Gene Wolfe Interview

Part 3

conducted by James B. Jordan

Contents

The Soldier Series

JJ: Let me ask you about Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete. Are those historical novels or fantasy novels?

GW: Well, they are historical fantasy. What I tried to do.

JJ: Which is another way of saying, do we have fallen angels here or some type of power that really was operative in the world before the kingdom of God?

GW: That is my personal belief. I think that the gods of paganism were real. But what I tried to do was to write about that pagan world as the pagans themselves wrote about it. If we read modern historians we are reading a very rationalistic viewpoint of this which says that all of these people were absolutely wasting their time by building temples to Ares or Apollo or you name it. And by offering sacrifices in worship and all that it was nothing there. Nothing at all there and that whether it is true or not that certainly is not the way the people who were doing it felt. They were convinced that there was something there and they had all sorts of legends and so forth about the appearances of the god and in fact there is one place in the Acts where Paul and another one of the apostles are mistaken for Zeus and Mercury. Zeus and Hermes, we are mixing the Latin and the Greek which is what I was trying to get away from. They are mistaken for Zeus and Hermes in human form because people in those days expected that you could see Zeus and Hermes in human form. I am not so sure they were wrong. I am not convinced that they were wrong. We love to think how much smarter we are than people of ancient times or biblical times or so forth but I am very dubious about that.

JJ: I agree with you. There aren't so many people who think that any more, we have the influence of rationalism in our society. I think that what most of us are taught about the ancient world is largely nonsense. One of the primary things being the fact that the church fathers say that the Hebrew scriptures were known around the ancient world and I imagine that they were. They weren't secret documents. People like Aristotle were curious for anything they could get their hand on.

GW: People like Aristotle read any book that they could find because books were rare. When I was a kid reading fantasy and science fiction and that sort of thing it was hard to find that type of material and anything that you could find you read.

JJ: Yes I agree, even when I was young it was still that way. Okay, you do seem to have some symbolic overtones in The Soldier of Arete. Certainly with Latro Lucius, I guess that was is real name and that means wolf, there is a wolf aspect in him being from Rome being a descendant of Romulius or at least in some way and then Ares being primary agricultural and marshall god of Rome, Marias. He actually seems to incarnate Ares on occasion. In the mythology Aphrodite although she is married to Hepiphistus she is carrying on an affair with Ares she seems to come to him one night. These things happen...

GW: I thought she was married to Ares.

JJ: She is married to both of them. She cheats with Ares. Vulcan catches them in the net and there is a certain amount of punishment that Ares goes through as well.

GW: Okay, I still think there are other poets in which she is married to Ares.

JJ: There may be other poems.

GW: Anyway.

JJ: Is there a larger picture here. I raise the question when Lucius leaves Greece he leaves Eeo and Polos in the care of Pindar. Is he leaving, Polos means a small horse. Eeo at least for you means joy. Is he leaving joy and myth in the care of poetry? Is there a symbolic dimension?

GW: Yeah, there is. Every once in a while you say "Gee, that is neat; I will do this". And you do it. I wasn't writing the whole book that way. The book isn't intended as an allegory but what the book really is intended is to show the problems faced by genuinely good man who can't remember because it seems to be that is the problem of our society. We have a genuinely good society, by that I mean it is made up of people who by and large are quite decent individuals. But our society has no memory of this. It has no awareness of history.

JJ: Right.

GW: And so we have this America blundering around on the world stage more or less as Latro does. Latro is strong and able and tries to be a force for good but he can't remember.

JJ: That is an interesting perspective on it, I hadn't thought of at all. My wife had one of her professors that taught in a Moslem country for a while and said he woke up one day and saw the children had a bunch of kittens they were throwing up in the air and hitting a baseball bat against the wall and the mothers just sat by and watched. He said "I am not a Christian, I am an atheist, but I am a Christian in that I could not tolerate that. There has been an influence in our society that has made us different from pagans.

GW: We vastly underestimate the importance of Jesus. We think we don't. We have all these churches and we say how can we be underestimating Jesus? We don't until we start trying to figure out what it would be like if he had never lived. When you really start trying to figure out what it would be like if He never lived you realize that He is a much more pivotal figure than we give him credit for. All of these people, everybody at this convention is in that sense a Christian although most of them would tell you that they are not and some of them would tell them quite truthfully that they were Jews who practice Judaism in one of its various forms and so on and so forth. Nevertheless they have been influenced by Christ much more than they realized. We are very lucky to have had Him. We are very fortunate. A friend of mine learned to read Turkish. And he got hold of a Turkish joke book and read it. And I said, "what were the jokes like?" He said it was horrible. They were all about ugly tricks that were being played on blind people and things like that. This is what we have escaped from and we don't realize that it is there and we came very close to falling into it. We very easily could have and we still may.

JJ: It is a striking thing if you read the book of Leviticus and it is right there that you will never put a stumbling block in front of a blind person, you will never curse him to death. That kind of thing is unique. But as you say it is common in other cultures. In the preface to Soldier of the Mist you tell us that Latro knows a little bit of Hebrew but the only people like that he runs into are Phoenicians. I wondered if the fact that the Phoenicians are the ones who rescue him in the end and take him home had a symbolic overtone to you.

GW: Not tremendously. It was just at the time I was planning a third book and I wanted to get him into the Semitic world. The Helenic world that these two books were laid in very largely and to involve him with the Phoenicians and the Jews and the Syrians and that part of the world. When I originally conceived the series I wanted to do a tour of the ancient world so to speak. And I had hoped in fact to get him into the new world where there were the Mayan and the so on the various American Indian civilizations. They really dislike the term Native American, Indians. I realize Indians is not a very good term for them I don't think Native Americans is a good term either. I wanted to do all those things and after the second book David Hartwell, my editor, called me up and told me not to write the third one. He now denies that by the way but he did.

JJ: He thought this was so difficult to read?

GW: David said it was too difficult to sell well and David is as good at self deception as most of us, maybe better than most of us, so I didn't; I went off and did something else. Now I don't know if I will ever write, what I was going to write Soldier of Sidon. Sidon or siddon, I would pronounce it Sidon. (short discussion on how to pronounce, I didn't know how to spell the different pronunciations)

JJ: My impression is that words that are used commonly you say in the Anglicized forms and ones that are uncommon you try to say it in the way they would in the ancient world.

GW: That is certainly a good rule but the question then is what is common and what isn't.

JJ: That's right. Especially nowadays.

GW: Who is to do the determining. People today, half of them have no idea who Julius Caesar was. They have heard the name but if you asked them what did Caesar do why is he an important historical figure they wouldn't be able to give you much of an answer.

JJ: Latro's world seems to be a really horrible world and one that you would want to escape from. Was that, were you just be ruthlessly honest there or were you seeking to invoke that in the reader? This is not where we want to be, we want to be in a world that is more Christian.

GW: I think certainly that is true. I think I was reacting against an idealization of the ancient world that many people have. One of the ancient authors has this story, I think it is an ancient author, about the woman who goes to Plato or some, one of the great philosophers and describes this ideal society that she and her friends are going to set up. And they are going to play music and they are going to have ritual dancing and do all these Ursala LeGuin things and he says but who is going to do all the work? You are going to need food and so forth. She says, oh, we are going to have slaves.

JJ: Of course.

GW: That was very much the idealism of the ancients. Ideally someone else will do it.

JJ: Right. But then, a gradually diminution of slavery and the development of liberty is a long term impact of Christianity.

GW: Well, also machinery, simple technology. I'm an engineer and I intend to take credit for what we can. I think the steam engine probably did more to free slaves than any human being. More than Abraham Lincoln did or U.S. Grant.

JJ: And so many of these fundamental technological advances were made in the so called Dark Ages when the church was in charge of things.

GW: Well, the church very largely saved ancient civilization. We know much of what we do know about ancient civilization because the Church preserved that for us. That is one of things we owe the Church. I am not one of those people who try and say the Church has never done anything wrong. The Church is an organization made up of human beings, has existed for 2,000 years, it has enormous opportunities to go wrong and it often has but the thing that I think separates the Church from most other human institutions is that the Church has always tried to go right it just hasn't always succeeded. Most of our human institutions are very willing to strike a bargain with the devil if they think they can get good enough terms. That is always a bad thing to do.

JJ: The Soldier of Arete is even more than Soldier of the Mist a bit hard to follow in terms of his plot. And I remember, in fact I remember when it came out Orson Scott Card really complained that (it was in Analog or a standog; one of those magazines) he had a review that said "Nobody reads Gene Wolfe with more care and affection than I do but I can't figure out what this book is about." What is wrong with this author? Does that kind of complaint bother you or do you feel as if you wish you could leave more clues or do you feel: Hey, read the book and look at it again and you will find the answers.

GW: I try not to leave a clue more than once. It bothers me a lot when it is left more than once in somebody else's book. If you told me once that the hero is left handed, I have registered it or at least I hope I have registered it or whatever this may be and if you told me five times then I feel that you are writing to somebody that is a lot dumber than I am. So I try and leave my clues once and generally try and leave all the clues that I think the reader is going to require, sometimes more than they require because you don't generally find situations in which you have exactly as much information as you need to solve the thing. If it is solvable at all you probably have more. If you have only a very few items then it probably isn't solvable with the information that you have. What you need to do in a real life situation is to go out and get more clues. If you know anything about actual police work very little of it consists of reasoning from clues and the great majority or it consists of finding more clues. Because when you have found enough then you have got, you have very little difficulty in understanding what they mean.

JJ: In the Solider novels you seem to have in the background a war between the moon and the earth. Is that, is there anything there except the fact that those who worship the moon and conquered territory that formerly belonged to Ghai?

GW: I was trying to show the difference between the old matriarchal or more female oriented society which had in fact been displaced by a more patriarchal society. I think that the majority of the things that the women's libbers write is nonsense, but every once in a while they are right like everybody else. Everybody is right once in a while and this is one of the things they are right about. There really was a much more female-oriented mother goddess worship and the obvious key point is Delphi and if you read about Delphi in classic times you were very clearly reading about a shrine which a goddess has been displaced by a god. The priests at Delphi in classical times were not permitted to wear shoes and they had to sleep on the ground. And they were priests of Apollo and this makes no sense for priests of Apollo. It makes a great deal of sense for priests of the earth goddess which is what they originally were who carried these traditions through. And I was trying to show that war that struggle in terms of its divinity.

JJ: So the moon goddess is actually allied with her brother.

GW: She was. And she was a part of the new mythology who was displacing the old mythology. Basically the Zeus centered mythology was displacing the Ghai centered mythology.

JJ: Okay. I was not sure why, what was happening at the initiation of Sparta at the end, if you don't mind.

GW: That was all real. That all happened. What they did.

JJ: What the Spartans did.

GW: Yes, The Spartans were the most totalitarian people that I have ever come across. They made the Nazis look like Boy Scouts and they really did it, and they did it for it for a hundred years and they were so totalitarian as to be almost unbelievable. One of the strange things about Sparta was they had the two kings and I am sure you realize. I don't know of anybody else that had a double monarchy that was two kings that the Spartans did. One of the strange things is that the kings really represented the good past in Sparta. They were relics from the time when Sparta was a Greek state much like other Greek states. They were slowly being constricted and crowded out by the totalitarian ethic that seized and was like they had G. Gordan Liddy as an immortal dictator that seized and effectually ruined Sparta. They had this king who died at Thermopoli, Leonidis, who armed the Helots. It was death for Helot to touch a weapon. If you saw a Helot with his hand on your bow you were supposed to kill it and Leonidis who was one of the Spartan kings and was certainly a very brave leader in war. As general he may have been a little too theoretically oriented but there is no question that he was a man of immense physical courage also had the immense moral courage to say "we are going to lead these men, let's stop this nonsense, arm them and use them as troops because we need every man that we can get." And he did and so when the Spartans were fighting the Persians. They were fighting them with their light infantry, and their skirmishers and so forth were bands of armed Helots. At the end of the war they said, we are going to reward you Helots by giving those who did most in the war their freedom. And they will be not equals __________who would be able to run for office and vote and so on and take part in the government but they would be free individuals living in Sparta and free as such people were. And so you are to name for us those Helots who were your leaders in the late war who should be rewarded like this. Then they held a ceremony which I described in detail, exactly as it was and they gave each Helot who was to be awarded his freedom as a climax of the ceremony a young Spartan as his companion to lead him through the ceremony. And at a given signal each companion killed that Helot that he was responsible for. And they were all killed except Latros who they did not intend to kill because he wa not really a Helot. And he survived and all of the rest of them who had gone in the ceremony were butchered. And they really were, this took place. This is the reason that I say that these people were totalitarians. University of Michigan's football team were called the Spartans. And you could have no clearer indication that the University of Michigan does not really understand what was going on in the ancient world. No way would they allow that if the people who are running the university of Michigan understood what the real Spartans were like. They were certainly not like our football players by any means.

JJ: I thought that was what was going on but I wasn't sure. And I wasn't sure why Latros was there but I can see it now. That depresses him terribly.

GW: Oh yeah, yeah. Latro is under tremendous psychological pressure because of the fact that he can't _____________ and this has added an enormous burden of guilt because he survived. Remember now that this ceremony with the ancient gods is very significant to him. He is an ancient man and he belongs in all this and now when all the others have died and he is the sole survivor and he gets an enormous amount of guilt out of this and goes into clinical depression.

JJ: Does the novel anywhere explain why Latro has been struck in the head?

GW: I don't think it does. My idea as I said originally was that he desecrated the temple during the Battle of Plateo was hand to hand fighting in the temple and it occurred to me that the temple couldn't have been kept in very good order when a bunch of Persians and Greeks were trying to kill each other in it. Of course the initial idea for the whole series of books was that Xerxes would get a band of Roman exiles and enlist them as mercenaries in his army. If you have read Herotidus you know that there were enormous catalogs. There were ancient tribes that we know only because there was a group of them serving as mercenaries in these armies or sent by tributary kings and so forth. Xerxes seems to have gathered every fighting man he could scrape up. Of course what happened, I guess I am going far off the subject, but what happened was he lost the battle of Salamus which meant that he lost control which means he lost the ability to supply this huge army that he had put into the field and he had to withdraw most of it because he couldn't feed the troops. And you know a small band of raiders is something that could live off the land but when you are talking about hundreds of thousands of men they cannot do it, the land hasn't got that much food.

JJ: So that was something that might have come up in the third volume if you had not been discouraged from writing it?

GW: Absolutely. The black man who nobody ever talks about but I intended as a major figure was an Ethiopian and Xerxes actually had Ethiopians who were armed with stone age weapons. Spears tipped with Antelope horn and this sort of thing and he had these people in his army. So the black man was one of these Ethiopians who was sent by the King of Ethiopia as mercenaries. The King of Ethiopia was paid to send warriors to the army that Xerxes was going to invade Greece with.

The Ancient World

JJ: He could have had American Indians in his army from what I can tell about the ancient world.

GW: I think you are saying that there were a lot more interaction between the ancient world than we in the New World give them credit for. Absolutely right.

JJ: They have found Peregrene Irish monk inscriptions in places in America but the establishment view just will not admit that it could be true.

GW: I know one of the leading scholars, Cyrus Gordon, I had dinner with him, well I have had dinner with him twice. Once in a restaurant, but the one I was think of he had us over for dinner, and we ate with him. He had a friend who is now deceased, Sharon Baker, talented writer that was really just getting started and she was 55 or so when she died of cancer. But Sharon was his niece so she introduced me to him. He is a pariah because he keeps bringing up this stuff and saying but look, look at the evidence. And they are all saying oh he is an old crackpot, send him off. That nut. He is saying but why was the army of Yucatan arranged just like an Assyrian army? They say that is just coincidence. He says but why was the Loom used in the Yucatan just like the loom that was used in the Mediterranean about 1000 B.C. Oh well, that is a coincidence that they developed the same sort of loom.

And can I tell you, this is a hobby horse of mine, I shouldn't shoot up your tape with it but I am an engineer by trade. We know how the wheel was invented, archeology has established how the wheel was invented. The wheel was invented by people who started out by laying down logs and putting big stones on the logs and pushing. When you do that you have to pick up the end log and you have to carry it around to the front so that it feeds in under the stone. When you do this, your log takes on a coke bottle shape. There are engineering reasons for why it wears in this pattern. I could describe, well, say that there is a rock here and here is our log and it is going to go over the rock. Now if the rock is the middle then the full weight of the load is right here on the rock. If the rock is over on one side only one half of the load is on the rock so the middle wears faster and you get coke bottle shaped logs. And you learn eventually that the coke bottle shaped logs work better than new logs. You start getting guys with hatchets to carve the coke bottle shape into them from the beginning because it is easier than wearing them in. Because if there is a stone in the middle and your log is coke bottle shape you just go over it. You don't have to push the load over it. You just sail over it. That makes the load easier to push.

Then somebody said well, we've got all these baskets full of gravel and stuff that we also need to build the pyramid. Instead of carrying them on our backs why don't we put them on top of the rock and push everything. Well, that works, that is easier than carrying the gravel in a basket on your back. So they do that. Then they have all the big rocks in place and they say gee we really miss those big rocks because it was easier than carrying the basket. Let's make a fake rock out of wood, it won't be very heavy and we can put our baskets on them. Okay that is easier again, now you could do it. Then somebody says, well, look, suppose we have posts going right down here so that that last log couldn't get out, well you try that and the log rubs against the post. You learn if you put the post inward where the log is coke bottle shaped it doesn't rub up as much and you can take mutton fat out of the sheep, everybody knows that makes things slippery, and grease it and then it doesn't hardly drag at all. And what you end up with is a very big, very clumsy four wheeled cart. And this is how the wheel is invented.

If you read the anthropologists about the Indians they will tell you the Indians did not have the wheel. But they did. The thing is that the only wheel that they had was tiny little wheeled toys. A little animal on a little platform and four wheels. Obviously they did not evolve the wheel. They got it from somebody who had already evolved. And this somebody could not put a cart or chariot aboard the ship. It took up too much room. You could put a hundred little wheeled toys aboard the ship and trade them. Right? Well the Indians had never seen anything, well, gee that is neat. You can pull it along and it follows the kid around and that is a nice trade item and you can carry hundreds of them aboard your Phoenecian ship. And the Indians never got it any farther. They were not able to look at the wheeled toy and say why we can't we make a big one like that? They never took that step.

JJ: I am tempted to say there was a book a few years age by a chemist who argued that the Pyramids in Egypt were not made of stones dragged up but they were bricks cast in place with a chemical regent to fill it and they were a box with shelves pour in a regent and make the brick right there in place. He is saying they had the technology to do this. That we have cut these stones open and that is what they look like. And there is no reason to believe people in the ancient world didn't understand this. I don't know the chemistry well enough to remember...

GW: I don't either. I hadn't known of the book. It is certainly a very interesting idea. There are stones in South America so closely fitted that you wonder if somebody hasn't been doing something like that. Now maybe they just very laboriously carved these stones so that they fit right into each other, but you would think they would just carve them flat like Joe blocks so they would do that but they don't. They wave round and so forth but they fit. They key into each other nicely.

Castleview

JJ: What were you regarding as the theme in Castleview? You told me that the castle is a Winnebago.

GW: From Morgan LeFay's perspective it is a travelling home. She can send her house, her castle whatever you want to call it.

JJ: Is this a pure fantasy novel?

GW: Oh yeah, I would say it is a purely fantasy novel. I was trying to show really the connection of the modern world to the medieval world I think more than anything else that is the theme.

JJ: And it has a lot to do with perception? For some people the band that runs through the town are cowboys and indians, for others they are Arthur and his knights, for others it seems like it is a spaceship.

GW: This is, when you research these anomalous stories and accounts and so forth, the anomalous things that happen you get this sort of thing. You get two witnesses who have very different stories depending on how they perceived some third thing that we don't know what it was. So I tried to show it like that.

JJ: So basically you have Arthurian characters in the modern world who are some way or other archetypes of the characters in the twenty century characters that we see?

GW: Yeah, they are twentieth century characters who are rather like the people of the middle ages. The people of the middle ages weren't that different. And I was thinking of the old business about everybody being descendant from Charlemagne, you are and so am I. You know that if you look at the number of ancestors both of us have had to have we come up with some number by the time we get back to the time of Charlemagne it is something like eight times the actual population of Europe at that time. Europe only had something like 12 million people in Charlemagne's time and our number of grandparents and great grandparents double with every generation. It works out to an enormous number and so anybody who was living in Europe at that time and who did in fact have descendants and Charlemagne had something like 14 children is almost certainly the almost is really a weasel word. It is statistically certain to be descendent to Charlemagne. Okay, if there really was an Arthur and there was because he is mentioned in ancient chronicles and he left a number of descendants, which is at least plausible, then we are probably all descended from Arthur. And what Morgan LaFay is looking for is a descendent who is a satisfactory Arthur figure for her. But not only is Wrangler descended from Arthur, and Will Shield is descended from Arthur but Bob Roberts is descended from Arthur and Ann Findler is descended from Arthur because we all are we all derive from this. I was telling my wife I am what is called a free lance. A real free lance was a medieval knight who had no feudal obligations and could hire himself out. And he hired his lance and you had one more lance in your heavy calvary charge when you hired this man you also got whatever retainers he brought along with him. But now somebody like me is called a free lance. I work mostly for Tor Books. Tor Books is owned by St Martin's Press. St. Martin's Press is owned by the British McMillian Corporation which is owned by the McMillian family which is headed up by the Duke of something or other who is the head of the McMillian family and I am really a free lance in the employ of this Duke. And things have not changed nearly as much a we would like to think that they have and I was trying to show some of that.

JJ: Well, we have really discussed this and you have answered it because a number of reviewers assume that you are writing a modern type of novel that everything is a matter of perspective and it is supposed to be confusing and somehow or other that is a profundity. But actually the clues are there and you are not writing that type of novel. There might be puzzles but the reader is supposed to figure them out.

GW: Yeah. Everything may be confusing but that is how things are. It is not true that you can't get through the confusion and figure out certain things that are happening. Life seen superficially has very little pattern to it. There is a lot of confusion and so forth. That doesn't mean that you can't learn some things about it and see things in it if you are willing to look at what is going on and think about what is going on. It seems to me this is a puzzle that we are all set. This is one of the principle things that distinguish us from the beast. I know perfectly well that animals can reason in a very limited degree. I think that animals are self aware; I have no question that animals are self aware. I am talking about higher animals, not snakes and lizards and such. But animals I don't think are reflective. I don't think that animals try and make sense of things in the way that we do. The animal may be under the stars every night for all of its life but I don't think it ever looks up at the stars and wonders what that is. I don't think that there is, that animals see anything analogous to the constellations and so forth that human beings see in the sky.

JJ: In Free Live Free were you pointing to inner moral freedom as the true freedom that the characters come to in a society that seems to have mysterious conspiratorial forces operating in the background of it? Or were you getting something else.

GW: I suppose in a way. One of the things that I was trying to say was that America is not free and is becoming less so. And that we have to realize it and we have to resolve within ourselves to be free and to oppose the forces that are enslaving us.

JJ: So this is really a follow up, a more mature version of Operation Ares?

GW: I suppose yeah. Yes. Somewhat the same concern. I tried to give the four borders, I tried to give each sort of a besetting sin. Madame Serpantina, it's pride. Candy, it is gluttony. Stub, I forget now. Osgood Barnes, sexuality of course.

JJ: And you drew them somewhat from the _________

GW: Envy, envy I think is Stubbs. And I wasn't trying to write allegory. I wasn't saying he was a personification of envy. I wanted to show men and women who were actually beset by these sins. Trying to, given an opportunity to become something bigger and better than they had been by defeating the sin to some degree. Candy of course gets what she wants. She stuffs herself to the point that she can't stuff herself no more. And finds that this is not really paradise, it is not heaven, even though she has achieved it. Osgood Barnes comes to see sex as something more than the physical act. He comes to see the possibilities of love and sacrifice and so on. That is what I tried to do at least.

The New Sun Series

JJ: Okay. I'll pass on that. I don't want to keep you too much longer. I wanted to ask you a few questions about the Severian novels. I have tried very hard to find out, find the meaning of the word Ushas but I haven't succeeded, so would you. You didn't make up any words?

GW: No, but some of them are typos. Ushas is not one of them though. Okay, that is Cabalistic term for one of the circles of the cabala and as I say I don't want to try to answer questions on the cabala. I never knew a great deal about it and I have forgotten most of what I knew. But to find out what it is that is the place to look. Read cabalic literature. I have the great disadvantage of not believing in it and so I can't get so caught up in it as cabalist really do. To me it was someplace that I could steal ideas and names from.

JJ: Okay. Well that is an important consideration because of one of the questions that came to my mind and it has to others is were you, does this indicate...

GW: I think it is a cabalist name for the new earth after you know it has been cleansed by God or some such thing, but check it out in cabalistic literature.

JJ: This universe that you sought in Briah are part of it. Is that our universe? Or is that a universe that resurrected saints have set up in the world to come as part of the cities that they made?

GW: No. I thought of it as a long past universe. Something that we are repeating rather than something that we are.

JJ: I don't know that I have any other questions. It is a universe in which angelic like things actually have physical control over the universal stars and suns. I noticed that you had scarabs in the great machine in Yesod. Severian goes through and sees that

GW: Oh yeah, yeah.

JJ: Scarabs push the suns. But that is a past world just in your imagination.

GW: Yes, I was looking at what past universes might have been like really and that is how...I began with the idea of what is going to happen to us if we just keep going the way we are going and continue to live on the continent of Earth without ever really going into the sea or going into space and we just wait for the money to run out. The do nothing future and thinking about what that would be. And then I got into the idea of universal cycles. And decided that I would show that this might be a past cycle. Some physicists at least think that the Big Bang is eventually going to be followed by a Big Gnab in which the whole universe coalesces again which will be followed by another Big Bang which is sort of like a succession of universe as piston impulses in an internal combustion engine. I certainly don't have any great emotional investment in that idea but I do think it is a useful idea to play around with. Physics is coming nearer and nearer and nearer mysticism. It has been doing this now for over 50 years and it seems to me that is a fascinating thing that much too little attention has been given to.

JJ: That poses something of a difficulty in terms of Christian eschatology if there is to be a time and there is a resurrection where the world comes to an end. Are you making an attempt to unify those two ideas or just to play with the idea of a gnostic universe?

GW: I was toying with those ideas, I think, rather than trying to make sense of them. Is our resurrection going to be in another universal cycle? Well, yes, maybe it is. I don't know. We don't know what is really meant by the world coming to an end, and God rolling up the sky like a carpet and all that. It is all picturesque language. Figurative language to try to give a general idea to an audience that would not be capable of understanding the actuality. And I am not sure we are more capable of understanding that actuality than they were. It is like the Genesis story. I don't believe in a literal apple and I don't believe that literally biting into the fruit had this effect but if you have to explain to a bunch of primitives how men differ from animals and where men went wrong in differing from animals, this is a pretty good way to do it.

JJ: Who is on trial in The Urth of the New Sun? Severian or Tzadkiel? Because Tzadkiel tells him as the captain of the ship ______________mind.

GW: Severian is really on trial. Tzadkiel is pretending to be on trial as a part of Severian's trial as I remember.

JJ: Tzadkiel means the righteousness of God.

GW: He is an angel of justice.

JJ: He passes judgement there. Atheta, that would mean opheta with an eta: that is speechless. Was that your idea? Opheta with an epsilon could mean forgiveness.

GW: No it is speechless. They talk by centering the sounds that you hear so that you think that you are hearing a voice but they are actually speechless. In a completely silent atmosphere they would be unable to speak.

JJ: Right.

GW: It was just a physical idea that I decided to play with and it has certain philosophical reasons to it.

JJ: As if the universe of words is on one level and there is something higher or above that.

GW: Well, the idea of selection. That we can make ourselves clear to somebody else by selecting things to which they pay attention.

JJ: Okay. Oh... Severian's sexual relationship with her. What is the purpose of that? He is a married man so at one level he is cheating on his wife. He gets aboard ship and immediately takes a cabin near Gunnie and the way you have it written he thinks to himself well it has been 10 years since I have had anybody since Valaria. It seems to be one of his lapses in virtue at that point.

GW: Yeah, I was not trying to show him as being that virtuous a man.

JJ: But here you have an angelic being takes him for the night. What is going on there? Is that an idea of a celestial marriage between heaven and earth?

GW: I think that the ideal of the higher being trying to raise the lower being to a greater height perhaps. And also the attraction that the lower being at least properly should feel toward the higher being.

JJ: So we could interpret that more symbolic than a moral level?

GW: Oh yeah, yeah. Well he is there to be morally judged but that does not mean that everything... The fact that he is acquitted doesn't mean that everything that he does or will do is right. If that is the criteria then none of us are going to make it. None of us are without sin which I realize is a platitude but it is also truth and it is very important truth. There are, if that is what we mean by good people then there are no good people. What we have to mean by good people is people who are bad but are trying at times to be good with mixed success because that is the closest that we get.

JJ: The holy slaves [Heirodules], Famulimus or one of them tells Severian that he is the center of his race, the savior of his race. That is such Christlike language you can see why interpreters would say well Severian is a Christ figure. But is there a Christ figure in the book, or is he simply for this universe?

GW: In so far as there is a Christ figure it is Severian. That doesn't mean he has to be identified with Christ. He is in a position similar to that of Christ. But really it is a different position because Christ really is both God and man. Severian is not. Severian is a Christian rather than a Christ. But he is been taken as the representative of humanity by whom humanity is to be judged. This I think is what has happened perhaps with the actual human Jesus. He is or was is as fully human as you or I and we are saved by Him. By the fact that he passed. That the corruption did not destroy Him. I think that St. Paul is absolutely correct when he says that Jesus was tempted in all the ways that we are tempted. I think that Jesus was tempted to commit murder or any other sin that you want to name just as the rest of us are. And the difference is that He did not sin.

JJ: Well, thank you very much.


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