Shadow of the Torturer chapters 21 to 24

1

More meandering in the gardens. Severian witnesses people and an aeroplane from the past. Going to cut the avern, he encounters a man searching for the body of his wife Cas, a ferryman, nearly drowns as he is grasped by the hands of one of the dead bodies beneath the water, and takes up company with an amnesiac woman, Dorcas, who comes out of nowhere.

(Reminder: next time we only read the next 3 chapters).

Comments

  • 1

    Things which are clear to me on this read, but which aren't spelled out.

    Severian has the Claw of the Conciliator on his person. One of its powers is resurrection,,,and contacting a dead body in the depths resurrects her. That's Dorcas. She's the same person as Cas, who the old man, her husband, has been seeking for a very long time. Why does he want the body? Reburial? Absorbing memories? Something else?

    On another note, I'm sure the resemblance to the Dead Marshes in Lord of the Rings is more than coincidence.

  • 1

    @dr_mitch said:
    Things which are clear to me on this read, but which aren't spelled out.

    Severian has the Claw of the Conciliator on his person. One of its powers is resurrection,,,and contacting a dead body in the depths resurrects her. That's Dorcas. She's the same person as Cas, who the old man, her husband, has been seeking for a very long time. Why does he want the body? Reburial? Absorbing memories? Something else?

    Yes, this was pretty obvious.

    On another note, I'm sure the resemblance to the Dead Marshes in Lord of the Rings is more than coincidence.

    Didn't think about that, but on reflection, I agree.

  • 1

    I didn't remember (or notice) that the claw had the power of resurrection, so I didn't make this connection when reading this chapter, but knowing it improves my reading greatly. I suspected Dorcas was Cas, but thought that was too coincidental. The power of Resurrection explains much. And it begs the question of what might happen to Severian in the duel should he lose - will he be autorrected by the claw?

    These four chapters otherwise feel like a bunch of largely nonsensical non-sequitors, with throw-away characters like the philosophers in the tower. Agia seems rather constantly annoyed, and I'm rather more inclined to think this is a set-up on her part.

    Notice that in the first of these four chapters, someone refers to the "Theoanthropos" - the god man - meaning Jesus Christ I'm sure. So either "The Theoanthropos" is another name for "The Conciliator", or the Conciliator isn't Jesus. Perhaps time will tell.

  • 0
    These chapters seem to me to be heavily laced with biblical references, as well as Theoanthropos.
    The passage read in the Jungle Garden house is the death of Moses (Mount Nebo, overlooking the Jordan Valley, recounted at the start of Deuteronomy). Dorcas appears in Acts 9 ("In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas)") - she dies and is resurrected by Peter. Is Severian being put in parallel with Peter?
    Meanwhile Agia as a name surely comes from Greek hagios ("holy", or "set apart"). Is she being set up as a Virgin/Mother Mary figure?
  • 2
    edited April 26

    I completely missed the Cas/Dorcas resurrection thing, so thanks everyone for bringing that up!

    The encounter in the jungle hut, and the viewing of the plane, reinforced the "adrift from time" theme that's been building up, and emphasised by the encounter in the desert garden. Did anyone else think it odd that the hut's occupants basically ignored Severian during their theological conversation? It gave me the impression of a couple of living-history park workers staying in character for the punters.

    Severian tried to make contact with Hildegrin about Vodalus, but was (unsurprisingly) rebuffed. I wonder what will come of this?

    I was a bit disappointed by the avern. It's just a club-like thing with detachable sharp bits. Apart from the fact it's a plant, it's all rather mundane. I was expecting something rather more baroque, such as perception-altering pollen, or nectar that induced convulsions. (ETA: the image of Severian holding it aloft on a pole, like a military standard, as a nice one.)

    Again, my overall impression of these chapters is aimless picaresque wandering through the author's lovingly-detailed fantasy heartbreaker world. If this were an RPG, I'd be sat fiddling with my phone and wondering how I could leave without causing too much offence. I've got a higher tolerance for exposition in a book, but I do hope that Severian starts getting to do something soon.

  • 0

    btw, in Deuteronomy 34 the word represented in Shadow of the Torturer ch21 as "The Compassionating" is the divine name YHWH, typically regarded as coming from the verb to be and hence with root meaning something like "the existing one".

  • 2

    So far, @NeilNjae is making all my comments for me. :smile:

  • 1

    I ought to say that, despite my issues with the pace of the book, I'm enjoying this read. The world we're exploring is rich and interesting, and Wolfe is a good craftsman with an engaging writing style.

    And a question: do people think the biblical references described by @RichardAbbott are an integral part of the plot, are they deliberate allusion to the eternal truth of Christianity, or are they references well-known to the author that are brought in to give an impression of depth to the world?

  • 1

    ANNOTATION - Chapters 21-24

    Gowdalie: An Australian Aboriginal fishing spear
    Oreodont: Extinct four-toed ruminating hog
    Hesperon: Creataceous diving bird


    "There is no fear for those who wear the sign of the Proud One! His breath is the mist that hides the infant uakaris from the claws of the margay.... The Proud One knows Isangoma loves the Preceptress. He would save her if he could."
    "Save me from what? Do you think there's one of your dreadful beasts here? If there were, Robert would shoot it with his gun."
    "The tokoloshe, Preceptress. The tokoloshe come. But the Proud One in his condensation will protect us. He is the mighty commander of all tokoloshe! When he roars, they hide beneath the fallen leaves."
    "Robert, I think hes lost his mind."
    "He has eyes, Marie, and you don't."

    Uakari: A rather spooky looking New World monkey (see above)
    Margay: Small central and south American wildcat
    Isangoma: Here a personal name, one of the three people in the hut. The word refers to a South African witch doctor.
    Preceptress: Either a school head mistress or the head of a precept of knights. In any case, here a title for the woman named Marie. Robert is a Preceptor.
    Tokoloshe: (more correctly Tikoloshe) - mischievous spirit in southern African folklore taking the form of a short little man, living in the water, and being friendly to children

    Later, Isangoma says:

    "When man think bad thought or woman do bad thing, there is another tokoloshe. He stay behind. Man think: No one know, everyone dead. But tokoloshe remain until the end of the world. Then everyone will see, know what that man did."

    Is there some foreshadowing here - are Severian and Agia the tokoloshe of the deeds of Robert and Marie, or do Robert and Marie exist in the future, where they are visited by Severian's spirit at the end of the world? At the end of the world, will everyone see "what that man did"?


    Anacrisis: The stage of a trial in which all the evidence is presented.


    I must have rested there at least as long as it takes to say the angelus, and perhaps longer.

    Angelus: a Catholic devotion commemorating the Incarnation.


    "Give him time," the big man said. "He'll be all right soon enough." And then, "Who in Phlegethon are you?"
    He was looking at the girl, who seemed as dazed as I felt.

    Phlegethon: One of the five rivers in the infernal regions of the underworld, along with the rivers Styx, Lethe, Cocytus, and Acheron. Phlegethon is a flaming river.

  • 1

    @NeilNjae said:
    And a question: do people think the biblical references described by @RichardAbbott are an integral part of the plot, are they deliberate allusion to the eternal truth of Christianity, or are they references well-known to the author that are brought in to give an impression of depth to the world?

    Interesting question - I suspect they are an Easter egg, rather than something integral to the plot. But that said, I can't help but feel that knowing them makes the plot that much easier to parse, so thanks to @RichardAbbott once again for his contributions!

  • 0

    Hi all, a point of curiosity here. Way back before we even began the reading, @dr_mitch said "...the author makes deliberate use of archaic words to invoke an exotic effect, and they're deliberately obscure ones. He does this rather than inventing words for strange and alien concepts, and for me it adds to the atmosphere..."

    Now we are a few chapters in I wonder if anyone has any thoughts about this? @Apocryphal has been very diligent at giving us a lexicon each week, which has been great. In a lot of cases I think that many, perhaps most of the exotic words could be guessed at - I can't remember any that are truly central to the plot, but they act (I think) as background colouring. In the long quote from Ursula LeGuin in that same intro thread, we find "...Wolfe relies merely on the strangeness of English—rather than creating a new language, like Elven or Klingon—he nonetheless dredges up some truly obscure words..." - but again I find myself wondering why he chose to do this. Maybe to deliberately slow readers down? Or (as we have speculated before) to give a sense of ancientry to the world and hence implicitly suggest a far future?

    Re the biblical references, my suspicion is that they are integral to the plot, though not in as overt a way as say CS Lewis used in Narnia. And Gene Wolfe is clearly comfortable with evolving and adapting Christian themes and biblical texts to accommodate the presumably vast passage of time between now and then. For example, the title series strongly suggests Revelation 21.1 "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea"... though we are a lot of months from seeing how that pans out.

  • 1

    I think for me, it's less a sense of exoticism this time round, and more a sense of archaicism. The world does feel ancient, with layers upon layers of tradition and cultures forgotten and distorted, at times almost comprehensible, with parts of it obsolete, serving a mostly forgotten purpose.

    And the language plays its part. Such as most (perhaps all) the Guilds in the Citadel.

    In terms of the Biblical references....I think I see some deliberate parallels, and some things just there to give a sense of depth- and continuity, as surely the religion of the Conciliator is some sort of successor to Christianity. But I think there are Christian themes in the story- certainly not remotely to the extent of C.S. Lewis, but maybe to the extent of J.R.R. Tolkien, albeit in a very different way.

    It's interesting the pace of this read...I'm being forced this time through to concentrate on parts I maybe skimmed more than I should have done last time through.

    The people in the jungle hut felt more like images (or reflections, continuing the mirror analogy) than people who were really there and who Severian could interact with. But it's not something I understand yet. And neither Severian nor Agia understand it (indeed, Agia doesn't appear to much care).

  • 2
    Robert and Marie are clearly phantoms from the 20th century, as is suggested by their names and their (to Severian) primitive supply plane, not ghosts from Severian's future. Their significance is not really clear to me either, but I think the dislocated and mysteriousness dreaminess of Severian's interactions with them may be partly a little authorial sleight of hand so that Dorcas's strangeness doesn't come across as too outlandish.
  • 2

    If Bob & Marie are phantoms from the 20th C., then Severian and Agia would seem to be their tokoloshes - phantoms of their own past actions now visiting them in the future. There seems to be a lot of meaning buried here, but it's hard to extract.

    Regarding @RichardAbbott 's question about the lexicon, my feeling is that it's a bit of both - archaisms and exoticisms. If he was just reaching for archaisms, he could have stuck to Latin or Greek, which would have given a quite different feel to the book. But he's purposefully thrown in references to things from all over the world, as well as from the past. This leaves me with the impression of the setting being an ancient melting pot. Most of the titles are Greek or Roman, suggesting an old societal infrastructure, into which more modern things from all over the world have been imported. It's Byzantine, right?

    I think it's right that the meaning of most of this vocabulary can be inferred, and I don't look up the words until just before posting. Knowing what they mean adds a layer of understanding, I find, but it's not critical. Wolfe himself misspelled quite a few and only loosely defined others, so I don't think he too them too seriously - neither should we.

    I've been looking at interviews and reviews and found this bit from a Conceptual Fiction Review I thought was interesting:

    But the biggest challenge here is the final layer of symbolism. Make no mistake, almost everything in this work, even small incidents, begs for a philosophical or metaphysical interpretation. I have devised my own theory of these books, and if it is correct, they address profound issues on the nature of evil, the path of atonement, and the legitimacy of power. But in almost every instance, the web of symbols here is open-ended, inviting discourse rather than closing it off.

    This feels correct. In an interview with MIT Technology Review Wolfe says: "In The Book of the New Sun, I wanted to show a man who was raised to do terrible things and who reforms himself from inside."

  • 0
    I'll go back to the advice I called out at the start, namely not to stop and look things up. Infer meaning, even if it's slightly wrong. The characters in the book, including Severian, seem often slightly wrong too.

    On the other hand looking things up between weeks (or reading Chris's excellent posts) adds a lot to the experience.

    And as for the mix... it does give an Illusion of layers of different antique cultures, some more dominant than others.
  • 2

    @Bill_White said:
    Robert and Marie are clearly phantoms from the 20th century, as is suggested by their names and their (to Severian) primitive supply plane, not ghosts from Severian's future.

    In passing, I rather enjoyed the snide comments about a race that hadn't realised that the plane's lift could come from the body shape and need not come from its wings

Sign In or Register to comment.