Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Shadow", Chapter 6, Part 2

"You are familiar, I suppose, with the method by which we recruit our numbers?" I admitted I was not. "In every library, by ancient precept, is a room reserved for children. In it are kept bright picture books such as children delight in, and a few simple tales of wonder and adventure. Many children come to these rooms, and so long as they remain within their confines, no interest is taken in them." He hesitated, and though I could discern no expression on his face, I received the impression that he feared what he was about to say might cause Cyby pain. "From time to time, however, a librarian remarks a solitary child, still of tender years, who wanders from the children's room and at last deserts it entirely. Such a child eventually discovers, on some low but obscure shelf, The Book of Gold. You have never seen this book, and you will never see it, being past the age at which it is met." "It must be very beautiful," I said. "It is indeed. Unless my memory betrays me, the cover is of black buckram, considerably faded at the spine. Several of the signatures are coming out, and certain of the plates have been taken. But it is a remarkably lovely book. I wish that I might find it again, though all books are shut to me now. "The child, as I said, in time discovers The Book of Gold. Then the librarians come -like vampires, some say, but others say like the fairy godparents at a christening. They speak to the child, and the child joins them. Henceforth he is in the library wherever he may be, and soon his parents know him no more. I suppose it is much the same among the torturers." "We take such children as fall into our hands," I said, "and are very young." "We do the same," old Ultan muttered. "So we have little right to condemn you."
This is a good description of the most virulent strain of the reading bug. I personally think that for most people who read a lot, the habit is just that, a habit. Our tastes change as we get older, but reading is something that one gets accustomed to at a young age. At least it was for me. Of course, only the people who enjoy reading keep the habit. The enjoyable habits are the hardest to break. The Book of Gold appears in other works by Gene Wolfe, and of course the idea appears in many stories: the perfect book, containing all knowledge and wisdom. Wolfe segues very nicely into the next part, which implies that we are about to meet this story's version of the Book of Gold:
"I think you know the contents of every book here, sieur." "Hardly. But Wonders of Urth and Sky was a standard work, three or four hundred years ago. It relates most of the familiar legends of ancient times. To me the most interesting is that of the Historians, which tells of a time in which every legend could be traced to half-forgotten fact. You see the paradox, I assume. Did that legend itself exist at that time? And if not, how came it into existence?" ... A subtitle announced: "Being a Collection from Printed Sources of Universal Secrets of Such Age That Their Meaning Has Become Obscured of Time."
I don't know what story the legend of the Historians refers to; maybe I'll research it later. I wonder if any of our current legends at all will survive that far into the future. People talk about how hard it is for different cultures to understand one another, but there's always some commonality because we're all human beings. The time is fast approaching, though, when human beings will have so much control over their bodies that I think we're going to have to drop the "human" and just call ourselves "beings." What if you come from wildly different planets and your body (an therefore brain) chemistry is adapted to that planet? What happens when the line between biological and mechanical is completely erased? Will different groups of people have enough thought processes in common to have a set of legends they all understand? It'll be like Babel, except people will have entirely different bodies and sets of feelings, not just different languages. At least the Tower of Babel legend might survive :)

No comments:

Post a Comment