In Green’s Jungles by Gene Wolfe

Paul R. Potts

These notes are excerpted from a rambling blog post. The monograph I mention is included in this collection. I’m still not sure whether it is ready for publication. I’m starting to feel the itch to read The Book of the New Sun yet again, just to see if I can find even more things that I missed in my previous readings.

I worked on a Gene Wolfe novel that has eluded me for a long time — the second part of the Short Sun trilogy, In Green’s Jungles. Wolfe is one of my very favorite writers and I still think that the Book of the New Sun series is pretty much the masterpiece of late-twentieth-century fantasy and science fiction. I think The Shadow of the Torturer is the only book I’ve literally worn to the point of disintegration just by reading the same copy over and over.

But he’s a puzzling writer, and in the later series he gets more puzzling. Reading In Green’s Jungles is like looking through a kaleidoscope held by someone else. As soon as you start to figure out what you’re looking at, and say “Ah! Yes, I think I see what is going on,” he twists the kaleidoscope and says “how about now?” And it’s all a jumble of pretty fragments again.

And so these are books that are unsatisfying on a first reading, and even a second reading. I’ve gotten further this time; maybe I’ll even finish the second book. Maybe by the third reading I will be able to plow through the third and final book and feel like I have a sense of what is really going on.

They differ from The Book of the New Sun in that the former series can be read as a straightforward adventure story, and it is satisfying in that way — to a certain extent. Until you realize that Severian’s story doesn’t entirely hold up, and that he is an unreliable narrator, and then you fall naturally into the mystery, and start to form your own theories.

I have a monograph I’m working on, about The Book of the New Sun, but I don’t feel it is quite ready for publication, even on my blog. I feel almost ready to write about the second series, the Long Sun books. The Short Sun books, though, are still largely a blur of glittering fragments to me.

Saginaw, Michigan
June 17, 2013

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