Claw of the Conciliator: Chapters 10 to 12

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Severian and Jonas eat a special meal with Vodalus, which involves taking a drug from an alien creature, the alzebo, and consuming the flesh of Thecla. Jonas manages to hide the fact he does not partake, but Severian, due to the drug and ritual, absorbs Thecla's memories. And thanks to his peculiar memory, they're not going to fade.

Vodalus gives Severian the job of delivering a message to a servant in House Absolute, and Severian and Jonas head north on destriers provided. They are attacked by a flying shadow creature, the notule; Severian tricks the creature to attack and kill a nearby soldier instead.

Quick thoughts:

(*) I laughed out loud at the reveal that the destrier that Severian stole to go to the cave belonged to Vodalus.

(*) It's revealed in passing that one of the many things Severian is trying to accomplish is find Dorcas again. Something he mentioned to Jonas. So that's something.

Comments

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    Someone is gunning for Severian, and has powerful alien weapons at their disposal! Why does Severian matter so much? It must have something to do with his eventual accession to the Autarchy, right? Is he somehow in line for the throne? After all, we don't know who his parents might have been...but while he's been described as being of noble mien and somewhat tallish I think, he's not notably tall--and that seems to be a feature of the high aristocracy.
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    Hmmm.... I can think of a few possibilities...

    (1) He's working for Vodalus. Though one would have thought taking him captive might have been preferable.
    (2) He's carrying the Claw of the Conciliator. This seems the most likely, somehow.
    (3) Right, we know already he's going to eventually be Autarch, and that potentially requires some royal connection (though we don't know how the Autarchy is passed on from person to person). Maybe being tall but not so tall as an exultant suggests one of his parents was noble, the other a commoner.
    (4) I'll dismiss Agia as the cause for now, as I don't see how she has those resources unless she's allied with someone else powerful.

    Interesting stuff. And although it's a reread, I can't remember the answer- or even whether the answer became clear.

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    To recap some motives, here:

    Jonas desires to find Jolenta, and considers himself Serverian's friend.
    Severian wants to serve Vodalus (has been fascinated ever since Chapter 1 of Shadow, really), to go to Thrax to begin his new life to reconcile himself with his guild, to find Dorcas, to make peace with Agia, and to return the Claw to the pellerines.

    It is possible, though a stretch, that someone wants to prevent him from becoming Autarch. We've already met one traveller from the future. And yes, it's also possible that he's got a succession claim - someone might know who his parents are, or guess.

    To me right now it seems the simplest suggestion is that he's associated with the rebel, Vodalus, and that makes him a target.

    Something else in this chapter - The New Sun is referred to as a 'he' rather than an 'it'. It's not literally a New Sun, but that's a title, perhaps, or a nickname. This partially confirms something I began thinking a few chapters ago, or late in the last book; that the "The New Sun" sounds very much like "The New Son" - i.e. is the second coming of Christ.

  • 2
    Severian still has mixed motives, "'I have to do an errand for Vodalus'... I had no intention of performing it".

    I took the representation of Thecla that was eaten not to be her actual flesh (as I think you imply, @dr_mitch ) but rather a kind of effigy made from ordinary stuff, then energised psychically by the alzabo. That aside, the description of how Thecla's thoughts and memories are brought alive for him are exquisite.

    I found the flying heat-seeking creatures (notules, I think) fascinating. It is as though they are the original fuligin on which the garments of his own guild are modelled. Like the notules, the torturers fasten on the life of the victim and suck it out. But it's not clear that the notules are driven by anything except animal instinct, whereas the torturers ought to have human empathy and sensitivity.

    Finally, what a dense statement of that world's history and philosophy... "I lifted my sword to Heaven then, to the diminished sun with the worm in his heart, and I called, 'His life for mine, New Sun, by your anger and my hope!'"
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    If found the exposition of motives was a useful recap. And after all that time searching for Vodalus and pledging to follow him, Severian's first independent act is to tell us that he won't fulfil Vodalus's command. I wonder why?

    I was also amused by Vodalus complaining that someone had stolen his destrier.

    The state of the roads was interesting. The description of them as being fallow, grassed strips indicates that no one is using them, not even the state. It's another example of an ossified tradition that doesn't seem to serve any useful purpose any more.

    Was the notule a deliberate assassination attempt, a warning, or just a random bit of dangerous fauna?

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    My current theory is that the grave robbing suggests the eating of the flesh is at least somewhat literal, though the amount of actual, um, meat, might be very much diluted. In any case, I certainly don't blame Jonas for avoiding eating, There's also the issue that Vodalus is willing to break such a taboo for his cause- though arguably that's only going to unite his followers more closely.

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    I also thought the notule might be the model for the executioners' cloaks. And I also took the eating of the flesh literally. He's missing the drinking of blood though!

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    @NeilNjae said:
    The state of the roads was interesting. The description of them as being fallow, grassed strips indicates that no one is using them, not even the state. It's another example of an ossified tradition that doesn't seem to serve any useful purpose any more.

    Well, it gives the cavalry something to do...

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    @clash_bowley said:
    I also thought the notule might be the model for the executioners' cloaks. And I also took the eating of the flesh literally. He's missing the drinking of blood though!

    Your comment made me think a lot about the possible connection to communion (Eucharist or Mass in Catholic terms, which I presume Gene Wolfe would think in). In many ways the consumption of Thecla (whether her real body or not) is indeed a parallel of communion, since it was carried out for the express purpose of remembering her and (at least for those who had know her in life) to in some sense bring her and the memory of her back to life.

    I realised that my reading of this passage was at least partly conditioned by my own acquaintance with Protestant practice, hence (I suspect) my assumption that the body was "not really" Thecla, but only a symbolic representation of her which attained meaning by virtue of the context rather than the substance.

    Gene Wolfe, however would surely have had a more Catholic perspective, in which the body "really becomes" in some sense the body of the person concerned. Which brings me back to your comment, since more traditional forms of Catholic celebration often don't include wine being drunk by the congregation, only the priest. There is a whole theology behind this, to do with the doctrine that either part (bread and wine / body and blood) is as effective as both together. More liberal and more progressive congregations, especially after the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, typically do take both substances, but many older people are more used to the older pattern where most people take bread only.

    Did Gene Wolfe have all this in mind? Hard to say, unless anyone has some insider information, but it is certainly a possibility.

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    edited June 21

    Yes, I was referring to the eucharist when I mentioned drinking the blood. I did not realize that some Catholic churches do not share the wine. Now it makes more sense! It was very definitely a eucharist to my mind!

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    @dr_mitch said:
    My current theory is that the grave robbing suggests the eating of the flesh is at least somewhat literal, though the amount of actual, um, meat, might be very much diluted.

    Yes, I got the impression that it was the flesh of the corpse that "primed" the alzabo

    There's also the issue that Vodalus is willing to break such a taboo for his cause- though arguably that's only going to unite his followers more closely.

    I'm not so sure that the cannibalism was as much as a taboo for Severian as it is for us readers. He was revulsed for a moment in the forest, but no-one seemed to have much of a problem at the actual feast.

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    "If you kill anyone, make sure to eat their heart, to gain their courage! Their rich, tasty courage..." — Professor Farnsworth, Futurama

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    edited August 30

    Finally catching up on my lexicography...

    LEXICON

    (Speaking of Chatelaine Thea): "At times a shaft of sunlight fell upon her face, which, if it chanced to be in profile, suggested Thecla's so strongly that the sight of it seemed to tear at my chest. She had Thecla's walk, as well, the proud phororhacos stalk that should never have been caged." p272

    Phororhacos: Extinct patagonian bird, perhaps more correctly called Phorusrhacos.


    CHATELAINE THEA: "Do you know of the analeptic alzabo?"
    SEVERIAN: "No, Chatelaine, but I have heard tales of the animal of that name. It is said it can speak, and that it comes by night to a house where a child has died, and cries to be let in."
    THEA: "That animal was brought from the stars long ago, as were many other things for the benefit of Urth. It is a beast having no more intelligence than a dog, and perhaps less. But it is a devourer of carrion and a clawer at graves, and when it has fed upon human flesh it knows, at least for a time, the speech and the ways of human beings. The analeptic alzabo is prepared from a gland at the base of the animal's skull. Do you understand me?"
    When she had gone, Jonas would not look at me, nor I at his face; we both knew what feast it was we were to attend that night. pp273-274

    Analeptic: A restorative drug
    Alzabo: A made up word, but seeming to be from the Spanish verb alzar meaning both to 'raise' and 'to snatch', perhaps from an Arabic root word meaning 'wolf'. A clever play on words, then - to 'snatch' (or to Wolfe?) a personality or their memories.

    Incidentally, Alzabo Soup is a podcast "where we literally become our favourite authors be devouring portions of their brains". I think they mean 'figuratively' but whatever. Linky-poo: Alzabo Soup


    "You have your sword, Severian, and I have a knife, but Vodalus's (sic) men will have bows. I noticed that most of those who sat at the table with us did. We can try to hid behind the trunks like allouates..."
    I understood what he meant, and said, "Allouattes are shot every day". p.275

    Allouate: French for Howler Monkey.
    Not to be confused with Alouette, which is french for skylark and the subject of a famous folk song.


    The men Vodalus sent for us came more quickly still; four burly fellows who might have been peasants and carried berdiches, and a fifth, with something of the armiger about him, who wore an officers spadroon.

    Berdiche: Variant spelling of 'bardiche', a renaissance period pole-axe (as anyone who read the original DMG will know).

    Spadroon: A light, straight, sword.


    VODALUS: "I've a fellow there (i.e. The House Absolute) to whom I must transmit certain instructions, and I have learned that the troupe of players to which you once belonged will be admitted there to make a thiasus a few days hence. You will rejoin them and take the opportunity to give what I shall give you," he fumbled in his tunic, "to the one who shall say to you, 'The pelagic argosy sights land.' And should he give you any message in return, you may entrust it to whoever says to you, 'I am from the quercine penetralia.' "
    SEVERIAN: "Liege," I said, "my head is swimming." p.278

    Thiasus: A festival to celebrate one of the gods - or more technically the group of people assembled to do so.
    Pelagic: From the open sea
    Argosy: A merchant fleet (named after the Argo)
    Pelagic argosy - fleet from the open sea.

    Quecine: Oaken, from Quercus, the genus for oak.
    Penetralia: The inner sanctum, or inner section; also means hidden.
    Quercine penetralia, therefore, might mean 'heart of oak'.


    The fluting notes of a upanga sounded from the trees behind the farther side of the circle. p.279

    Upanga: A nose flute. Also a Swahili sword, though context gives us the first meaning here.


    The Notules (title of Ch. 12), p. 281

    Notule: A little note. I found a reference to the Japanese edition of the Lexicon Urthus which claims a notule is specifically a 'note from the wind god' which makes a lot more sense, here.


    I reined sharply away from the river, fearing a bolt from the uhlan's lance at any moment.

    Uhlan: A Prussian light cavalryman with a lance.

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