Citadel of the Autarch, ending (chapters 35-38)

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Severian retraces the dog Triskele's footsteps in the Citadel. He travels incognito with Roche, Drotte, and Eata, once his fellow apprentices, to the Inn of Lost Loves at the edge of the Sanguinary field. He quizzes the old waiter there who left the note for Dorcas about his past.

Severian is resolved to undergo the test. He understands he is not the first Severian, and an earlier Severian has taken the test. Those who wished to see him succeed travelled back through the corridors of time, which is an explanation, of sorts, for some of the strangeness.

More from me, on the Book of the New Sun as a whole and its ending in particular in the New Year.

Comments

  • 2

    He IS the first Severian. He is just talking about an alternate present iteration of himself. The time walkers have helped him get to this point because that other possible Severian failed, and they think he could have done it with an assist or two. Don't let Wolfe confuse you! Wolfe keeps referring to past versions of Severian as being separate when they are part of a continuum, as when he was following his younger self's footsteps. He also refers to alternate iterations of Severian as being separate instead of being branches of the same tree. This may be accurate in a way, but is very confusing.

  • 2
    Yes, I also got that the other Severian was the same person from an alternate branch of time, but found that chapter quite confusing.

    Earlier in this book it was intimated that Severian was a twin, so no revelation on that front. Also wondering if Little Severian was the same from a different time stream.
  • 1
    Okay, I *think* I understand more. It's different branches with different and changing probabilities, the same way we've seen all time travel work. And for that matter the way resurrection with the Claw works.
  • 0
    I need to reread these four chapters. My first impression was that we finally learned something of Severian's parentage. But my main feeling on reaching the end of the last chapter was "er, um, was that a conclusion? Did we actually get to closure of any kind?" I got baffled as to whether we now had to read _The Urth of the New Sun_ to find out what actually happened. But that wasn't written until five years later, according to the Also by Gene Wolfe section, and hasn't been taken up by SF Gateway. So maybe that's a red herring.

    I guess I felt that these chapters taught us a fair bit about Severian exploring his own past, but I'm struggling to see what the conclusion of the books might be. I'll come back to this again after a reread...
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    @dr_mitch said:
    Okay, I think I understand more. It's different branches with different and changing probabilities, the same way we've seen all time travel work. And for that matter the way resurrection with the Claw works.

    Exactly!

  • 1

    @clash_bowley said:
    He IS the first Severian. He is just talking about an alternate present iteration of himself. The time walkers have helped him get to this point because that other possible Severian failed, and they think he could have done it with an assist or two.

    And yet... the narrator-Severian says that the tomb he visited at the beginning of book 1 was the tomb of that earlier Severian. And that tomb is old.

    Of course, it could be that the other-timeline Severian died and was buried in the already-existing tomb, or it could be that Wolfe is being flowery with the language, and intimating that something in the tomb was the point at which the timestreams diverged.

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    But my main feeling on reaching the end of the last chapter was "er, um, was that a conclusion? Did we actually get to closure of any kind?"

    >

    I guess I felt that these chapters taught us a fair bit about Severian exploring his own past, but I'm struggling to see what the conclusion of the books might be. I'll come back to this again after a reread...

    I'm with you on this opinion. A lot of the last few chapters has been about Severian undertaking the test to return the New Sun. And what is the test? Why does Severain (and us) think he could succeed, where so many others have either failed or not attempted it?

  • 3
    Ok, I've been rereading these last few chapters, and dipping back into the early bits of book 1, on the theoretical grounds that the end of a book ought to address the problems raised at its start.

    I think - does anyone agree? - that Dorcas is Severian's grandmother. That's on the basis that the waiter Ouen seems to be Dorcas's son, though she died in childbirth. And Severian seems to be Ouen's son through Catherine, but given up at an early age. But... is Dorcas _this_ Severian's grandmother, or the original Severian's grandmother?

    @NeilNjae mentioned the tomb / mausoleum, which I am just going back through now. And I have yet to revisit the earlier trip through the tunnels, whose later recapitulation features so strongly in these chapters.

    I guess the start did not foreground the Autarch, nor the possible revitalisation of the old sun into the new one. But I still feel vaguely cheated that we have been deprived of the end point of the quest (and the outcome).
  • 2

    @RichardAbbott said:
    I think - does anyone agree? - that Dorcas is Severian's grandmother. That's on the basis that the waiter Ouen seems to be Dorcas's son, though she died in childbirth. And Severian seems to be Ouen's son through Catherine, but given up at an early age. But... is Dorcas this Severian's grandmother, or the original Severian's grandmother?

    That sounds entirely reasonable. But if we're going with the theory that the two Severians started the same, but the timelines split due to the intervention of time travellers, then they had the same mother and grandmother.

    Other loose ends:

    • Who was Baldanders, and what was his role in events?
    • Who are Erebus and Aiba, and what have they got to do with anything?
  • 1
    I'm still trying to work out how I feel about Severian's moral growth. It's there, but it still somehow doesn't seem sufficient. Maybe that was never the point.
  • 1

    ...and another loose end, mentioned in the text. How was Severian able to resurrect the dog at the beginning, even without the Claw? Was the Claw magical, or was it a placebo?

  • 1

    @dr_mitch said:
    I'm still trying to work out how I feel about Severian's moral growth. It's there, but it still somehow doesn't seem sufficient. Maybe that was never the point.

    Yes, he doesn't seem at all deserving of the position of Autarch. Even at the end of the book, you wouldn't call him a good person.

  • 2
    edited January 2

    LEXICON

    The time may come soon when my cousins to side not just with humankind, but with us - but for the present they persist in viewing Urth as somewhat less significant than many of the colonized worlds, and ourselves on par with with the Ascians, and for that matter with the Xanthoderms and many others... There is sedition among the Paralians, which must be rooted out. The Terentines, your Antrustiones, and the city legions - the three groups that bore the brunt of the fighting - having suffered almost as badly as the enemy.

    Xanthoderms: A person with yellow skin.
    Paralians: Someone who lives by the sea.
    Terentines: A brittle nut that breaks when you touch it?? Perhaps this is one of his misspellings.
    Antrustiones: (Frankish) A volunteer or follower of a prince.

    ...but if the Ascians break out next year, we will require piquenaires and pilani by the hundreds of thousands and it might be well to bring at least part of them under arms now. p.391

    Piguenaires: pikemen
    Pilani: those who bear pilums (a Roman type of spear designed to bend after bring thrown so they couldn't be thrown back.)


    ... I lifted lifted them from each drawer to see if there was not a steel, igniter, or amadou beneath them. p. 395

    Amadou: A spongy, flammable substance prepared from bracket fungi, formerly used as tinder.


    Just then he come in sight, and there was more on his boat than I would've thought it would hold - pandours, I'd have said, but every pandour I ever saw had a face brown as mine or nearly, and these was white as the mist. p.400

    Pandour: A robber, or perhaps a skirmisher.

  • 1

    A few additional notes I have on these chapters.

    I agree - there isn't quite the payoff one would expect from the ending. Lots of loose ends untied, and really what's the moral of the story?

    Inire's letter is interesting - he refers to 'his cousins' as being one thing - what, cacogens or something similar. But he also refers to us, and here us means something other than humankind. Perhaps he means humans of the Commonwealth, as opposed to Ascians? Actually, it is confirmed Inire is a cacogen on the page before the letter. Severian says to Rudesind:

    We know your master is what the people call a cacogen, and that for whatever reason, he is one of those few who have chosen to cast their lots entirely with humanity, remaining on Urth as a human being. The Cumaean is another such, though perhaps you did not know that. We even know that your master was with us in the jungles to the north, where he tried until it was too late to rescue my predecessor.* We only want to say that if a young man with an errand comes past again while you are on your ladder, you are to send him to master Ultan.** That is our order.

    Based on this - the idea of a Cacogen casting his lot with humans and living on earth as a human - reminds of of Gandalf the Maiar doing much the same. Are the cacogens angels?

    *This business about the jungle refers to the shaman who can turn himself into a tiger. See the LEXICON entry for a previous chapter.

    **I have no idea what this Ultan business is about. Does anyone else?

    I loved the idea of the explosive that 'blows people up slowly'.

    Yes, I think the claw was a placebo. I think the Pellerine a few chapters back said as much as well. And in the last set of chapters, Severian basically says that all thorns are Claws, and everything is sacred, since it was all made by the Pancreator.

    @NeilNjae comments that Severian doesn't deserve to be Autarch? Why not? Is this a position one earns? I don't think so. Severian was clearly chosen for it, and it seems specifically so he can make this interstellar voyage. Perhaps being a 'nice guy' isn't really what's required to make the voyage. Perhaps there's still more growing to come. I agree, though, that although Severian seems to have grown, Im not sure it was toward being a more moral person. In fact, morality doesn't seem to concern anyone in these novels, which is maybe odd given the religious overtones.

    Severian as Dorcas' grandson makes sense.

    Not sure about the roles of Baldanders. Erebus and Abaia (both male, btw) are some kind of titan leviathans that are in some way using the humans as pawns in their conflict. But how all these pieces fit together remains a mystery to me.

    @dr_mitch or @Bill_White Have you read the fifth book - does it serve to tie up these loose ends and explain things?

  • 1

    I've not read the Urth of the New Sun, but have it queued up for early this year. I'll talk about it when I've read it - I'm motivated at the moment.

  • 1
    I didn't pick up on Severian as Dorcas' grandson, but agree it makes sense.

    In terms of the ending, it was a natural place in terms of the time line to stop. A few dangling threads were dealt with, and parts made more sense, but more than anything else, I really wanted more about the undersea Titans.

    Maybe the clues are there to work out more of the mysteries, but I'm too dim or impatient to do it. Still, this read more fell into place than previously.

    Parts of the book were still, I'll state, really bloody good. There's depth and scope. It's worthy. But it still does not quite satisfy me. There's too much missing.

    On Severian, he's brought up to be a sociopath. An apprentice torturer could be nothing else. His relations to women are what one might expect from an all male background.

    He does develop beyond that morally, but not enough to satisfy. He's better at the end than he might be, but not genuinely good. There's loss but no sacrifice. He grows up, but still isn't wise, before thanks to absorbing the Autarchs' memories he becomes something quite different. But for me it's an element that's interesting to consider.

    We also need to consider Severian's status as unreliable narrator. He doesn't lie to the reader, but doesn't know some things the reader realises, and deliberately leaves gaps. He sometimes boasts.
  • 2
    In _Urth of the New Sun_, Severian travels aboard a starship that may be one of a fleet, or perhaps the only ship in the Universe, to the planet where he is judged. The operations of the ship are enigmatic and strange, and Severian making friends among the crew during his time aboard helps him when he finally arrives at his destination, which feels like something out of Revelation. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Severian fulfills his promise as Autsrch, and I found it both surprising and satisfying as the capstone of his story.
  • 2

    Out of curiosity, I compared the episodes near the start of book 1 and the end of book 4, where Severian goes through the series of tunnels. There are a lot of parallels, but to be honest it's hard to see which are deliberately made parallel for the purposes of plot, and which are inevitably parallel as a result of revisiting the same placce twice. In short, I was left unsure if the process had value or not :)

    Book 1:
    Severian sets off to find Triskele but has no means of light, so stumbles about randomly in a maze of corridors. He eventually sees a patch of daylight and clambers out through a clock pedestal into a pavemented square, formally decorated with plants and statues (except it is winter so everything is dormant). In the courtyard he is found by a young woman called Valeria. She tells him that the square is called the Atrium of Time, and as a result clocks have been left there in profusion. There are Latin inscriptions and my feeling (without having properly checked) is that her suggested translations are rather loose rather than exact. An old servant brings refreshments as they talk.

    Book 4:
    Severian goes with a torch, sees whee Triskele branched off, and also sees lots of additional details (writing, stairs, branching points, rooms with clocks etc) which he had missed in book 1.He makes his way to the Atrium of Time - it is much the same, except that the season is autumn. The old lady servant greets him this time, and he asks for Valeria to come to him, in the process triggering some kind of messaging system which he was previously unaware of.

    Make of it what you will...

    I also spotted that the waiter Ouen bedded (and presumably got with child, though he claims to be unaware of this) a woman called Catherine, who I suppose must be Severian's mother. Katherine (with a K rather than C) features prominently in the rituals of the torturer's guild, though it is arguable whether this means any more than that K/Catherine is a common name. But maybe it's hinting that the guild provides a maternal holding environment for him as he is growing up as an orphan?

  • 2

    @RichardAbbott said:
    I also spotted that the waiter Ouen bedded (and presumably got with child, though he claims to be unaware of this) a woman called Catherine, who I suppose must be Severian's mother. Katherine (with a K rather than C) features prominently in the rituals of the torturer's guild, though it is arguable whether this means any more than that K/Catherine is a common name. But maybe it's hinting that the guild provides a maternal holding environment for him as he is growing up as an orphan?

    That's an interesting parallel! Well spotted.

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