Shadow of the Torturer chapters five to eight

1

Severian is sent on an errand to the master curator to pick up picks for a new privileged political prisoner, Thecla. Delivering them himself by request, he forms a connection with her. Thecla is to be treated well ("but not too well") and have her wishes taken care of for the present, and Severian is to continue to see her and converse. She is a high-ranking political prisoner.

Severian is also sent to a brothel, it appears as an attempt to dissuade him from getting too close to Thecla.

Comments

  • 1

    We got some worldbuilding in these chapters, both about the long history of Urth (such as the paining of the astronaut on the moon, contrasted with its contemporary terraformed state) and the current political situation (the connections between Thecla, Thea, and Vodalus, though we still don't know what Vodalus is up to).

    Apart from that, not much really happens. We get a good sense of place from the trip to the lower rooms of the library, the mentions that the cells in the tower are all made of metal, and the descriptions of the wider city. But I'm starting to ask myself, "So what?" Hopefully things will start happening soon!

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    edited March 28

    Ch. 5a

    I'm a sucker for hallways lined with paintings. It works in Harry Potter and it works here. And if you didn't recognize this one right away, you were asleep at the wheel. :)

    The picture he was cleaning showed an armored figure standing in a desolate landscape. It had no weapon, but held a staff bearing a strange, stiff banner. The visor of this figure’s helmet was entirely of gold, without eye slits or ventilation; in its polished surface the deathly desert could be seen in reflection, and nothing more.

    (I couldn't find one with Urth rising in the background as described by the cleaner.)

    Note, Fechin is a real artist. Nicolai Fechin, 1881-1955. But I couldn't find one of three women dressing another.

    Google Image search for Nicolai Fechin.

  • 1
    edited March 28

    Ch. 5b

    "I was miserable before I knew I was no longer happy, and bowed with responsibility when I did not yet fully understand I held it."

    Yeah, buddy. Been there.

    Also, this sentence is a mess:

    "Thus I became acquainted with all the thoroughfares and with many an unfrequented corner—granaries with lofty bins and demonic cats; wind-swept ramparts overlooking gangrenous slums; and the pinakotheken, with their great hallway topped by a vaulted roof of window-pierced brick, floored with flagstones strewn with carpets, and bound by walls from which dark arches opened to strings of chambers lined—as the hallway itself was—with innumerable pictures."

  • 2
    On the picture... Yes! One of the small and fun puzzles with how things are described. And the fact the Moon is now forested is wonderful. And yes... I still need to post my thoughts.
  • 2
    edited March 28

    Ch. 6

    I love how focused each chapter is. The last one was "paintings," and this one is "books." :)

    This was cool:

    "Again I seemed to hear bronze, and quite suddenly I felt that he and I were dead, and that the darkness surrounding us was grave soil pressing in about our eyes, grave soil through which the bell called us to worship at whatever shrines may exist below ground."

    And this (game-able!) bit:

    “We have books whose papers are matted of plants from which spring curious alkaloids, so that the reader, in turning their pages, is taken unaware by bizarre fantasies and chimeric dreams."

    I want to read:

    Blaithmaic’s Lives of the Seventeen Megatherians.

    I liked this discussion a lot:

    I opened the book at random and read, “ … by which means a picture might be graven with such skill that the whole of it, should it be destroyed, might be recreated from a small part, and that small part might be any part.” I suppose it was the word graven that suggested to me the events I had witnessed on the night I had received my chrisos. “Master,” I answered, “you are phenomenal.”
    “No, but I am seldom mistaken.”
    “You, of all men, will excuse me when I tell you I tarried a moment to read a few lines of this book. Master, you know of the corpse-eaters, surely. I have heard it said that by devouring the flesh of the dead, together with a certain pharmacon, they are able to relive the lives of their victims.” [...]
    “Master,” I said, “I give you my word I would never suspect you of such a thing. But tell me this—suppose two collaborate in the robbing of a grave, and one takes the right hand for his share, and the other the left. Does he who ate the right hand have but half the dead man’s life, and the other the rest? And if so, what if a third were to come and devour a foot?”
    “It’s a pity you are a torturer,” Ultan said. “You might have been a philosopher. No, as I understand this noxious matter, each has the entire life.” “Then a man’s whole life is in his right hand and in his left as well. Is it in each finger too?” “I believe each participant must consume more than a mouthful for the practice to be effective. But I suppose that in theory at least, what you say is correct. The entire life is in each finger.” [...]

    That explains why the Resurrection spell works in D&D when you only have a finger. LOL

    And this killer line!

    How big is a man’s life?” asked Ultan.
    [Severian] “I have no way of knowing, but isn’t it larger than that?”
    “You see it from the beginning, and anticipate much. I, recollecting it from its termination, know how little there has been.

  • 2
    > @Ray_Otus said:
    > Ch. 6
    >
    > I love how focused each chapter is. The last one was "paintings," and this one is "books." :)

    Kinda like Moby Dick!


    @dr_mitch Is it a case of the moon .now. having trees, or a case of .this. moon having trees. I imagine this as a sequel to the ..book of the long sun.. in which humans reach into the stars. Can someone in the know comment?
  • 1
    They keep talking about the red brick and the spires of the Citadel — it makes me think of The Smithsonian. Especially since it contains lots of art and treasures.
  • 2

    I assumed from the name (Urth) and the single moon, that this was, in fact, Earth. I am probably wrong.

  • 1
    edited March 29

    @clash_bowley said:
    I assumed from the name (Urth) and the single moon, that this was, in fact, Earth. I am probably wrong.

    It definitely is. But I doubt The Citadel is really the Smithsonian. Because I know Urth is Earth, though, it makes me look for identifiable things.

  • 2

    @Apocryphal said:
    Kinda like Moby Dick!

    I wouldn't be surprised to get a chapter on whales and/or cannibals.

  • 1
    > @Ray_Otus said:
    > @clash_bowley said:
    > I assumed from the name (Urth) and the single moon, that this was, in fact, Earth. I am probably wrong.
    >
    >
    >
    >
    >
    > It definitely is.

    Why definitely? This being the book of the .New. Sun I assumed we were in another solar system. The name ‘earth’ or ‘urth’ Seems eminently transportable to some new planet, just as London and Paris made it to Ontario intact.
  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    Why definitely? This being the book of the .New. Sun I assumed we were in another solar system. The name ‘earth’ or ‘urth’ Seems eminently transportable to some new planet, just as London and Paris made it to Ontario intact.

    Intact? Seemed to be missing a few bits when I went through! Not as bad a replication as the Maine instantiation of Paris and London, though. :D

  • 1
    edited March 29

    For me it's established (as much as anything in this book is "established") pretty clearly when they are looking at the painting which is clearly analogous to the first man on the moon photos. I was already convinced that's what the painting-photo was, then the go into a lot of detail about the moon. And then the cleaner says:

    Today I took the notion to clean it again. And it needs it—see how nice it’s brightening up? There’s your blue Urth coming over his shoulder again, fresh as the Autarch’s fish.”

    I suppose it could be a parallel dimension Earth.

  • 1
    @Ray_Otus that’s compelling, but not definitive (for me) since it’s certainly possible to have both an old planet earth and a new one, and for both to be blue. What happens in the Book of the Long Sun? Isn’t that about a generation ship? Couldn’t this Urth be the new destination? Or does the Long Sun happen in the future of this book?
  • 1
    Looked it up... The Book of the New Sun is a Dying earth story. Why it’s not called the book of the Old Sun I don’t know, but it’s far future earth when the sun is old and dim. The Long Sun series is followed by the Short Sun series. Not sure how Long Sun relates to New Sun, if at all.
  • 1

    I read the Long Sun some years ago. Yes, it happens on a tube-shaped colony ship. People live on the inner surface and the core is a long strip of artificial light that serves as the sun. I found it to be a slog, but I would be willing to try it again.

  • 1

    I found chapters 7 and 8 interesting and poignant, but I don't feel like I have a lot to say about them. The world gets a bit more real and a little less fantastical in these chapters.

  • 3
    As others have said, Book of the Long Sun is set in the same universe as Book of the New Sun. It's difficult to say where they are in relation to each other temporally, I think. Long Sun is set on a generation ship that eventually reaches its destination, but the Short Sun whorl (world) is not Urth. I think somewhere in Book of the New Sun Severian encounters relics or ruins of the culture that launched the generation ship that is the setting of Book of the Long Sun.
  • 2

    @NeilNjae said:
    We got some worldbuilding in these chapters, both about the long history of Urth (such as the paining of the astronaut on the moon, contrasted with its contemporary terraformed state) and the current political situation (the connections between Thecla, Thea, and Vodalus, though we still don't know what Vodalus is up to).

    Apart from that, not much really happens. We get a good sense of place from the trip to the lower rooms of the library, the mentions that the cells in the tower are all made of metal, and the descriptions of the wider city. But I'm starting to ask myself, "So what?" Hopefully things will start happening soon!

    I kind of felt the same. Yes, there's loads of world-building going on, but some of the episodes seem to be blind alleys and I wasn't sure if I needed to keep track of the things in them or not. Take for example the dog - is this a Chekhov dog (so to speak) which will turn up like Androcles' lion at some future stage, or is it simply there to show me that Severian has something in him other than unthinking adherence to the rule of his guild?

  • 1

    I enjoyed these chapters. There was a lot of mood, some philosophy, some tantalising hints about Severian's path and character, and about the world. And not so much plot, which was perhaps exposed by the nature of the slow read, but I'm personally fine with that. That said, the next set of chapters brings some interesting developments.

    In terms of the world actually being Earth, there are so far no geographical details in the text which scream it out to me except for one....the Moon. It's the same size as Earth's moon in the sky. That must be rare astronomically, right? Certainly there's nothing nearly comparable elsewhere in the solar system...unless we count Pluto, the other planets have tiny moons.

    I mean, what are the odds that a random colonised planet would have such a satellite?

  • 1

    @dr_mitch said:
    In terms of the world actually being Earth, there are so far no geographical details in the text which scream it out to me except for one....the Moon. It's the same size as Earth's moon in the sky. That must be rare astronomically, right? Certainly there's nothing nearly comparable elsewhere in the solar system...unless we count Pluto, the other planets have tiny moons.

    I mean, what are the odds that a random colonised planet would have such a satellite?

    I don't think we can answer that just now - certainly what you say is right for the solar system, but we have xero information about satellite size for Earth-sized planets in other solar systems. If current solar system formation models are right, then the moon being the size it is is something of a fluky combination of events, so you could well be right. But I wouldn't like to bet on it!

    Re Pluto, then yes absolutely this is the stand-out example of a large moon - Charon is large enough that the mutual centre of gravity is outside Pluto's surface. So strictly speaking both revolve around a common centre, rather than Charon around Pluto - purists argue that it should be considered a binary planet rather than planet + moon. But as we know, infinite are the arguments of mages... Oddly (and yes, I did the calculations for this in connection with a piece of writing). the brightness of Pluto from Charon is not very different from that of our moon from the Earth, once you've adjusted for different sizes, orbital distances, distance to the sun and whatnot. It subtends a lot more sky, so it will be quite a sight as and when people get to see it.

    But that's slightly off the point of Shadow of the Torturer...

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott I agree- it's very far indeed from conclusive. Just a maybe, and who knows how correct our solar system formations are (or for that matter are in the universe of the New Sun).

    And that's some interesting insight on Pluto and Charon. I knew Charon was sufficiently massive compared to Pluto that the centre of the mass of the two was outside of both bodies, but the brightness calculation is new to me. I also hadn't previously considered the size of Charon in Pluto's sky. You've now made the idea of visiting Pluto compelling to me, for the first time!

    Definitely way off topic... :)

  • 2

    LEXICON

    One would withdraw to his estates and trouble the Autarch's court no more. Another would volunteer to lead a muster of lansquenets in the north. (p.52)

    Lansquenets is a French spelling of German 'Landsknecht' mercenary soldiers.

    At last the time would come, to men and women alike, when instead of a journeyman with food, Master Gurloes would appear trailing three or four journeymen and perhaps an examiner and a fulgorator. (p.53)

    Fulgorating: Resembling lightning; -- used to describe intense lancinating pains accompanying locomotor ataxy.

    "Well now, for decency's sake they have these khaibits, what they call the shadow women, that are common girls that look like chatelaines. (p.54)

    Khaibit: from Egyptian mythology, a part of the soul. "The Khaibit is the shadow of a person who leads an independent life and can leave the body and return at will, he also takes part in the offerings addressed to the dead." (Messack Pock in African Conception of Man)
    Chatelaine: A woman in charge of a house or castle - i.e. a female castellan.

    His eyes were refulgent, brighter than any woman's. He mispronounced quite common words: urticate, salpinx, bordereau. (p.56)

    Refulgent: Shining brightly
    Urticate: to cause a stinging or prickling sensation like that given by a nettle.
    Salpinx: a trumpet-shaped tube, from Greek for trumpet.
    Bordereau: a detailed note or memorandum of account

    "A trip to the Echopraxia and a woman for each of us... There will be fiacres at the bitter gate. (p.60)

    Echopraxia: the involuntary mirroring of an observed action - funny name for a brothel.
    Fiacres: a small four-wheeled carriage for public hire.

    "I asked where the Echopraxia lay".
    "In the Algedonic Quarter. Have you heard of it?" (p.60)

    Algedonic: pertaining to both pleasure and pain.

    "There are parts further south that are older still, a waste of stone where only omophagists live. (p.61)

    Omophagist: one who eats raw meat.

    There's also a mention of a Iubar Street, a tree-line street down which the Librarians have a procession. Iubar is a Latin noun meaning: 1. radiance of celestial bodies, light, splendor, sunshine, or 2. (figuratively) a splendid appearance, glory, splendor. Iubhar is Scottish Gaelic for a Yew tree, so perhaps here both meanings are intended.

  • 2

    In Chapter V we learn that the Feast of Holy Katharine is one of the most important days to the Torturers. It's interesting, though, that their patroness is a saint who was resistant to torture. From Wikipedia:

    Catherine was then scourged and imprisoned. She was scourged so cruelly and for so long, that her whole body was covered with wounds, from which the blood flowed in streams. The spectators wept with pity; but Catherine, strengthened by God, stood with her eyes raised to heaven, without giving a sign of suffering or fear. Maxentius ordered her to be imprisoned without food, so she would starve to death. During the confinement, angels tended her wounds with salve. Catherine was fed daily by a dove from Heaven and Christ also visited her, encouraging her to fight bravely, and promised her the crown of everlasting glory.

    During her imprisonment, over 200 people came to see her, including Maxentius' wife, Valeria Maximilla; all converted to Christianity and were subsequently martyred. Twelve days later, when the dungeon was opened, a bright light and fragrant perfume filled it, and Catherine came forth even more radiant and beautiful.

    Upon the failure of Maxentius to make Catherine yield by way of torture, he tried to win the beautiful and wise princess over by proposing marriage. The saint refused, declaring that her spouse was Jesus Christ, to whom she had consecrated her virginity.

    The furious emperor condemned Catherine to death on a spiked breaking wheel, but, at her touch, it shattered. Maxentius ordered her to be beheaded. Catherine herself ordered the execution to commence. A milk-like substance rather than blood flowed from her neck.


    "Of the trail of ink there is no end," Master Ultan told me. "Or so a wise man said. He lived long ago—what would he say if he could see us now?"

    I looked for a reference to this, but couldn't find this as a historical quote by anyone other that Wolfe. Any ideas?


    "The warm commerce" is an interesting euphemism for sex.


    The Corpse Eaters described in chapter VI are interesting.

    "It is said that by devouring the flesh of the dead, together with a certain pharmacon, they are able to relive the lives of their victims."

    And then follows the questions by Severian about how much of a person must be eaten to get the entire life.


    "Everything's getting smaller. Not much anybody can do about that. Less food means fewer people until the New Sun comes"

    Here, I think, we have the first reference to the New Sun, and it's a reference to something to come in the future. Does local wisdom tell that a new sun will follow the old? Are we actually talking about a star, or does sun refer to something else, here, like the Autarch. We've also already seen a hint that there will be a new Autarch coming, in the form of Severian, right? But I don't find any etymological support for this argument.

  • 1

    Great comments @Apocryphal! I looked up a lot of those words too. I'm glad you put the definitions in here. I also wondered about that 'coming of the New Sun' ideology. I figure it's one of two things – a) as you speculate, some kind of belief that the sun will renew in the future or b) some kind of fatalist saying akin to "when pigs fly" referencing an event that will never happen.

  • 1

    @Ray_Otus said:
    Great comments @Apocryphal! I looked up a lot of those words too. I'm glad you put the definitions in here. I also wondered about that 'coming of the New Sun' ideology. I figure it's one of two things – a) as you speculate, some kind of belief that the sun will renew in the future or b) some kind of fatalist saying akin to "when pigs fly" referencing an event that will never happen.

    When pigs fly makes sense.

  • 2

    @Apocryphal Thank you for the definitions. Great to have as reference. Just heard a podcast with Monte Cook and he mentioned reading this series and having his vocabulary expanded in a monumental way.

    On this section I had the following observations:

    • What was the largest ordinance fired during the celebrations? There is a huge tease as to what the nature of the tech in the citadel actually is.

    • Paintings were very clever and folks are spot on about the moon landing being depicted.

    • Fuligin, how appropriate

    • This library is the city library ... the contents of our fortress far exceeds their container. The expansive nature of knowledge?

    • Our concern is with the books themselves and not the contents. The very siloed nature of the guilds.

    • “To me the most interesting is that of the Historians, which tells of a time in which every legend could be traced to half-forgotten fact. You see the paradox, I assume. Did that legend itself exist at that time? And if not, how came it into existence?” Wow what a great set of questions!

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