Monday, August 31, 2009

"Shadow", Chapter 1, Part 1

We are introduced to our hero Severian and some of his fellow torturer's apprentices, Roche, Drotte, and Eata. A little commentary about names. They and others introduced in the book all have a bit of the made-up feeling of names in bad fantasy epics, but in all cases they are real names with sometimes complex meanings. Drotte, Roche, and Eata are all the names of saints. Severian was the name of a bishop in the 4th and 5th centuries. I think having "sever" in the name of a character that later chops off heads for a living is a little black humor on Wolfe's part. It's also a pun, because Severian is probably a form of Severus (Harry Potter fans take note), whose real meaning is "stern," i.e. "severe." Wolfe has other moments of understated humor. The apprentices are trying to get through a locked gate, and Drotte scams the gatekeepers into letting them through with a fairly ridiculous story. Another author might just move on, but how does Wolfe explain how it was so easy?
Certain mystes aver that the real world has been constructed by the human mind, since our ways are governed by the artificial categories into which we place essentially undifferentiated things, things weaker than our words for them. I understood the principle intuitively that night as I heard the last volunteer swing the gate closed behind us.
I think the mystes ("initiate; a person who was being instructed in the mysteries;") that are being referred to are Hindu theologians, some of whom believe that everything is essentially undifferentiated (Brahman) and that our artificial categories are created by human perception via illusion (Maya). I remember hearing a lecture on a Greek or Roman theologian (whose name I don't remember, leave a comment if you know) who said something similar. He used the image of our soul or consciousness on the surface of a sphere. We are always looking outward, focused on what our senses tell us. But if we could focus inward, turn around, we would see that our self is merely the surface of things, and it is connected to the center of the sphere, the source of all things. This is how Hindus try to dispel illusion. I also think it's essentially the same as a goal of Christian prayer, to become closer to God, who is omnipresent, the creator of all things, the Truth, etc. And that's why it's easy to scam people. At least it's a good reason :) Okay, I made it to page 3. The climb continues.

No comments:

Post a Comment