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"The necropolis has never seemed a city of death to me; I know its purple roses (which other people think so hideous) shelter hundreds of small animals and birds. The executions I have seen performed and have performed myself so often are no more than a trade, a butchery of human beings who are for the most part less innocent and less valuable than cattle. When I think of my own death, or the death of someone who has been kind to me, or even of the death of the sun, the image that comes to my mind is that of the nenuphar, with its glossy, pale leaves and azure flower. Under flower and leaves are black roots as fine and strong as hair, reaching down into the dark waters."
From Gene Wolfe's The Shadow Of The Torturer, being the first part of The Book of the New Sun
The Book of the New sun
Wolfe's most famous and praised work, The Book of the New Sun is regarded as one of the greatest achievements in science fiction literature. Gothic, fantastical, spiritual, and mysterious, The Book of the New Sun immerses the reader in a world at once both familiar and utterly weird. While divided into four books, it's best to think of it similarly to how the Lord of the Rings (a work that it is frequently compared to) is divided into three books, but still regarded as one work.
Set in a strange time beneath a dying sun, Severian, an exiled torturer, recounts to the reader, with the help of his 'perfect' memory, his journeys across a world both decadent and dilapidated.
The Oxford English Dictionary
While a dictionary is useful for any reading experience, The Book of the New Sun might be considered a storehouse, or a celebration of words archaic, esoteric, and rarely used. Within the first several pages in the first volume of the Book of the New Sun the reader encounters rare words/terms such as potter's field, gallipot, badelaire, and autarch.
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3 rev. ed.)
While not dogmatic, The Book of the New Sun is filled with Christian references and symbolism. These references are often employed through character names. Quick name look-ups and meanings might be helpful to squeeze a bit more understanding from the text. For example, again, within the first chapter of the Book of the New Sun, names such as Malrubius and Eata are mentioned--both of which can be found in this reference source.
Dictionary of Mythology by
Call Number: BL303 .E9
Publication Date: 1970-11-01
Wolfe plays with mythological archetypes, characters, and names. A dictionary of classical mythology such as this one on hand while reading the Book of the New Sun--as well as many other Wolfe works--will certainly help to elucidate Wolfe's at times obscure mythological references.
Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor by
Call Number: U800 .S8 1961
Publication Date: 1999-07-02
Many of the interesting words Wolfe uses pertain to weaponry. First published in 1934, this illustrated dictionary of arms and armor contains just about all weapon-related words found in The Book of the New Sun. While the OED contains a lot of them as well, this reference source is heavily illustrated, and provides more context and background information.
The Wizard Knight
Wolfe's two part Wizard Knight is, on the surface a fantasy novel utilizing traditional fantasy tropes. As the title suggests, magic and battles abound, but something else is happening, just beyond the reader's vision. The reader will encounter elves, fairies, and ogres in this Lord of the Rings meets A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court tale, richly steeped in Norse mythology, written in epistolary style. This is another excellent choice for what Wolfe work to read first.
The Knight by
Call Number: PS3573.O52 K58 2004
Publication Date: 2004-01-03
The Wizard by
Call Number: PS3573.O52 W59 2004
Publication Date: 2004-11-01
Cassell Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend by
Call Number: BL860 .O73 1997
Publication Date: 1997-06-01
Ymir, Muspel, Gylf--what does it all mean? Understanding these and other terms increases the comprehension and therefore, (arguably) enjoyment of Wolfe's Wizard Knight. This dictionary of Norse mythology provides definitions, etymologies, and context for these words, characters and places, as well as many others.
Soldier of the mist by
Call Number: PS3573.O52 S65 1986
For Greek and Roman Classics majors, Soldier of the mist is a great place to start with Wolfe. Set in the fifth century BCE around the time of the Persian War, the story takes the form of a daily log, written by mercenary with brain damage which affects his memory. Figures of classical mythology, often hidden, lurk throughout.
The Oxford Classical Dictionary
With all of the references to Ancient Greece and its culture and mythology in this Wolfe novel, this reference can help to provide some classical foundation to the reader.
The Fifth Head of Cerberus
In Wolfe's early novella, The Fifth Head of Cerberus, he established his particular style of dense, beautiful, creepy, science fiction mystery that he would employ for the rest of his career. You can find this novella in The Best Of Gene Wolfe, among other excellent, shorter stories.