Fragile Bird

The Book of the New Sun First Read and Re-read project [spoilers]

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Although the book offers the translation of "holy servant" for hierodule, a more literal historical translation is a slave or prostitute dedicated to serve a temple, which is a slightly darker interpretation. 

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1 hour ago, Iskaral Pust said:

Although the book offers the translation of "holy servant" for hierodule, a more literal historical translation is a slave or prostitute dedicated to serve a temple, which is a slightly darker interpretation. 

The contrast between the two interpretations is fascinating both for analysis of Wolfe and of language/translation generally.

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It might be that those historically called hierodules were (often or also) temple prostitutes but the *literal* translation is simply holy servant or holy slave or servant of the holy. Cf. the name Theodul(os) that means servant of god.

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I finished vol 4 yesterday.  I'm still underwhelmed and cannot see why this is hyped as a classic of the genre or evidence of Wolfe's brilliance.  Pretty dull, bland and flat throughout, with no redeeming interconnectedness or insight to conclude.  The entire story is fundamentally lacking any point, and the prose and characterization are nothing great. 

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8 hours ago, Iskaral Pust said:

I finished vol 4 yesterday.  I'm still underwhelmed and cannot see why this is hyped as a classic of the genre or evidence of Wolfe's brilliance.  Pretty dull, bland and flat throughout, with no redeeming interconnectedness or insight to conclude.  The entire story is fundamentally lacking any point, and the prose and characterization are nothing great. 

Come on, man, that is why I am part of this re-read, to refute the conclusions of my teenage and college-age self upon reading these books.  Don't harsh the ambiance of the thread until Fragile Bird knocks it all out for us.

But seriously, I am hoping that the re-read will bring more clarity and a better overall experience to reading Wolfe.

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10 hours ago, Darth Richard II said:

You are all heretics. :P

Yeah, you folks are all crazy. Maybe you guys should stick with Stanek.

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Heretic or no, I still want to hear FragileBird's recap of the third book.

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What happened to FB?  Should we file a missing persons report at this point?

I'm still up for discussion but glad that the actual reading is behind me. 

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Fragile Bird, where art thou?

This series is a central, foundational touch point to literary 80s science fiction or fantasy - we need to finish it off, like a spoonful of castor oil or sugar, depending upon your taste.

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Just noticed this thread.  It's been a while since I've read the books (and not sure I ever read the full series), but something I've always wondered was what exactly the Witches were.  Is that clearly spelled out somewhere?  Appreciate if someone could clear this up for me.

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46 minutes ago, Brother Longfoot said:

Just noticed this thread.  It's been a while since I've read the books (and not sure I ever read the full series), but something I've always wondered was what exactly the Witches were.  Is that clearly spelled out somewhere?  Appreciate if someone could clear this up for me.

Not really. There's a suggestion that they may be prostitutes or concubines or something of that nature (although I'm sure there's more going on there). A few relevant passages from Claw (all from Chapter XXX, pg 461 of my copy):

"I learned much later that there was a good reason for selecting only boys well below the age of puberty to carry the messages our proximity to the witches required."

"...and we knew it was the witches themselves who screamed thus...Nor were those screams the howlings of lunacy and the shrieks of agony, as ours were."

We meet one, Merryn, who is with the Cumaean during all the Apu-Punchau business at the end of Claw. She seems to have some knowledge of what Severian (and the reader) would term "magic" but she also says, "There is no magic. There is only knowledge, more or less hidden." So I think it's safe to say Witches have some knowledge on the more hidden side of the scale.

Honestly, about all we really know for sure is that they acquire new members in much the same way as the Torturer's Guild. Boys born to prisoners of the Torturers become Torturers, girls become Witches. It's why Severian says that if he has a sister, she's a witch. Not much to go on, really.

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17 hours ago, matt b said:

Not really. There's a suggestion that they may be prostitutes or concubines or something of that nature (although I'm sure there's more going on there). A few relevant passages from Claw (all from Chapter XXX, pg 461 of my copy):

"I learned much later that there was a good reason for selecting only boys well below the age of puberty to carry the messages our proximity to the witches required."

"...and we knew it was the witches themselves who screamed thus...Nor were those screams the howlings of lunacy and the shrieks of agony, as ours were."

We meet one, Merryn, who is with the Cumaean during all the Apu-Punchau business at the end of Claw. She seems to have some knowledge of what Severian (and the reader) would term "magic" but she also says, "There is no magic. There is only knowledge, more or less hidden." So I think it's safe to say Witches have some knowledge on the more hidden side of the scale.

Honestly, about all we really know for sure is that they acquire new members in much the same way as the Torturer's Guild. Boys born to prisoners of the Torturers become Torturers, girls become Witches. It's why Severian says that if he has a sister, she's a witch. Not much to go on, really.

Thanks for the reply.  Good synopsis.  Thinking about it, I wonder if there's some kind of dominatrix aspect going on.  Because while the torturer's outfit is probably intended to evoke a Medieval headsman (although from the most well known of the book covers I also get a bit of a Luchador feel), it also comes across as looking like "bondage gear".  And it would kind of make sense if the counterpart of the Torturer's Guild was also about inflicting pain, but in a pleasurable/ non-harmful way.

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