Peter Bebergal — who penned a thoughtful analysis of Michael Moorcock for The New Yorker back in January, “The Anti-Tolkien” — is at it again. This time, he takes a look at the often challenging work of Gene Wolfe.
He kicks off the article with some insightful comments on the 1986 fantasy Soldier of the Mist, the first novel in Wolfe’s Latro trilogy, centered on the adventures of a Roman mercenary with a perplexing ailment.
Having suffered an injury during the Battle of Plataea, a Greco-Persian War skirmish, Latro has no memory of his past. Each night, he writes the day’s events on a scroll; the next morning he reads the scroll to bring himself current. Latro has to carefully choose what he is going to write down: he is limited by time, because when he sleeps he loses his memory again, and by the medium, because there is only so much papyrus. It is hinted that Latro’s wound was caused by the meddling of the gods… It could be the case, however, that Latro’s wound causes him to hallucinate.
On the phone from his home in Peoria, Gene Wolfe explained to me recently that Latro’s memory loss does not make him an unreliable narrator, as many critics assume. Instead, Latro might reveal only the truth that matters. Latro must ask himself, Wolfe said, “What is worth writing, what is going to be of value to me when I read it in the future? What will I want to know?” These are questions that Wolfe has been asking himself, in one form or another, for decades. His stories and novels are rich with riddles, mysteries, and sleights of textual hand.
Read the complete article online here.