Shadow of the Torturer, chapters 13 to 16

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Severian is dismissed from the Guild, but given an appointment in far off Thrax and an executioner's sword, Terminus Est. He is warned about the roads. Severian goes out into the city of Nessus around the citadel, where his fulegin torturer's garb attracts some attention. He uses the reputation of the torturers to get a bed in an inn- a bed two other men, Baldanders and Dr. Talos already share.

Baldanders and Dr. Talos are travelling performers, and seek to recruit Severian for their play, though Severian has no intention of joining them. At breakfast, Dr. Talos also recruits their waitress, Jolenta. Severian then visits a rag shop to purchase something to hide his torturer's garb.

Comments

  • 1

    Something appears to be happening! Let's see where this goes!

  • 1

    Chapters 13 to 16?

    Anyway, I'm with Clash: it looks like something's happening! OK, it's happening rather slowly, but there are events. There's also a lot of description which seems to be a combination of padding and Wolfe flouting his erudition, as opposed to contributing much to the novel.

    Talos and Baldanders have the PC beacons illuminated over their heads, so despite Severian's insistence that he's going his own way, I fully expect him to meet up with them again.

  • 1

    Wait! Just noticed! Were we supposed to read 12-18? If so I messed up and only read to 16, thinking we were doing 4 chapters at a time...

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    It is said that it is the peculiar quality of time to conserve fact, and that it does so by rendering our past falsehoods true.

    I read this sentence at least five times. I'm pretty sure this is exactly how my memory works.

    [...] hope is a psychological mechanism unaffected by external realities.

    Is it, though?

    The sheath of sable manskin covered it nearly to the pommel.

    Ewwww.

    I loved her with a love that was deadly and yet not serious. [...] I could no more have resisted her than I could have resisted the blind greed of Urth if I had tumbled over a cliff.

    Been there.

  • 1

    @NeilNjae said:
    Chapters 13 to 16?

    Yes, my mistake. Title corrected. Apologies for the confusion.

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    Yes, there's a lot of time dedicated to Dr.Talos and Baldanders...too much time for that encounter to be all.

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    NeilNjae had it. They got the PC glow!

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    edited April 11

    LEXICON (and thoughts inspired by it)

    The Lictor of Thrax (title of chapter 13, p.84)

    Lictor: Latin, as all the titles seem to be - An officer in ancient Rome, attendant on a consul or magistrate, who bore the fasces and was responsible for punishing criminals. Thrax also has a meaning - in Greek, being a person of Thrace. Not sure if that's the origin of this name, or it's just a made-up fantasy name.

    "Nowhere but in Nessa - nowhere but here in the citadel - is there a chapter of our guild. Lesser places have no more than a carnifex, who takes life and performs such excruciations as the judicators there agree." (p.86)

    Carnifex: The meaning in the text as executioner was easy to infer, but the actual definition we turn to Latin, where it does indeed mean executioner, but also butcher. The word literally means 'flesh maker' so I suppose Butcher is the original meaning.


    "I mean to warn you against [the roads]. They are patrolled by uhlans under orders to kill anyone found upon them, and since they have permission to loot the bodies of those they slay, they are not much inclined to ask excuses. (p.87)"

    Uhlan: A lancer, a soldier armed with a lance in a former light cavalry unit of the Polish, Prussian/German, Austrian, and Russian armies.

    Here, also, a very interesting little bit of world-building of the kind I like so much - a law. Passage along the ancient (and unmaintained roads) is forbidden, so most traffic is on the rivers. The lancers who enforce the law are allowed to keep the loot they find, so there's a cash incentive for them to lance first and ask questions later. That's a nice little detail that can lead to a lot of interesting plot should someone decide to use it. So many settings neglect to delve too much into laws, but look how much you can achieve with a simple one.


    I saw a caique, with high, sharp prow and stern, and a bellying sail, making south with the dark current. (p.88)

    Caique: A boat, obviously - originally from Turkish kayguk, passed through Italian and French. A small wooden trading vessel, brightly painted and rigged for sail, traditionally used for fishing and trawling.


    Concerning the sword, Terminus Est - such a great name, defined in the text as meaning "This is the line of division". But also "This is the end". It has a sable manskin sheath. The sword itself has a 'man-edge' and a 'woman-edge', pointing to its purpose as an executioner's sword. I find it eerie that it has gender-defined edges - it call into mind all kinds of questions about what it is about the one edge or the other that makes it particularly suitable for one gender or another.

    Also note that Severian comments "she writhed when I poised her" - writhed in discomfort, or indecision? Also, Terminus Est is a she.

    "There is a channel in the spine of her blade, and in it runs a river of hydragyrum - a metal heavier than iron, though it flows like water."
    This is Mercury, originally ancient Greek Hudraguros, meaning Water+Silver. This is where the element symbol Hg in the periodic table comes from.


    "May the Moira favour you, Severian."

    I took the whetstone from its pocket in the sheath and dropped it into my sabretache... (p.91)

    Moira: Portuguese for Fate
    Sabretache: A leather pocket or pouch worn hanging from a cavalry officer’s belt. Literally 'sabre-pocket' in German.


    "Come inside. The lochage wishes to speak to you." (p.93)

    Lochage: An officer who commanded a company in Ancient Greece. Note that this title is Greek, not Latin, so there goes that theory.


    "Baldanders, you must get our collapsing proscenium and the other properties from the inn where you and Severian spent the night - I trust that will present no difficulties."

    Proscenium: A stage decoration that is placed in front of the scenery.

    And while were on this scene: did anyone else note how the meeting of Severian and Baldanders is similar to that between Ismael and Queequeg in Moby Dick? But which character is Queequeg? And will there be more similarities with Moby Dick?

    There's also a placename mentioned in this chapter: Ctesiphon's Cross. Ctesiphon was an ancient capital of the Parthian and Sassanian era Persians in Babylonia, not far from Baghdad and Babylon. Some fairly impressive ruins still remain.

  • 1

    @Ray_Otus said:

    [...] hope is a psychological mechanism unaffected by external realities.

    Is it, though?

    When push comes to shove, there's always still the ability to hope. Even the person falling from a cliff still hopes to have their fall broken by a bush, a pool, or their boss. And hopelessness is also similarly unaffected - look at all the suicides of otherwise very successful people. That said, I guess you could argue that the external reality of chemical balances in the body is at the root of these...

  • 1

    Another thought is Talos. In Greek mythology, Talos was a giant bronze automaton protecting Crete, who strode around the island's shores. It's interesting that it's not Talos but Baldanders who is the giant. Talking of that, I find something rather sinister about Dr. Talos despite his apparently innocent aims.

    On world building, I like the way the sheer size of Nessus is apparent, with the already large citadel a tiny part. And the rest of the city is almost mythical to those of the citadel, just as the citadel is almost mythical to people in the greater city.

    On Severian's inner mind, a lot of his inner thoughts reflect my memories of myself around the age of 20. He feels just right as a certain kind of young man trying to understand the world and himself, feeling himself both superior and inferior to others around him. I don't necessarily like him (much as I don't always like my younger self), but I can absolutely relate.

  • 1

    My first impression of Talos was that he was a mountebank, and Baldanders his brawny accomplice. Something about him doesn't add up. Where was he last night, for example? He's also very clever - one gets the feeling he's always a step ahead. This does make him seem similar - a dishonest mastermind, perhaps. We haven't actually caught him in the act of being dishonest, but we're watching.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    And while were on this scene: did anyone else note how the meeting of Severian and Baldanders is similar to that between Ismael and Queequeg in Moby Dick? But which character is Queequeg? And will there be more similarities with Moby Dick?

    Yes! I thought about this a lot too. I was looking for other points of reference but it's just the situation really.

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:

    "I mean to warn you against [the roads]. They are patrolled by uhlans under orders to kill anyone found upon them, and since they have permission to loot the bodies of those they slay, they are not much inclined to ask excuses. (p.87)"

    Uhlan: A lancer, a soldier armed with a lance in a former light cavalry unit of the Polish, Prussian/German, Austrian, and Russian armies.

    Here, also, a very interesting little bit of world-building of the kind I like so much - a law. Passage along the ancient (and unmaintained roads) is forbidden, so most traffic is on the rivers. The lancers who enforce the law are allowed to keep the loot they find, so there's a cash incentive for them to lance first and ask questions later. That's a nice little detail that can lead to a lot of interesting plot should someone decide to use it. So many settings neglect to delve too much into laws, but look how much you can achieve with a simple one.

    Yes, I liked this bit of worldbuilding, that the roads are forbidden in order to make rebellions harder. It implies that the state military can use the roads, and that when a rebellion gets large and organised, the rebels will use them because they can't be prevented. But I think it's a detail that will come back later, seeing as battles and rebellion have already been foreshadowed.

    And who maintains the roads? Is it done by a central state, are communities responsible for maintaining a nearby section, or are they in general disrepair?

  • 2

    @NeilNjae - The roads are unmaintained, so are in disrepair.

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    edited April 12

    If they were maintained, one would suppose it would be done so by the Autarch's patrols. An arm of the military like the Army Core of Engineers. But it doesn't even seem they are patrolled. Correct? It reinforces the dying world concept. Human-kind's reach has diminished.

  • 3

    Another thing about the roads - road projects are usually initiated to make it easier for armies to move quickly across the homeland to respond to threats. Here we have the opposite - roads that are being left fallow to make it harder for rebellion to spread. Meaning the threat from within is much greater than the threat from without.

    Really the only foreigners we've learned about to date are from outer space, and I guess they aren't much threat, or are too rare to feel threatening.

    A few people have said 'finally something is happening'. This is the beginning of where I seem to recall I started losing interest in the story on my first read. I'm curious to see what happens this time. So far it's overall much better than I remember, though.

  • 1

    Oh, we have a lot of interesting things for me in these chapters and over the next group. Things which never quite "clicked" before are clicking into place for me with this slow read. When I first read the book, it felt like a picaresque without much unity, but this time I'm realising there's much more to it.

    The Shadow of the Torturer is also a good title; the shadow of Severian's upbringing and training hangs over what he does, and how he sees the world. He's striving to be more than that, a better person, but isn't there yet.

  • 1

    @Ray Otus - "The roads were patrolled by Uhlans..." :smile:

  • 2

    @clash_bowley I think you're breaking the rules of improv, LOL.

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    @clash_bowley I think you're breaking the rules of improv, LOL.

    I was thinking you established these as 'facts' earlier and THEY were messing up! :D

  • 1

    Ha. No I simply missed that. I couldn't remember if they were patrolled or not, but clearly they were "patrolled by uhlans under orders to kill anyone found upon them."

    I don't get the joke about improv.

  • 1
    edited April 13

    @Ray_Otus - See Tina Fey's Four Rules of Improv at https://kicp-workshops.uchicago.edu/eo2014/pdf/Tina-Feys-rules-of-improv.pdf - Apocryphal is referring to the first rule:

    "The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun."

    There are other rules of Improv, but this first rule is in all of them. :smiley:

  • 1

    Ok. I guess I did get the joke then. It just wasn't funny. LOL.

  • 2

    @Ray_Otus Hey, hey, now. It wasn't a joke, per se, it was an observation that amused me. @NeilNjae speculated about the maintenance of the roads, and Clash pointed out they were unmaintained. Then you said 'But if they were maintained' (like the two of you were struggling to set a scene) and Clash again shut that down, so it seemed to me like he wasn't buying the improv (and apparently to him like you guys weren't.)

    Anyway, that digression has run its course, I'd say.

    It will be more obvious in reading the next section, but these four chapters mark the end of the slow progression of Severian as the young torturer and the beginning of what seem like a number of random sharp turns in the narrative. Any thoughts on this?

  • 1

    Ha. I didn't mean for that to sound salty. Just more of a poke in the ribs. Sorry for the confusion. :)

  • 2

    @Apocryphal said:
    It will be more obvious in reading the next section, but these four chapters mark the end of the slow progression of Severian as the young torturer and the beginning of what seem like a number of random sharp turns in the narrative. Any thoughts on this?

    Yeah, this disappointed me in the first reading. I felt like I was just getting to know the weird world of the torturers and was wondering what story could possibly be told about Severian as a torturer, then it gets left behind (mostly).

    This reading I was ready for it and I feel like it was a good time to move on. I'm not sure what else there is to learn about the torturers. Though the Citadel is an infinitely interesting place.

  • 3

    I had a thought about the book, triggered by these chapters, which made me kind of review my thoughts about the whole tale to date.

    First, I contrasted the kind of dying world presented by Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe. In Vance, the people in the world are (in my memory of Dying Earth, at least) few in number, and increasingly individualistic and quirky. In Wolfe, they are vast in number and almost totally grouped into institutions like guilds or whatever. So the two are taking opposite positions in one of the great debates of our age, which is the tension between the individual and the collective. Vance writes as though the individual will prevail, Wolfe as though the group will.

    Secondly, I think Wolfe is writing to deliberately expose the madness of institutions. Any of us who have worked in large institutions know that they have a tendency towards rigidity and dogmatism which in an individual would be associated with certain kinds of mental disorder. This starts sensibly - eg a desire for workers to rally around specific goals or habits of work - but often becomes ossified and controlling. Wolfe is, I think, showing this tendency writ very large into the fabric of society as a whole. And it is not, to my mind at least, a pleasant vision of the future. Whether it is any less pleasant than Vance's is, of course, a matter of taste :smile:

  • 1

    Good stuff @RichardAbbott. I think that's a very accurate bit of insight.

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    I like that @RichardAbbott. Another point about Vance's Dying Earth...the people are indeed individualistic, and also thoroughly selfish. It feels like Vance is just as pessimistic about individual prevailing as Wolfe is about organisations prevailing.

    Hmm...

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