Gene (Rodman) Wolfe Algis Budrys - Essay

Algis Budrys

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gene Wolfe is, I think, without peer at his own kind of story, and has a particular gift for the depiction of cataclysmic events through the eyes of a naive central character, usually an adolescent boy. In [the case of The Shadow of the Torturer], he's Severian of the Torturers' Guild….

The narrative is done in the style of an old man, a potentate, inscribing an account of his passage through a convoluted life in a decadently subtle culture of enormous complexity….

[The] culture of Severian's world reflects occasional touches of contact with interstellar technology. But in the main it is a blend of medievalism underlain by references to an earlier Hellenistic view of life, which makes sense in terms of actual Terrestrial anthropology, and overlain by a Victorian prurience which differs sharply from the innocent bawdiness and casual violence of the Middle Ages but also makes a kind of sense given the proposed circumstances. (p. 26)

[With] its references to DeSade, Plato and Jack the Ripper, this is a fully realized culture, utterly strange and utterly believeable, as might be expected from the author of "The Fifth Head of Cerberus."

Severian, considered as a character, is handicapped by the fact that we know we are meeting only one-fourth of him; considering that, he does better than well enough. The Chatelaine Thecla, his prisoner and first love, puts me in mind of...

(The entire section is 421 words.)