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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Musing about Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe is a craftsman of fantastic literature. He has won numerous awards, critical acclaim, and his books and stories apparently sell well. I'm currently reading his The Wizard, and would like to post on some of my thoughts, with some help from web sources.

1) Wolfe uses Christian symbolism and Christian ideas. His work is not overtly evangelical, or blatantly Christian, but the world view shows through. (See, for example, this article, which argues that the main character of the four books of the New Sun is a Christ-figure, for evidence.) The Wikipedia article on him says that his writing is strongly influenced by his Catholic faith. I agree.

2) Wolfe seems to be interested in large size. His New Sun series had, as peripheral characters, Baldanders, a giant who grows to an enormous size, and one or more undines, large beings who look like huge humans, but live in water. (The idea of a giant named Baldanders, he says, came from a similar character by Jorge Luis Borges.) In an interview, Wolfe mentions fifty foot sizes, and indicates that he realizes that merely expanding a human to, say eight times normal size would not work -- fundamental structural changes would be necessary. (Wolfe was trained as an engineer.) The series also has several Exultants, an ethnic group, or a cult, or both, which are taller than normal humans, but probably less than three meters tall.

In Wolfe's The Knight, and The Wizard, which are not part of the New Sun series, there are also giants, a whole race, or maybe more than one, of them. In these books, he draws on Norse mythology, which included giants several times the size of humans.

3) Wolfe uses unusual words. In an interview, he says that he didn't make up any of them. This was a surprise to me. I thought he had. He has found some interesting words, and used them well.

4) At least some of Wolfe's main characters fall in love in a hurry. In The Knight, Sir Able doesn't spend much time with Disiri, but she is the love of his life. In the Long Sun books, Patera Silk falls in love with Hyacinth on short acquaintance, and she is the love of his life.

In closing, I note that two of the very best authors of fantastic literature in English, Wolfe and Connie Willis, are Christians, or at least sympathetic to Christianity. There are probably more such.

Thanks for reading these random thoughts.


Elliot said...

Good post!

The exultants, from what I can tell, are the high aristocracy, who've interbred over the years and may have become taller from that or some initial genetic engineering. Wolfe also uses this idea in his story Silhouette - high-class women in a famished world were given extra food coupons, so their children would be taller and have an aura of command. Apparently these distinctions become very obvious in highly stratified class-based societies. I've heard that when the troops were mustered for the Great War in England, there were regiments from poor areas in which the men were 5 feet tall on average, while their upper-class officers were much taller.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, elliot! My impression of the exultants agrees with yours.