Sunday, November 25, 2012

SUNS SUNS SUNS - Shadow of the Torturer 26-30

Last section ended on a very dramatic note, with Severian having found a very provocative note on one of the food trays at the Inn of Lost Loves, where he, Agia and Dorcas are hanging out until it's time for Severian to meet the hipparch on the Sanguinary Field. Severian immediately realizes that "you are my mother come again" means the note was not intended for him, but just as immediately zeroes in on Agia as the likely target because of reasons.

He then spends most of Chapter 26 interrogating Agia about whether or not she has ever had a child, and then alternately ogling her and the newly-cleaned up Dorcas (who is, of course, the one for whom the note was actually intended, but Severian never thinks of this because of reasons), with a brief break to ask the innkeeper who the Snape Trudo ("Trudo says the man is a torturer") might be? Oh, well there's an ostler here named Trudo, but you can't understand a damn word he says because he's from Southern Nessus and from across the river, to boot. Severian already seems to know that somehow, but we never find out the somehow because it turns out Trudo has scarpered for good and we'll never hear of him again.

The note likely came from one Ouen, the waiter, and we will learn more about him later.

And finally, COMBAT TIME! Or as they call it when you duel with averns, MONOMACHY TIME! Again, we are treated to some philosophical musings from Severian on the way to the Sanguinary Field, including the observation that in societies that have outlawed dueling, it's largely replaced with murder, and often ends up with two corpses instead of one, because society tracks down the killer and kills him for his crime. Point taken, Severian!

But of course, he is on his plodding way to become a "carnifex" aka executioner, so his point is pretty interesting, isn't it?


As Severian arrives, people are bellowing out names; turns out it's tradition here to either announce yourself or have a servant do so, so that everyone knows one has turned up even if one's opponent has not. I suppose it would not be seemly to just announce that said opponent has chickened out. Severian tries bullying Agia into making his announcement for him "Severian of the Matachin Tower." She at first refuses, then takes it on herself to edit his cry to "Severian of the Torturers! Severlan of the Citadel! Of the Tower of Pain! Death! Death is come!" and Severian backhands her for it.

Dorcas suggests that wasn't a very good idea, as it will only make Agia hate him more. More than what, Severian asks (disingenuously, in my opinon). But soon there are more important things to think about; Severian's opponent has showed up, and showed up in armor. Should they fight naked? The hipparch declares that his people only go naked in the presence of women. But he's in armor! Oh noes!

Of course the real reason the hipparch refuses to remove his armor -- particularly his helmet -- is because Severian would recognize him as Agia's brother Agilus. If this were to happen, the jig -- because while Severian thinks this is the Guild's roundabout way of punishing him without violating the law but it's really just a ruse the twins cooked up to part him from his valuable sword and fulgin cloak -- would be up. Oh noes! But at last a compromise is reached; the hipparch takes off his breastplate (Severian is already shirtless, of course) and Severian will wear his Super Scary Torturer's Mask. Fine. Soon the leaf-chucking, audience hazardous foolishness of avern combat is underway.* They fight awhile, and then Severian goes down in confusion and the hipparch "in an oddly familiar voice" claims victor's right to Severian's clothing and weapon. Ho ho! But then Severian gets up, ready for Round Two, and the hipparch, with a glance at Agia, runs away.

Next thing we know, Severian is in an infirmary of sorts, hallucinating giant apes with dog's heads and trying to plan how he's going to explain to his Master how he lost both sword and cloak before he was even out of Nessus; he's buck naked in his bed. But no, there is Dorcas with his stuff. Oh, and it turns out the dog-headed ape is real, but I don't know what to make of that. Anyone? Bueller?

Turns out he's in a sort of barracks, part of the Hall of Justice, among a lot of soldiers back from fighting the Ascians (about whom we'll learn more later) in the North. Turns out he'd been hit by a leaf, which didn't just have poison dripping from its edges, but also drinks blood if it's left embedded in the wound.** We learn, too, that his opponent injured many while making good his escape, so hey, at least the audience got to watch someone die, har har.

Meanwhile, turns out Dorcas rescued Severian from his own avern, which was busy turning on him, like averns apparently do?

Like I said, I don't even.

But so anyway, this is another near-death for Severian, but like I've said elsewhere, I'm really not interested in the many-Severians reading of these books. They hurt my brain enough as it is.

Meanwhile, Dorcas is interested in what was up with the note at the Inn, anyway? Which she didn't ask about earlier because she didn't want Agia to hear. Severian seems to interpret this as just females gettin' jealous because who doesn't want a piece of him, but really, Dorcas was onto Agia from the start, I think. Anyway, a discussion ensues, in which Severian opines that Dorcas is not old enough to have had a grown child (which Ouen certainly is) and she breaks down and cries that she doesn't remember.

And then BOOM! As Severian is shopping for a new dress for Dorcas at what amounts to the commisary there by the Hall of Justice, the portreeve (a kind of bailiff, here, I think) stops him and asks him to stand by to act as a carnifex since there's a guy on trial and they're pretty sure he's going to be found guilty. Well! Severian can't say yes fast enough. Even before finding out who his likely client is.

Well, what do you know! The client is none other than Agilus, who managed to kill no fewer than nine people while making his crappy escape from the Sanguinary Field! And Agia is with him. "Because you lived, he has to die," she says to Severian. And even then Severian (supposedly) doesn't get it until Agia laboriously explains her ruse and the penny drops. "You tried to kill me. Just for my sword."

Then Agilus tries to bamboozle our hero with talk of Severian's having wronged him three times and an old law that says a man three times wronged may claim a boon of the one who did poorly by him. First, he claims, Severian entrapped him by carrying an heirloom blade into Agilus' orbit. Second, Severian refused to sell the sword at any price, which "in our commercial society" amounts, Agilus says, to treason. And third, Severian obviously cheated on the Sanguinary Field. The boon Agilus claims is, of course, not being executed, please.

When that argument doesn't work, Agia leaps onto Severian to kiss him all over and proclaim her love for him, and all but demands that he "take" her right there in Agilus' cell. Of course, while she's pawing him, her fingers slip into his man-purse and he hears the rustle of paper and he flings her away from him. She conks her head against a stone in the wall and starts crying. Severian finally chases her out of the cell and has "the talk" with her brother about how best to present himself for death the next day. Don't eat too much, have a pee before the sword comes down, etc. Considerate fella, that Severian.

As he leaves, he finds that where the orichalk he offered Agia to get herself some food was flung by that ungrateful girl, someone has crudely scratched the image of Jurupari, "wreathed in letters I did not know." I've always glossed over this before, but this time I did some digging, and found that Jurupari is the name of a rather nasty Brazilian jungle god, born of a virgin, and also that "jurupari" with a lowercase J is the species name for a popular aquarium fish called the Earth Eater, so this is probably a hidden reference to bad old Abaia, the alien leviathan who will one day swallow the continents. So, who scratched that design there? Agia? Does that mean Agia is in league with Abaia and the rest who are already working to prevent the New Sun?

I think it does.

As Severian leaves the dungeon where Agilus awaits his services, he encounters something new to him: Torturer Fanbois and Fangurls. They want to know all about him, including his real name. One woman almost touches his bare chest. One forces a handkerchief on him and asks him to get some of the prisoner's blood on it. She'll pay him.

And now that I have read There Are Doors, I'm struck by a bit of this scene in which one of the fanbois starts wittering on to Severian about a "paracoita" (sexdoll?) he used to have. It's hard not to think of this fellow as a devotee of the goddess whom Pine knew as Lara in that other book, even though There Are Doors was written eight years after Shadow of the Torturer. So, retroactively creepy. Anyway, this guy lost his doll somehow, and in his twisted way is now all about the Torturers and Carnifexes getting maximal suffering out of their clients as revenge for the theft of said doll. Um..

Nor is that the only ickiness with which this section ends, for now that it's just Severian and Dorcas against the world ("it would be said of her that she was a torturer's woman, who gave herself under the scaffold for money spotted with blood"), there are certain, ah, expectations when they retire to their windowless room (foreshadowing, as he himself observes, Severian's time to come serving as Carnifex for the "windowless" city of Thrax, whenever he gets there). Weirdly, he savors the idea of not sleeping with her, at first: "the pleasure I would have had in abstinence would then have been at least as great (as I thought) as I would have had in possession, with the additional pleasure of knowing that on the next night she would feel the more obliged because I had spared her."***

But while Severian is busily completely denying Dorcas any say in the matter of whether she's going to sleep with him, she reveals that she's kind of thinking about doing so, but only in the most abstract terms: she is wondering what memories will surface when she has sex again. Like an abuse victim. So, ew.

But of course, they do a thing. And the reader says eww, and then eww again as we run out the rest of the chapter with Severian getting himself all psyched up to kill Agilus with the blessing of the state. Eye of the Tiger, Shadow of the Torturer, bitches.

*My friend Paul Weimer, aka @PrinceJvstin on Twitter, tells me he actually worked up an avern combat system for a role-playing game he ran a few years ago. That must have been hilariously fun to play out.

**One pauses to contemplate the evolutionary forces that could shape such a plant on any world. Then one's head explodes.

***Of course, all of this is even ickier once one is in possession of the knowledge that Dorcas is [REDACTED].


  1. Did Wolfe get some of There are Doors inspired by the discussion about the paracoita. Maybe.

    And, yeah, the players in games I run wonder where I get my crazy ideas and concepts. The current set I am running are getting weird stuff from Martha Wells this time... :)

  2. Minor point, but the avern duel isn't a near-death for Severian like in the river where he's saved by the undine. It's an actual death. No need for multiple Severians, either, it gets reversed by, is this supposed to be spoiler friendly? Well, the thing that reverses death in these books.

    It's probably obvious to most people but I managed to read the novel three times before I realized why he "didn't die" because of his confused description of the events.

    1. Are you talking about the Claw, Matt? Or something from UotNS? Or both? Hee hee!

  3. I believe the dog headed ape is a baboon.


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