Shadow of the Torturer chapters 17 to 20


Sorry this is late- there was lots going on at home, and now I'm relaxing in between moving items of furniture.

Summary: The rag shop is owned by a twin brother and sister. The brother takes a keen interest in the sword, Terminus Est, and seeks to buy it. In the shop, Severian is challenged by a masked hipparch to a duel- with a particular kind of poisonous flower, the avern.

Severian goes off with Agia (the sister) to the Botanic Gardens to pick his avern for the duel. On the way, they hire a fiacre, which as a result of a bet Agia makes crashes into an altar of the Pelerines, a religious order who worship the figure of the Conciliator. The Pelerine's treasure goes missing- they believe Severian when he says he knows nothing of it (perhaps having some reliable means to ascertain his honesty) but strip search Agia.

The two then visit the jungle garden in the Botanic Gardens. Severian recalls a tale Thecla told him of Father Inire and his Mirrors.


  • 1

    And thoughts:

    (*) Severian seems to be mainly reacting to events, with a few arbitrary decisions as he understandably doesn't trust Agia's suggestions. He's out of his depth.

    (*) It seems pretty clear that Agia took the treasure of Pelerines and planted it on Severian. The Claw of the Conciliator. A jewel. But was the crash and theft completely opportunistic?

    (*) It also seems likely that Severian has been set up in the duel, perhaps because he wouldn't sell the sword to Agia's brother.

    (*) There's a strong implication that Severian and Thecla were intimate. This wasn't mentioned in the account of when Thecla was prisoner- a sign, I think, that Severian leaves gaps as a narrator. Or is it something else?

    (*) The Botanic Gardens and the Mirrors...a way to stretch space and call up reflections of past times?

    (*) Wherever the novel takes place, it's in the southern's warmer to the north, with jungles (or at least there were jungles before the sun cooled; they're now struggling).

  • 1

    Yes, it's very picaresque with lots of things happening to Severian without him having any real say in it. There was me, thinking he'd be doing something after he'd left the guild, but he's still just reacting to events.

    The duel is interesting. The use of the flower is intriguing. I thought it was set up by the Torturers' Guild, as a way of killing Severian without them taking direct responsibility for it.

    The whole thing with the Pelerines and the Claw seemed to me to be "laying pipe" for later events, especially given the titles of later books! But apart from that, it seems just another random event. There were also multi-page chunks of exposition, "let me tell you a story" that seemed to be there purely to educate the reader rather than any in-fiction motivation.

  • 2
    edited April 2019

    I thought the Thecla he had relations with was the prostitute 'replica' Thecla.

    They strapped roller skates on Severian's feet and pushed him down a hill. He still hasn't done anything since Thecla's death.

  • 1

    And shouldn't the title of this be "chapters 17-20"? I assumed this was the same as the post from last week originally.

  • 1
    > @clash_bowley said:
    > And shouldn't the title of this be "chapters 17-20"? I assumed this was the same as the post from last week originally.

    Yes it should. Corrected. I can't count.
  • 2
    One interesting touch with Father Inire's mirrors-- without rubbing it in, it was a story within a story within a story.
  • 0
    I am finding the narrative gaps bizarre, and keep wondering if they are deliberate or just show poor reconstruction after editing (which can happen to anyone).

    For example, the issue @dr_mitch mentioned about whether Severian and Thecla were intimate (in her cell??? I don't buy the substitute Thecla story). Also, we read "Her gown had been torn by a branch, exposing one breast. The incident had left her in no good mood." But what incident? What branch? There were none in the Sand Garden, and they have only just stepped into the Jungle Garden.

    I get that we are being told about this all as flashback - we are explicitly reminded just before those lines - and that Gene Wolfe wants to keep us disoriented... but the writing feels incomplete to me. As mentioned, I can't work out if it is writer's intention or just editing done in too much haste, and the latter possibility keeps throwing me out of the fantasy.
  • 1
    Oh, the gaps are definitely deliberate. Severian does not lie, but he leaves things out. He's sometimes wrong with his surmises. For me some of that is coming together on this read.
  • 2

    @dr_mitch said:
    Yes it should. Corrected. I can't count.

    More evidence for the old maxim, LOL.

    I was surprised nobody commented on the death of Gene Wolfe in the other thread when @NeilNjae pointed it out. I don't think we've ever had an author die in the middle of our discussion before, though I think LeGuin died just before one.

    Some thoughts:

    On reliable narration:
    On the matter of unreliable narration, on page 113 Severian tells Agia "...if I had known I could spend my life so easily and so soon, I would not - probably - have done it." Is this one of the gaps in the narration? Done what? One presumes he means giving Thecla the knife - but then when he did that, he knew full well that his death might be a consequence. At least in the interview with Master Palaemon, he seemed prepared for the possibility. So either he's talking about another incident, or he's somehow become less fatalistic over the past what - day and a half?

    Some worldbuilding:
    The discussion of the Claw of the Concilliator grabbed me, and especially for me of the Concilliator himself. At one point, Agia says "...Our knowledge of him now is purely historical - meaning that we either confirm or deny that he was in contact with our race in the remote past." In other words, he's not of our race, but may have been in contact with it - the implication being he was an alien.

    The Pelerines, who (until recently) kept the Claw, "are an order of conventionals... The red is for the descending light of the New Sun, and they descend on landowners, travelling around the country with their cathedral and seizing enough to set it up." This evokes to me all kinds of images of some flying pirate cathedral that rapes the countryside as it moves about. On the other hand, it needs to be 'set up', so perhaps it's more like a big tent, a travelling religious revival.

    That old SF speculation:
    Also very interesting was the metaphysics of the mirrors, each set up to reflect the light of the other ad infinitum. And what happens when you remove the object? Do the mirrors continue to reflect the reflection of the object from the other mirror even when the object is gone, and in so doing create a void in our universe that calls in an object from another? I'm very curious to see how this develops. I'm also now much more inclined to see this as a Sci-Fi book as @Bill_White suggested it was in the first chapters.

  • 2
    edited April 2019

    ANNOTATION - chapter 17

    She wore a pavonine brocade gown of amazing richness and raggedness, and as I watched her, the sun touched a rent just below her waist, turning the skin there to the palest gold. P.106

    Pavonine: Peacock-like.

    "Yes, very fine. Soft. Wool-like, yet softer, much softer. A blend of linen and vicuna?" p.107

    Vicuna: A thin-necked cameloid of the Andes, related to a llama.

    He nodded. "It's like encountering a psychopomp. Can I ask why you're in this quarter of the city?" p.108

    Psychopomp: Literally 'guide of souls' in Greek. An angel or spirit that guides the soul of a recently departed to the underworld. The forthcoming book, Mythic Babylon, offers a much more dire description of a psychopomp - one that perhaps more closely resembles those of Urth. Author @dr_mitch writes:

    "The Gallu (Constable) Demons are in the service of the underworld. Their main purpose is to drag souls to the underworld when it is their time to go, and to prevent them from escaping. They also take the fruit of animal sacrifices and burnt offerings back the underworld. The natural shape of a Galla demon is hulking and bull-headed, similar to that of the Kusarikku. However, they have the power to change shape, assuming the form of any victim they have previously dragged to the underworld. In that way, they can pass to the surface world to perform their tasks without attracting excessive attention. In spite of this, they are thoroughly inhuman, with no understanding of the needs and habits of living people. Gallu Demons were birthed by Temtu, the primaeval sea.

    "You've been challeneged. You're called out."
    "To monomachy? Impossible. I'm not of the contending class."
    His shrug was more eloquent than words. "You'll have to fight, or they'll have you assassinated." p.108

    Monomachy: The meaning is fairly easily inferred here - a duel. From Greek - 'alone' + 'fight'.

    And what is the 'contending class' - a social class, or a guild of sorts?

    "I must stay here to look after things, but I'll send my sister to help you get your avern. She has gone to the Sanguinary Field, so perhaps she can also teach you the rudiments of combat with it."

    Avern: Some further reading of the text teases this out as a plant. It's not the name of a real plant, however. Looking around, Averne was 'the pit of hell', and also the name of a poisonous river that was said to flow from it. So one presumes it will be a poisonous barbed plant. I remember once playing a dungeon-crawling computer game called Avernum: Escape from the Pit.

    Disguising himself, he ventured into the countryside, where he spied a muni meditating beneath a plane tree. The Autarch joined him and sat with his back to the trunk until Urth had begun to spurn the sun. Troopers bearing an oriflamme galloped past, a merchant drove a mule staggering under gold, a beautiful woman rode the shoulders of eunuchs, and at last a dog trotted through the dust. Ymar rose and followed the dog, laughing.

    Muni: A Jain or Buddhist ascetic who has take a vow of silence.
    Oriflamme: The red silk banner of St Denis, carried into war by French kings. Literally 'goldflame'.

    Also, what do you make of this passage? A bit of Confucianism, or Christian wisdom? Wolfe himself was Catholic.

  • 1
    It's a fascinating passage. There's a merger of something which reads as Confucian or Buddhist, mixed with the militant Christian symbolism of the oriflamme. Another interesting thing is Severian comparing himself with the Autarch in that enigmatic paragraph.
  • 1

    He does say he's telling the story of his 'predecessor' which fairly confirms he will become Autarch. He also begins by saying "It has been a long time (twice I have heard the guard changed outside my study door" since I wrote the lines you read only a moment before."

    Are the guards keeping others out of his study, or keeping him in, I wonder.

  • 1
    edited April 2019

    ANNOTATION - chapter 18

    "Well, high Hypogeon help you. We'll have to go to the Botanic Garden to begin with and cut you an avern." p.112

    Hypogeum means literally 'underground'. The high Hypogeon is what - the Dungeon Master?

    A fiacre drawn by a pair of onagers was dodging toward us... The fiacre drew up to her with the skittish animals dancing to one side as though she were a thyacine, and she vaulted in. p.112

    Onagers: Asiatic wild ass, similar to a donkey, and notoriously hard to tame, with a very hard kick. The romans named a siege engine after it.

    Thyacine: Can't find a record of this word anywhere, but I wonder if it's meant to be Thylacine, which is the (now extinct) Tasmanian Tiger. That usage would fit, here.

    Incidentally, a search for this word leads me to this book: Attending Daedalus: Gene Wolfe, Artifice and the Reader by Peter Wright

    "I think I there's allspice pounded into the mortar. At least, I think I smell something of that sort from it."
    "The mensal of the monachs. Do you know you are a frightening man?"

    For this, I had to turn to Gene himself, who wrote a book called Castle of Days: Short Fiction and Essays which has his own lexicon. He confirms Thyacine as meaning 'Tasmanian Wolf', though he's misspelled it, as apparently he did Onagers in an early edition (it's spelled correctly in mine).

    Anyway, a Mensal is a place supplying a monthly rent, and a Monach is a monk.

    Other words he has there:
    Metamynodon: Hornless rhinoceros
    Pelerines: Long capes with tassels. The order takes their name from the garment.

  • 0
    A couple of things to add to my earlier comment:
    1. The reflected light thing sounds like a really cool idea for an FTL drive that is very different from other ideas I have read. On the whole I suspect that the idea of mirrors will repeat a lot (as it should LOL).
    2. It struck me that even though a lot of narrative time has passed, and so we assume that he has travelled a long way, in actual fact he can still see where he started! I think that his ride to the gardens probably involved doubling back on himself.

    Also, @Apocryphal said "the Concilliator himself... [is] not of our race, but may have been in contact with it - the implication being he was an alien." Not necessarily - Conciliator could be another title for Christ as Redeemer, given Gene Wolfe's own views. One can imagine this being a way in which the Christian theological position of the dual human/divine nature of Christ might have evolved through the ages.
  • 1
    @RichardAbbott Good point re: Christ vs being an alien, though the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
  • 1

    He is playing games with time. There are gaps in his narrative, especially in the Botanical gardens, and they are deliberate. Amusing himself at our expense...

    I am positive @RichardAbbott is correct and the Concilliator is Christ. It fits theologically.

  • 1
    To be fair to Severian, it sounds like in the Botanic Gardens it's very easy to lose track of time. Not just in the time spent there, but in the "what year is it?" sense. There's sort of a pun. The jungle garden seems larger than it could possibly be because of tricks with mirrors, but not just ordinary trickery, more the Father Inire sort of trickery.
  • 1

    I get the impression that Severian wasn't aware of the time passing in the desert garden. At least, that's the impression i get from how he reacts to Agia telling him how long they'd spent there.

  • 2
    edited April 2019

    @NeilNjae said:
    I get the impression that Severian wasn't aware of the time passing in the desert garden. At least, that's the impression i get from how he reacts to Agia telling him how long they'd spent there.

    YES! EXACTLY! Not that he lost track of time, but that he had NO MEMORY of anything happening! My impression also! And Severian says he has perfect memory...

  • 2

    ANNOTATION - chapters 19 and 20

    We were walking on grass now, and I saw that the tent-cathedral had been pitched on a champian surrounded by semi-fortified houses; its insubstantial belfries looked down upon their parapets. p.118

    Champian - a plain, or large expanse of flat land. Confirmation here that the Pelerines cathedral is indeed a big tent.

    "We turn at this corner, Severian, you may see the head of the stair, if you'll look, there where the statues of the eponyms stand. p.119

    Eponym: Those who have given their names to something (a tribe, or a town).

    Interesting bit of ancient history: The temporal rule of the city of Assur (capital of Assyria) was held by a series of officials called Limmu - a title which is usually translated into English as 'Eponym'. This is because each Limmu held the position for a year, and each year was named after the Limmu that held the position. This differs from other kingdoms of the period, in which years were named after some achievement of the sitting king (i.e "The Year Hammurabi made a throne [for the god] Nabu"). In Assur, the god Assur was considered to be the king, so the city had no native king - though it was sometimes ruled by a foreign king. The kingdom of Assur was named after the city, which in turn is named after the god, so it was no stranger to eponymous names.

    "Haven't you seen those pictures in which a pietist exhibits a meditating face when you're on one side of the room, but stares at you when you cross to the opposite wall? p.124

    Piestist: A 17th c. religious reformer in germany who sought to revive declining piety.

    Specula was mentioned often in this chapter. Wolfe himself describes this as "magical or scientific mirrors."

  • 1
    Of course speculum is the Latin word for mirror.
  • 2

    Specere = To Look
    Speculum = A mirror, a tool for looking at yourself
    Speculative Fiction = Fiction that holds a mirror to society (or at least allows the authors to admire themselves?)

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    Specere = To Look
    Speculum = A mirror, a tool for looking at yourself
    Speculative Fiction = Fiction that holds a mirror to society (or at least allows the authors to admire themselves?)

    According to Etymology Online, the English verb "speculate" was a late 16th century back-formation from the noun speculation, which itself is attested from the 14th century. The root of that (apparently) is Latin speculari, from specere but with the particular sense of "observe" rather than just "look at".

    The other, financial, sense of speculate - invest money upon risk for the sake of profit - doesn't appear until the late 18th century. It's a moot point, I guess, which variation of speculate ought to be considered the root of speculative fiction...

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    It's a moot point, I guess, which variation of speculate ought to be considered the root of speculative fiction...

    Certainly not the financial sense. Nobody actually makes real money writing it! :wink:

Sign In or Register to comment.