'How could the Outsider have chosen such a bungler? ...When had he ever offered a single sacrifice, however small, to the Outsider? Never! Not one in his entire life. Yet the Outsider had extended infinite credit to him... Certainly he would never be able to repay the Outsider for the knowledge and the honor, no matter how hard or how long he tried.' (Gene Wolfe, Nightside The Long Sun)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Of Gods Ultimate and Many

This under-blog is about the totality of Gene Wolfe's writing, encompassing all his themes, but, it must be admitted, with particular emphasis on and keen interest in the Theism emobodied (and embedded) in his body of work. The divine name vocabulary across the Briah Cycle alone is of great interest and even aesthetic as well as intellectual pleasure - e.g. the Increate, Pancreator, and Paraclete (all one and the same) of The Book of the New Sun and the Outsider of The Book of the Long Sun and The Book of the Short Sun. There is also the Most High God of the more recent The Wizard Knight.
At some point I intend to compare the pluralistic (and yet naturalistic?) polytheism of Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Anansi Boys with the polytheism of the afforementioned works by Gene Wolfe. It is very interesting the way these fellow writers (and friends) accomodate, explain, and subsume relgious diversity into the worldview that informs their respective works. It is the ideas I want to compare, not so much the writing, for, it has to be frankly acknowledged, Wolfe is in a rare class of genius at least a few levels above Gaiman. I really think Gaiman would gladly acknowledge this. And of course that in no way detracts from the great pleasure and profit with which Gaiman is read (by myself included). Nor does it detract from Gaiman's own originality and all he has accomplished with pushing fantasy boundaries. (Not to mention that we have Gaiman to thank for often persuasively introducing a wider audience to the rather obscure Giants on whose shoulders he is Dwarfishly standing, such as Wolfe and Lafferty!)

Speaking of theism in Wolfe's works is not to neglect the particularly Christian nature of that theism that is also woven throughout - e.g. the concept of the Conciliator who uses his Claw on himself, not others; and the Outsider who is called such not only because he is Outside the orthodox pantheon and because he is Outside space and time altogether, but also because he identifies with and seeks out those who are Outside society's respectable company, the outcasts on the fringes and margins.

Nor is all this to deny a certain 'pagan' element that seems to flow through Wolfe's works - a strong occult sort of theme or influence (perhaps not unlike the poetry cycles and novels of Charles Williams, whose Christian faith also strongly shaped his fiction). I don't know just what to make of this yet (nor do I in Williams either), except that perhaps it is another part of his apparent obsession and project to show how the 'ultimate truth' of Christianity relates to 'glimpses of truth' in the 'darkness' of paganism. (Please don't take this as aggressive or offensive, those of you who may not share mine or Wolfe's Christian faith. It is simply a way of trying to explicate what Wolfe is trying to do overall in his work. Every writer's fictional world does the same, starting from some set of assumptions that necessarily excludes whatever contradicts it and then tries to explain and 'subsume' those contradictory views.)

I would appreciate comments and help on all these themes. Thanks!

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