Shadow of the Torturer
January 27, 2008 7:43 AM   Subscribe

In Shadow of the Torturer, what's with...

The secret of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence that Master Palaemon whispers to Severian, and that "he never revealed to anyone, save once"?

The dream where Severian rides a giant bat-thing over the ocean and falls off, landing midst some weird mer-kingdom?

The myth of the Conciliator in general?

The hut in the jungle garden housing a couple of spectral 19th century Frenchmen?

"You are my mother come again" in the secret note to Dorcas?

The enormous building that appears briefly in the sky above Nessus as Severian and Dorcas are walking back from the Sanguinary Fields? Is it a spacecraft, do you think?
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you read the rest of the series? At least one of those is explained by The Citadel of the Autarch. The rest, well ... it's been a while since I read these books. Time to reread them, I think.
posted by mcwetboy at 7:52 AM on January 27, 2008

Its been years since I read the book, all I can say is read it again, slowly.

Dorcas was drowned years earlier, the claw brought her back to life, If I recall, the note was just that, a note, it led to Severian's realizing "how" he'd found Dorcas.

Did you read all the books? I think he talks about the Conciliator more in book 2.
posted by Max Power at 7:53 AM on January 27, 2008

Response by poster: No, I've only just started on the second. Quite a lot of the events in Shadow seemed more offhand than hints at a greater whole, so I wasn't sure whether they'd be more thoroughly explained later.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 8:04 AM on January 27, 2008

Much is explained later, some isn't. But a large chunk of the weirdness of the narrative exists to shock you out of a naive reading and taking Severian's story at face value.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:38 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

A lot of this and more is discussed at length in the voluminous archives of the Urth mailing list. If you can get past the stylistic preciousness of some of the major contributors it's quite an interesting resource.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:57 AM on January 27, 2008

How odd...I'm reading these right now as well. I'm part-way through book 4.

Still not sure what the torturers' secret is.

The dream gets explained much more in book 3.

The conciliator's story is drawn out across all the books, with a brief gloss in book 2 and more in 3 and 4.

Through where I am in book 4, Severian remains firm in his belief that the people in the jungle-hut were other visitors to the garden, entranced by Father Inire's magic. However, because of a number of sci-fi elements that get played up more in the intervening books, I'm not sure whether or not to trust him on that.

The note is partially explained in book 2, but Dorcas gives a much, much fuller explanation in the middle of book 3. You've already been given spoilers on that, unfortunately.

I might be wrong on this, but I believe the flying building they saw was the Pelerine's.

Reading book 1, it really appeared like a lot of stuff was there only for ambiance or throw-away mentions to add the illusion of depth to the story. But almost everything seems to come back, and very little is what it seems.
posted by jbrjake at 11:29 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

And there's the whole issue with Severian being a very unreliable narrator, which makes this complicated story even more so. I just reread this book for book club, and still find much of it confusing.
posted by purenitrous at 11:34 AM on January 27, 2008

No, I've only just started on the second. Quite a lot of the events in Shadow seemed more offhand than hints at a greater whole, so I wasn't sure whether they'd be more thoroughly explained later.

There's an enormous amount of foreshadowing in those books, as encapsulated in the very first sentence of the first book.

Most of the questions you've asked are answered definitively by the end of the books (with the possible exception of the people in the garden) although you will probably have to go back and read the whole thing again to understand how everything fits together.

Basically, what appear to be offhand comments are actually part of an extremely meticulously constructed four part novel. Keep reading and don't spoil it for yourself.
posted by tkolar at 1:39 PM on January 27, 2008

Yeah, what others said. Keep reading, and then when you finish, go back and do it again. I've read the books probably 4 or 5 times since they came out, and I keep finding little bits that knit together for me. Certainly one of the greatest books (in the sense of the whole story) of the genre, one of my all-time favorites of any genre. The rewards are rich for persevering.

I would say that though much is explained, much is also not, and that's the way it ought to be. And purenitrous is right about Severian being a deliberately unreliable narrator, which adds a whole layer of delicious ambiguousness.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:32 PM on January 27, 2008

When I was younger, I read this series many times hoping to stitch together all the threads of the tapestry (to use a metaphor found in Citadel of the Autarch, but Wolfe leaves some of them loose. Most of yours, however, will become clearer if you read all four books.

He is our science-fantasy Wagner (including lapses of taste -- after the invasion and occupation of Iraq, I have felt much less kindly towards Wolfe's making Severian an apprentice of the torturers, even though he never becomes a master).
posted by bad grammar at 4:44 PM on January 27, 2008

I have also read the series several times, there's a lot there that you only pick up on the second or third reading. Don't rush to get your answers, a patient search will be rewarded.

I'd also reccomend The Urth Of The New Sun, which covers Severian's life after the end of the 4th book and sheds new light on the story of the Conciliator and the Claw.
posted by InfidelZombie at 9:03 PM on January 27, 2008

I'd also reccomend The Urth Of The New Sun

Eh. I found The Urth Of The New Sun to be a bit of a letdown. It's worth reading once, but I never bother with it when I'm rereading the original four. (to be fair, The Book Of The New Sun is a masterpeice -- I'm not sure how a sequel could have equaled it).

Endangered Species also includes a few of Wolfe's short stories from the same world as well as some excellent ones from other genres.
posted by tkolar at 10:00 PM on January 27, 2008

Having now just finished book 4, and with it still fresh in my mind (*I* certainly don't have Severian's memory)

- Still not sure what the secret of the torturers' guild is, although I suspect it was slipped in somewhere subtly.

- There's lots more about the jungle hut and what it really meant

- The full explanation for the note from the Inn of Last Loves ends up getting downright *Dickensian*

The last quarter of the 4th book is page after page of callbacks and answers for events in previous volumes.
posted by jbrjake at 5:56 AM on January 28, 2008

Robert Borski's Solar Labyrinth may be helpful here. Also Michael Andre-Driussi's Lexicon Urthus.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:35 AM on January 28, 2008

Response by poster: Awesome. Thanks everyone, I'm really looking forward to forging ahead through the rest of the series.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 8:29 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also Michael Andre-Driussi's Lexicon Urthus.

If you don't feel like dropping a couple hundred bucks on a copy you can either wait until later this year, when an updated edition will supposedly be available, or get a spiral bound copy of the original directly from Driussi. Or interlibrary loan, if you can find a circulating copy.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:53 AM on January 28, 2008

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