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▶  More from Fiction Book Reviews Before the Rising Sun
‘Master of the House of Chains’
The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe
Alternately titled ‘To Hate the Burden of Thought’
Reading from pages 10202 0f Sword & Citadel, originally published in 1981
While The Claw of the Conciliator was a lesser shadow of The Shadow of the Torturer, The Sword of the Lictor outshines them both as an heroic adventure. In terms of allegorical impact all are equal and as narrative all interdependent. The Sword of the Lictor begins, as do the first two volumes, with Severian repugnantly serving an evil society as a member of the guild of The Seekers for Truth and Penitence, or the Torturers. Again, he, having come to hate not only himself but his guild, betrays his vows and saves a victim placed into his uncruel hands.
Severian’s quest continues outward and upward, from the City of Thrax, which is built around a great hydroelectric dam, into the Andes, or what has become of them. The Urth is so old she is no longer geologically active and her greatest mountains have been carved in the likeness of their monarchs. Along this monstrously beautiful archipelago of hubris, he engages in the most ancient of hero quests, for the truth, a once and future witness to that epoch when mankind gave up on the stars and sank into eternal misery. The stars are clearly visible during the day and one can look into the noon sun without damaging his eyes. Severian is assailed by numerous forces, unreasoning wrath, predation, a galactic monster, fatherhood, sorcery, loss, power and the yearning for power so strong that it causes men to make monsters of themselves.
Below are some of my favorite quotes:
“We are accustomed to think of the beasts of the forest and mountain as wild, and to think of men who spring, as it seems, from their soil as savage…and there is a more profound savagery in men and women whose ancestors have lived in cities and towns…”
“…how the race of ancient days reached the stars, and how they bargained away all the wild half of themselves to do so, so that they no longer cared for the taste of the pale wind, nor for love or lust, nor to make new songs or sing old ones…”
“At last taking a new lover becomes a habit, a way of pushing back the days and showing yourself that all your life has not run between your fingers already…”
“…so we have each of us in the dustiest cellars of our minds a counter at which we strive to repay the debts of the past with the debased currency of the present.”
“…a sort of philosophical horror at the thought of a cosmos in which rude pictures of beasts and monsters had been painted with flaming suns… No doubt everyone feels some touch of this, since it is said that there exists no climate so mild that people will consent to sleep in unroofed houses.”
“I had learned in the intervening time the folly of limiting desire to the possible.”
“The nature of those who hunt for dark knowledge is to hoard it even in death, or to transmit it so wrapped in disguise and beclouded with self-serving lies that it is of little value.”
“No one truly believes unless he will do the unthinkable in obedience; no one will do the uthinkable save us [the Torturers].”
Finally, Wolfe’s hero, Severian forsakes his guild and is no longer burdened with his mania of possession concerning the sword Terminus Est and becomes a true hero, one without a crutch.
Diction of interest
Lictor, he who binds
-jonquil, a flower
-zoanthrops, beasts devolved from humans
-jacal, a small dwelling
-planteration, death by forced gluttony
-spathae, swords
-crotal, musical instrument
-bothy, a small remote dwelling booth for wayfarers
The World is Our Widow
prev:  ‘Beyond the Shores of Urth’     ‹  before the rising sun  ›     next:  ‘With These Tongs we are Held in the Forge’
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