Over the last year I have become interested in the science fiction of Gene Wolfe. Because of various posts on the Urth List concerning the reliability of Severian as the narrator of The Book of the New Sun, Volume 1 and Volume 2 I have become intrigued by this idea of the dishonest narrator.
The entire concept at first took me by suprise when I saw it mentioned. If the narrator of a book is not telling the truth then what exactly is the purpose of the book? I am the type that gets annoyed when Star Trek contradicts itself or when books and movies don’t match. I want to believe the story they are telling (as fiction, of course) but the point of what really happened isn’t the same when the story is different. Compare the books and the movies of The Lord of The Rings for instance.
I don’t think that the way I deal with fiction is too out of the ordinary. People tend to want fiction that is consistent and believable. I know lots of people with the whole sci-fi genre for instance that don’t like it because it’s “not real” (as opposed to other regular fiction which is real). The question pops into my mind – Why do we tend to trust fiction? Why do we instinctively believe that the narrrator is all knowing on the topic at hand. If the style or facts is such that we can’t believe the story we chalk it up to poor writing – not dishonest narration.
Unbelievers won’t allow positive assumptions to be made about the writers of the Bible. They assume that many of the writers (or redactors) were dishonest narrators who were inventing a religion. We conservative Christians can’t believe whole-heartedly the daily news or reporters like Dan Rather. We know that we have often been lied to. It seems to me from last year’s election that John Kerry has throughout his life pushed a falsehood which is his concept of the Vietnam War. We believe what we want to when it comes to the news and the happenings around us. I remember reading and article in the Chalcedon Report a couple of years ago in which the author mentioned series with episodes that never happened. He specifically named The Last Battle from the Chronicles of Narnia and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. In that author’s view these stories were part of a larger series and these specific stories could not have happened. They didn’t fit.
Because of falsehoods in the news, history books, public schools, congressional testimony, campaign promises, and our pulpits we need to be able to discern the turth. We can look at the Chronicles of Narnia and debate whether The Last Battle should have been written the way it was or whether it really happened in its context. We can watch the news every day and wonder what is really true. We can read scientific studies that contradict the Bible. We need to know where our foundation is. The Bible is either true with faithful narrative or it is a false book that happens to include some true stuff. We can’t throw out Genesis 1-2 because it doesn’t fit with our science. We can’t twist the meanings of words and phrases because they don’t agree with our eschatology as we “see” it. The Bible means something and it is faithful. We may not always understand it instantly but we can know it is true. People can continually present “facts” that seem to disprove the Bible but prove their idiocy. They basically claim that they are omniscient and know all of the facts. They fail to take into account that the God who wrote the Bible may have access to more facts than they do.
I have digressed slightly from my main idea which was being intrigued by the unfaithful narrator. Sometimes it would probably be helpful to have a more real view of literature and realize that the fictional narrator who saw the events may just be writing his viewpoint and not what “really happened.” Looking at it this way may help total contradictions to make more sense if that is possible.
Interesting, I’d like to find those posts. I never thought of him being dishonest.
I did some searches in the Urth List archives and found some of the posts that made me think about these things. The entire thread starting with http://www.urth.net/urth/archives/v0307/3619.txt.shtml seems to talk about the issue. That part of the archives has lots of posts on the topic of the characters’ memories in Wolfe’s books. Many of those can be seen here: http://www.urth.net/urth/archives/v0307/index.shtml.
Thanks for the links, I will check them out.