The Book of the New Sun

I just finished reading Shadow & Claw which contains the first two volumes of The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. I really like the book and would recommend it to anyone. I became interested in Gene Wolfe after seeing the Gene Wolfe Interview conducted by James Jordan. I like most of what I’ve read by James Jordan and have also liked the Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith which Jordan recommends.

In the first chapter of Shadow & Claw a statement is made that grabbed my interest and has caused me to want to understand more of what the author intended. The narrator says the following after the main character Severian is given a coin:

We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life–they are soldiers from that moment, though they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all.

This statement is very interesting to me because each day I am seeing more and more how a true understanding of symbols is lacking in the religious circles I grew up in. Most of those people think that symbols mean nothing unless I do something to give them meaning. The fact is that symbols have meaning whether I understand or not. This includes Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both of these symbols affect the individual and are not effected by the individual.

I am looking forward to reading Sword & Citadel which contains the third and forth parts of The Book of the New Sun. I am enjoying Gene Wolfe so far and expect that to continue. I eventually want to get into some Jack Vance who is supposed to write in a similar style.

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4 Responses to The Book of the New Sun

  1. sc says:

    How does baptism affect the individual?

  2. Joseph says:

    Baptism unites us to the body of Christ (see Romans 6:1-4, Ephesians 4:5, and Hebrews 6:1-8). Some would say that Baptism does nothing – it is just a picture that can only occurr with a saved person. This understanding requires rebaptism when a “christian” gets his heart right and “really gets saved.” This rebaptism is not called a rebaptism because it is said that the original was not really a baptism. This causes a problem – is baptism a physical or a spiritual event? If it is physical event then it means something when it happens. If it is spiritual event then why do we physically do it to a physical person with physical water?

  3. sc says:

    Thanks for the good answer. I have not thought about it enough, apparently. (Isn’t thatone of the most common maladys among Christians today?)

    I liked the quote from the book as well. It is very fascinating and I’ve been recursively thinking about it over the last couple days.

  4. John says:

    Isn’t Wolfe great?

    You may be interested in the archives of the Urth mailing list ( Among the regular contributers, you’ll find one Patera Nutria (also known as Jim Jordan).

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