think this is 
_actually_ revelatory of the Narr's character and not of the
limits of astral travel. The Narr is decidedly not a reliable
Narr. That being the case, I suspend discussion of the mechanics
as not terribly relevant to the question.

> Much as I admire Mr Wolfe (TBNS is the Book of Gold for me,
> as for many others), 

I can't go that far, but I can't say any one book is "the Book of
Gold" for me. It is a book which I have returned to about ten times
and will return to many more times before I shuffle off to Buff, uh,
I mean off this mortal coil. I rank it with THE LORD OF THE RINGS,
THE DOOMSDAY BOOK (which I recently read: the only novel in years,
possibly _ever_, to make me weep openly), and a select few others
as something deserving a word one notch above "masterpiece."

> I've said before on this list that we don't need to be
> hagiographic about every word he writes.  

Agreed. (Anyone want to discuss ARES?)

> Certainly he clearly didn't write TBLS and TBSS in advance,
> unlike TBNS.  

Heh. Funny thing -- my understanding was that he had all of SHORT 
in all-but-last draft form before publishing OBW. And CASTLE OF 
THE OTTER semi-debunks the standard myth about NEW being completely
written before SHADOW wa published.

> And the number of hanging characters (eg Master Xiphias) 

Hanging how? Don't know his fate? What a surprise! Never do!

> and events (eg the long, boring visit to the talus factory in LS
> that some predicted would find relevance in SS) 

Boring? Boring?!? One of my favorite sequences in LONG.

Disgustibus etc.


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