Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Shadow", Chapter 11, Part 4

My bed seemed to toss beneath me. I gripped the sides and sat up and it was still, but as soon as my head touched the pillow once more the swaying began again. I felt I was wide awake - then that I was awake again but had been sleeping only a moment before. I was conscious that someone was in the tiny cabin with me, and for some reason I could not have explained I thought it was the young woman who had taken the part of our patroness. I sat up in the tossing bed. Dim light filtered beneath the door; there was no one there.
Severian is obviously still drunk, and his state of consciousness is somewhat questionable; he just had a visitation from the guild's patron saint. I'm feeling tired today, so this post will be pretty short. I'll just quote a lot of much better writing:
When I lay down again, the room was filled with Thecla's perfume. The false Thecla from the House Azure had come, then. I got out of bed, and nearly falling opened the door. There was no one in the passage outside. A chamber pot waited beneath the bed, and I pulled it out and filled it with my spew, rich meats swimming in wine mixed with bile. Somehow I felt what I had done was treason, as if by casting out all that the guild had given me that night I had cast out the guild itself. Coughing and sobbing I knelt beside the bed, and at last, after wiping my mouth clean, lay down again.
The amazing magician Gene Wolfe turns vomit into characterization. Taadaah! If the party truly involved no drug but alcohol, then Severian seems very prone to hallucinations.
No doubt I slept. I saw the chapel, but it was not the ruin I knew. The roof was whole and high and straight, and from it there hung ruby lamps. The pews were whole and gleamed with polish; the ancient stone altar was swatched in cloth of gold. Behind the altar rose a wonderful mosaic of blue; but it was blank, as if a fragment of sky without cloud or star had been torn away and spread upon the curving wall. I walked toward it down the aisle, and as I did so I was struck by how much lighter it was than the true sky, whose blue is nearly black even on the brightest day. Yet how much more beautiful this was! It thrilled me to look at it. I felt I was floating in air, borne up by the beauty of it, looking down upon the altar, down into the cup of crimson wine, down upon shewbread and antique knife. I smiled... And woke. In my sleep I had heard footsteps in the passage outside, and I knew I had recognized them, though I could not just then recall whose steps they were. Struggling, I brought back the sound; it was no human tread, only the padding of soft feet, and an almost imperceptible scraping. I heard it again, so faint that for a time I thought I had confused my memory with reality; but it was real, slowly coming up the passage, slowly going back. The mere lifting of my head brought a wave of nausea; I let it fall again, telling myself that whoever might pace back and forth, it was no affair of mine. The perfume had vanished, and sick though I was, I felt I needed to fear unreality no longer - I was back in the world of solid objects and plain light. My door opened a trifle and Master Malrubius looked in as though to make certain I was all right. I waved to him and he shut the door again. It was some time before I recalled that he had died while I was still a boy.
"No doubt I slept." I like that. It shows again that Severian, if he sees inexplicable things, assumes that he's sleeping. The thought of hallucinations, or even that inexplicable things are actually occurring, never crosses his mind. This passage also shows, in a very beautiful way, that the sun is very dim at this time, such that the sky is so dark that stars are visible during the day. While that's really cool, the science here is not quite right, because the Sun is actually going to become more luminous over time, so much so that it will destroy the biosphere within a billion years, well before it enters its red giant phase. So your 1,000,000,000th high school reunion is going to have to be held somewhere else. He sees the ghost of Master Malrubius, and he hears some animal with claws in the corridor. I can guess which animal it's supposed to be. Since this is right after Severian's Confirmation, my hypothesis is that Malrubius is standing in for the Holy Ghost. We'll see if that interpretation holds up when he next appears.

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