Saturday, September 01, 2007
On Coming to Doubt the Reliability of Your Narrator

"Master Palaemon's study seemed very large when I entered it and very precious to me-- as though the dusty books and papers were my own. He asked me to sit. He was not masked and seemed older than I remembered him."

--Shadow of the Torturer, p. 99 (Timescape edition)

"Master Palaemon took a map down from his cabinet and unrolled it for me, bending over until the lens by which he saw such things nearly touched the parchment."

--Ibid, p. 102

The masks that Gene Wolfe's torturers wear have a single lens at the center through which their wearer can see. I have read the intervening pages several times over to see if any mention is made of Palaemon putting his mask on. If there is, I missed it on every go through. Severian, the narrator, has always made claim to having an eidetic memory (contradicted by at least one mention of his not remembering something), but has once before this point mentioned that he suspects himself slightly insane. He has reported fantastic happenings, random unlikely encounters with great figures, seeing dead men walking. Yet none of these things has made me distrust him more than this one detail, which if it happened in a film would be called a continuity error. From a lesser author I'd suspect carelessness, but a craftsman like Gene Wolfe doesn't make those kinds of mistakes. This was placed in the text precisely for me to find and wonder about...

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