Some thoughts on Gene Wolfe

As I posted a while back, I recently read the Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe, and now I’ve moved on to the rest of the Solar Cycle. I finished Urth of the New Sun, and now I’m one book into Book of the Long Sun.

Gene Wolfe is a Romanist, first off. This means that even though he’s pretty bankrupt theologically, he still has some good things to say, especially in the realm of symbolism.

In Book of the New Sun, there were many offhand comments that indicated a general attitude of special creation and a refutation of the theory of evolution. However, a good part of the underlying storyline of Urth of the New Sun relies on evolution. Because Wolfe is too good of an author to not be aware of this shift in theory, I think this is indicative of a (sad) decline into deistic evolution (he’s Romanist after all), an untenable position.

Book of the Long Sun takes place in the same universe, but a different time. The story centers around what is essentially a monastery that serves nine gods – the main god, two-headed Pas, his wife, and their seven children, as well as a myriad of lesser gods. Each god (and lesser god) rules over a particular area of life – whether it be death, livestock, etc. They each have particular sets of prayers and sacrifices that can be used to garner their favor. The teachings of these gods are recorded in a book called the Writings. There is also a god whom no one speaks of much – the Outsider, who is rumored to have created man from mud. His symbol is the “voided cross,” and this symbol is present on the rosary that the augurs (priests) carry with them at all times, despite the Outsider not being present in their worship.

It seems to me that this is either an intentional or unintentional warning of the logical implications of the veneration of the saints. I’ll not take the time to go into that here. But again, Wolfe knows his story, and he’s a brilliant author, so I suspect this is intentional. The Outsider is clearly meant to represent Yahweh/Jesus (the story takes place in our own universe, many millennia in the future), and yet he has been forgotten and no sacrifices are usually made to him.

So, some interesting things going on here. I haven’t finished Long Sun yet, but I’ll update once I figure out more about what this religion is supposed to represent.


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