Click to Subscribe
▶  More from Fiction Before the Rising Sun
‘A True Exultant’
Impressions of Chapter 6 of Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer


Reading from pages 40-48 of Shadow & Claw

The Master of Curators

“‘It is now passed,’ Master Ultan said. He looked toward me as he spoke, and in the candlelight I could see that his eyes were the color of watered milk. ‘In early spring. It is a beautiful day. The trees put out their new leaves then, in most years.’”

As the ancient librarian discusses the annual procession of the guild of curators—couched in a social setting so ossified and inhumanly stratified along interior lines—the final clause of the last statement informs the reader that Urth is in the grips of an ice age, perhaps its final one.

Severian has been sent to the library on an errand for books to be read by “a client” of the Exultant class, a class that Severian seems to have been drawn from, as well as the towering librarian. Urth is a place so ancient that the extreme stature differences between ancient kings and slaves [about 6 inches] is no easily a foot, with exultants towering over the rest of humanity like basketball players at a wake.

Joining Orson Scott Card Wolfe obliquely predicts that Man’s place on earth may give way to the ascendency of rodents, as Severian notices in the candlelight among the towering stacks of ancient books of all make that rats had been arranging books into dwellings and using feces to scrawl the crude figures of their written language on their covers.

Ultan launches on a lengthy discourse concerning the plight of the librarian, being buried by facts even as the myriad books one reads suffocates the mind from within, finally to be rescued by the rituals of artifice preservation. An storage device which holds kore than the entire vast library is referenced as a cube and Ultan waxes fateful about the loss of his sight in a dignified melancholy of resignation. The means by which a librarian is chosen from literate children is to be appreciated by any reader with a speculative turn of mind and should not be ruined in this review.

After Ultan passes like a shadow into Severian’s starkly textured memory, through his haunted mind’s eye the reader is reminded of his own seprartion from the wonder of childhood:

“Before I had so much as opened any of the other volumes, I felt that pressure of time that is perhaps the surest indication we have left childhood behind.”

Severien then consults Ultan on the cannibal cult of grave robbing exultants he has heard of and has seen in action in the necropolis, who engage in the “noxious” practice by eating small part of a body in order to receive the memories of the departed.

[Diction of note

-tinct, color

-esplanades

-inutile

-saffian, material used for a book cover

Add Comment