Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Shadow of the Torturer, by Gene Wolfe

I picked up the complete Book of the New Sun at a very nice price at Half Price Books, which is the next best thing to free, though this is  without doubt available at your local public library as well.  The Shadow of the Torturer is the jumping off point. There have been copious reviews, and probably doctoral theses, written on this series--it is rated third best fantasy series of all time behind The Hobbit and Harry Potter in some sources. NPR has it at number 87, which seems more than a little underrated. I only add my impressions here, will say more at the conclusion.

Right off the bat it is apparent that this work is by a master, and meant to be a lasting contribution to literature.  Harry Potter is a YA series--read this for fully mature work.  The protagonist, Severian the Torturer, promises depth far beyond normal genre work, probably up there with Gandalf in Tolkien.  And there's a quite interesting appendix where Wolfe claims to have translated this from "a language yet to be invented", far off at the end of the sun's time. The prose very often just leaves my jaw hanging.
I think it is in this that we find the real difference between those women to whom if we are to remain men we must offer our lives, and those who (again--if we are to remain men) we must overpower and outwit if we can, and use as we never would a beast: That the second will never permit us to give them what we give the first.
When I try to explain to my daughter why she might enjoy Harry Potter and is not ready for the Book of the New Sun, I realize how debased the terms "adult literature" or "for mature readers" are.  We so equate maturity and sex.  This is genre literature for the experienced reader, one willing to interpolate, reread, and savor.  I can't wait for the rest.

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