The Sword of the Lictor (1982) by Gene Wolfe

TheSwordoftheLictorAnd we return to another installment of “Conversations with Gene,” where I rehash my experience with the third release in the Book of the New Sun tetralogy, and Gene continues to play coy, though less so than usual.


The past cannot be found in the future where it is not—not until the metaphysical world, which is so much larger and so much slower than the physical world, completes its revolution and the New Sun comes. [40]

Whoa, Gene. I don’t know if it’s the New Sun, but there is definitely something different going on in this book. Severian has settled down with Dorcas and has a stable torturer job in a new town. AND WORDS MAKE SENSE. What gives?

I have noticed that in books this sort of stalemate never seems to occur; the authors are so anxious to move their stories forward (however wooden they may be…) that there are no such misunderstandings, no refusals to negotiate. [p. 24]

But there are fewer misunderstandings in this book. Your phrasing is much clearer, whereas the narration in the first two books was so vague and elusive. Words escaped my mind the moment I read them.

They were fragmentary, contradictory, and eisegesistic… [40]

Eisege… yeah…

I found I could not say what it was I understood; that it was in fact on the level of meaning above language, a level we like to believe scarcely exists, though if it were not for the constant discipline we have learned to exercise upon our thoughts, they would always be climbing to it unaware. [44]

So, it takes psychic powers to read The Shadow and Claw. That’s what you’re saying.

Such magic is mostly fakery—like lifting you up through a hole so it would look as if the other one had made you appear under his robe. [118]

To be frank, it did feel a bit like fakery, as if you just layered a bunch of allusory, nebulous language inside what is turning out to be a rather basic hero’s journey. Just sayin’.

We are like children who look at print and see a serpent in the last letter but one, and a sword in the last. [162]

Erm… guess I missed that part.

The story I was reading appeared at some times to be no more than nonsense, and at others to deal with my own concerns—endless journeyings, the cruelty of crowds, streams running with blood. [152]

Actually, this tale isn’t as bloody as I had expected. And let’s talk about Severian’s concerns. He seems to be going through a crisis of self. Not that he’s aware of it.

We torturers obey… No one truly obeys unless he will do the unthinkable in obedience. [169]

And yet, Severian has disobeyed twice now. Will he ever recognize the contradictions in his own behavior?

When a man becomes an animal, he becomes a dangerous animal [98]… instinct was the highest and lowest principle of the governance of the will. [99]

There are a couple of examples of that in the text: people who go feral, and beasts who adopt the mannerisms of their human meals. Is it a stretch to assume you are saying something about human nature?

I had a sudden vision of these metal men rising slowly… [129]

… and on it lay what had once been the body of a man with two heads. [132]

Well, then there’s that. The spaceships and robots and stuff. What’s that about?

Terminus est is no more. [197]

Whoa. That’s a HUGE turning point. The hero loses his weapon and his journey isn’t near done. A typical story would reunite the man with this sword… I don’t suppose…

For they are saturated in the wild thoughts sprung from the lore saved by the machines, and such faith is one of those wild things. [40]

So, he’s not getting his sword back. Wow. That’s the most surprising thing you’ve done so far.

TheSwordoftheLictor2All of us, I suppose, when we think we are talking most intimately to someone else, are actually addressing an image we have of the person to whom we believe we speak. [55]

So, pretending to have conversations with you isn’t really shedding light on anything, is it?

But the speaking of any word is futile unless there are other words, words that are not spoken. [124]

Oooo, psychic connection with Gene Wolfe. I’ll pass.

Here I pause. If you have no desire to plunge into the struggle beside me, reader, I do not condemn you. It is no easy one. [200]

Oh, please. It’s not THAT hard. And you are far too cogent now for this interviewing thing to work anymore. I guess I better do a real review next time…



15 thoughts on “The Sword of the Lictor (1982) by Gene Wolfe

  1. Rabindranauth says:

    Man, I love your reviews of these books. Great stuff!


  2. I’m going to miss these Conversations with Gene when you get done with Citadel of the Autarch. As much as I look forward to this “real review next time” (what sorcery is this?!), these have been fun. Then again, I still think your journal entries post for VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy was one of your best.


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Thanks! I figure since the series turned out to be more than just weird, irrelevant shit, I should try to do it some justice and do a real post about how and why I think it evolves the way it does. But these have been fun to write.

      My Southern Reach post is one of my top favorites, too, (and most fun to write) but it doesn’t get as much attention as even these posts. I suspect the threat of spoilers doesn’t help, but I also think people in the book world aren’t as secure about parodies as they are in other media.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. romeorites says:

    Terminus est is no more. I actually yelled when I read that in the book. I love your conversations with ol’ Gene. Its cosmic stuff.


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Thanks! The loss of Terminus Est was the biggest turning point for me. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that it was a permanent change of events. Heroes lose their (swords, horns, rings, etc) all the time, but they always reunite. How subversive for Wolfe to disengage from that pattern.


  4. I think you can legitimately transition these into an ongoing series, at least when you encounter other arcane books.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Joseph Nebus says:

    Oh, this is a fun review.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I LOVE these reviews/conversations. I too think you should have them with as many books as possible. Though in the case of these they have made me rather confused about whether I want to read these at all. I do know I want to read you writing about them though.


  7. […] The Sword of the Lictor (1982) by Gene Wolfe […]


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