Gene Wolfe

Borges: Influence and References

Gene Wolfe

An American author of science fiction and fantasy, Gene Wolfe has been hailed by critics and fans alike as one of the clearest visionaries in American literature. A Borges influence is most strongly felt in his "Book of the New Sun" series, an incredibly dense and beautifully intricate tetralogy that tells the story of Severian, whose chosen career is that of professional torturer.
The world that Wolfe paints is a tired and already decadent future, rich with anachronisms and run down by an apocalyptic sense of entropy. He plays with language and ideas with a deftness that makes the ancient seem novel, and the unfamiliar appear to be laden with the weight of decaying traditions. As one of Wolfe's favorite authors, Borges played an important part in the creation of Severian's world, as he admitted in an interview in the book Across the Wounded Galaxies. He also brought to life two creatures directly from Borges's Book of Imaginary Beings and turned them free in the pages of his universe: a giant named Baldanders, and an enigmatic "fish" that swims in the mysterious mirrors of Father Inire. Below I have provided an excerpt from the 1986 interview with Larry McCaffery:

LM: That kind of suggestive use for archaic or unfamiliar words is evident throughout the tetralogy, and I'm sure a lot of readers had the same mistaken impression that I did that you were making up these wondrous, bizarre words -- especially since the use of neologisms is so common in SF. Why did you choose to use mainly real words rather than inventing your own?

GW: I should clarify the fact that all the words in the Book of the New Sun are real . . . Some SF fans, who seem to be able to tolerate any amount of gibberish so long as its invented gibberish, have found it peculiar that I would bother relying on perfectly legitimate words. My sense was that when you want to know where you're going, it helps to know where you've been and how fast you've traveled. And a great deal of this knowledge can be intuited if you know something about the words people use. I'm not a philologist, but one thing I'm certain of is that you could write an entire book on almost any word in the English language. At any rate, anyone who bothers to go to a dictionary will find that I'm not inventing anything: a "fulgurator" is a holy man capable of drawing omens from flashes of lightning; an "eidolon" is an apparition or phantom; "fuliginous" literally means soot-colored (a complete black without gloss), and so on. I also gave the people and other beings in the book real names, with the exception of the Ascian who appears in The Citadel -- Loyal to the Group Seventeen. As for the monsters' names, I simply named them for monsters.

LM: I noticed that you gave one of your creatures, Baldanders, a name used by Borges.

GW: Yes, I took the name of the giant who is still growing from The Book of Imaginary Beings, which may not be Borges's best work but which I felt free to steal from disgracefully because even second-rate Borges is very good indeed. Borges is capable of making up much better books and monsters and authors than anyone can find in libraries.

LM: Who are some of the contemporary writers you most admire?

GW: Among SF writers I'd include Algis Budrys, Joanna Russ, Ursula Le Guin, Damon Knight, Kate Wilhelm, Michael Bishop, Brian Aldiss, Nancy Kress, Michael Moorcock. Among non-SF writers I most enjoy are Nabokov (Pale Fire is a truly amazing book) and Borges. Of course . . . Lovecraft (who is usually regarded as a SF writer, but to me he's the real successor -- if that's possible -- to Poe's line of horror.)

Gene Wolfe is targeted for his own corner of the Libyrinth sometime within the next year. The site is tentatively to be called "The Mirror of Father Inire," although this name may change after I reread his works.

Additional Information

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