Soldier of the Mist/Soldier of Arete Essay - Critical Essays

Gene Wolfe


Gene Wolfe is a very literate fantasy writer, which makes his books a joy to read. In Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete, historical details are profuse, and the flavor of the times imbues every line. Wolfe’s erudition can be an impediment to some readers, because enjoyment of these books is greatest for those familiar with the history and culture of classical Greece and with all the religions practiced around the eastern Mediterranean at the time of the story. For example, gods and goddesses are rarely referred to by the names most familiar to most readers. Instead, they are given the names by which they are best known in a particular region, or when presenting a particular aspect. In Thrace, Gaea is Cybele; when she holds up the Moon, the Triple Goddess is Selene.

Wolfe plays with names in another way: Latro uses English words for most Greek names. The cities he visits have simple names with concrete meanings; “Athens,” for example, is “Thought.” By eschewing the Greek names, which to most modern readers are bereft of their prosaic meanings, Wolfe brings readers closer to the times he is describing, when to say “Sparta” was to say “rope.”

Because Latro does not always have time to read his scroll in crises, the reader often has knowledge Latro lacks, adding to the tension. Wolfe skillfully preserves the illusion that both books were written entirely by a warrior in ancient Greece who has only one...

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