Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Birthday Gene Wolfe!

It has come to my attention that today, May 7th, 2011, is the 80th birthday of Mr. Gene Wolfe. Mr. Wolfe is one of the finest American writers of all time, from the four-part Book of the New Sun to The Knight and The Wizard, from his short story anthologies to his quirky and unsettling novellas.

Mr. Wolfe will tell you things you do not want to hear. He will tell them to you in a friendly voice, and he will tell them to you in such a way that you do not fully understand just what it is you have been told until he is done. By that time, of course, it is far too late, and you will find yourself thoroughly trapped. You were warned!

(Notice! No jump here! Why? Because this is the most important thing you will ever read in your life. Really!)

If you are not familiar with Mr. Wolfe's work, then let me offer at once my sincerest condolences and state my utter and total envy. My condolences because your life up to this point has been a dreary, bland and facile existence lacking in any redeeming quality whatsoever. My envy because you exist in a state of pristine ignorance, like a small child who has never tasted chocolate, and a wide world of awe now awaits you.

My first contact with Mr. Wolfe's work was The Shadow of the Torturer (the first volume of his signature work, the Book of the New Sun), which I picked up from a used bookstore when I was in high school. After lumbering through the story to its finish, I was confused. I was not sure just what I'd been reading up to that point. I knew that I liked it... sort of. The story was intriguing, disturbing and exhilarating all at once, yet still carried a weight of solemnity to it.

I purchased the remaining 3 volumes of the Book of the New Sun and tore through them all, and upon completing the last word of the last sentence of the last paragraph of the last page in the last book... I was no less confused.

A year or so passed before I returned to the series for a re-reading (this is what we did in the era before TiVo and YouTube, we read things and then, when we ran out of things to read, we re-read them). Upon finishing the series a second time I felt somewhat wiser, but still confused.

In the ensuing two decades I have re-read the Book of the New Sun no less than 4 times, and each time I find something new, some new nuance or perspective, some cleverly revealed unspoken truth or hidden meaning buried within the chronicle of Severian's travels. The same is true of most of Mr. Wolfe's work; I find more value upon each re-reading. This is my testament and my promise.

Proceed therefore posthaste to your local library, bookstore or other vendor of literary thingamajigs - virtual or otherwise - and procure at once any or all of the marvelous tomes Mr. Wolfe has penned over the last six decades. They will change your life.

Remember, you were warned.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent reminiscence.


    (the link above is my recounting of my own first reading of Wolfe's magisterial solar cycle on my Gene Wolfe blog)