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‘This Warrior of a Dead World’
Impressions of Chapter 5 of Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer
© 2019 James LaFond
Reading from pages 35-39 of Shadow & Claw
The Picture-Cleaner and Others
Severian has been dispatched on an errand to deliver a message to Ultan, the Master of Curators. On the way, in a great gallery of pictures, a man works upon an odd figure of an armored man holding a banner on a dead version of the now green moon with “blue Urth” rising in the background, “…an idealized but vitiated image.” The Picture-Cleaner describes his apprenticeship in terms of being trained on this worthless picture by his master, and now, in his old age, has returned to clean it a third time. The Picture-Cleaner is the single bright spot in this oppressive errand as two men of the lower nobility harass him over his station in life and, what is worse, he is internally troubled by his station in life, and not its perception among others but rather its odious responsibilities.
“By slow degrees, however, a feeling of disquiet seized me. I was miserable before I knew I was no longer happy, and bowed with responsibility when I did not yet fully understand I held it.”
As with Wolfe’s other first-person protagonists in Latro in the Mist, Litany of the Long Sun and the Short Sun trilogy, small scenes providing telling interaction with non-heroic characters serve to temper and illuminate the protagonist and the setting at once. Severian is rescued from his lesser nature by the Picture-Cleaner in terms that set him beyond the normal human experience:
“Like one of those half-spiritual friends who in dreams address us from the clouds, the old man said,”
And the author works another person of ordinary wisdom into the life of his extraordinarily muted hero.
Diction of note
Dream Flower: Five Dark Tales
‘Night Comes’
before the rising sun
‘A True Exultant’
menthol rampage
the first boxers
'in these goings down'
time & cosmos
book of nightmares
winter of a fighting life
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