Posts tagged with "book of the new sun" - Faerye Net 2008-08-18T10:12:07+00:00 Felicity Shoulders The need to know 2008-08-18T10:12:07+00:00 2008-08-18T10:12:07+00:00 <p>In sorting through boxes of late, I&#8217;ve come across many things I&#8217;d long forgotten, and one thing at least that gave me a rueful smile. It is a little notebook from when I read Gene Wolfe&#8217;s <em>Book of the New Sun</em>&#42;, starting with <a href="" target="links"><em>The Shadow of the Torturer</em></a>. They&#8217;re good books, well written and building to a surprising culmination. However, they&#8217;re also written in a strange style. They are meant to have been &#8216;translated&#8217; from an arcane and alien tongue, and to &#8216;better represent the original text&#8217;, Wolfe has used unusual words.</p> <p>And I don&#8217;t mean unusual words like <a href="" target="links">purulent</a>, <a href="" target="links">adumbrate</a> or <a href="" target="links">deliquescent</a>. I mean unusual like he must have a full <span class="caps">OED</span> and perused the alternate spellings so long he decided he could invent more with confidence; I mean so unusual that I had online access to the <span class="caps">OED</span> at the time and could only guess at some; I mean unusual as if they were not words in the language, tools in its toolbox, but forgotten implements ranged for display in the cases of a museum of curiosities.</p> <p>It drove me crazy. When there is a word I do not know in a book, I want to learn it. I scrawl it down, leave a Book Dart, or note the place, and then I look it up later. Or, if it isn&#8217;t clear <em>enough</em> from context, I do it right then. Now, Gene Wolfe is not mean enough to write a book in English that English-speakers cannot read (oh Lord, I just thought about the task of translating these) &#8211; all these words are used carefully so that you can get a rough idea &#8211; &#8220;Oh, it&#8217;s a building material&#8221; &#8211; and move on with your reading. Or positioned so you don&#8217;t really have to know. Or linked into long lists to make it easier to figure out the context (the one I remember is, in fact, building materials) and deadly obvious that you should not look them all up.</p> <p>I did. At first, I looked up every one. And there were usually something like six each page. Which brings me to the little notebook. When I realized looking each up before proceeding made the act of &#8216;reading&#8217; problematic, I bought this tiny notebook at the University Bookstore and started scrawling the words in, to be joined by their definitions at a later date. This solution, too, ended, and I stopped worrying and learned to love the evocative mystery. I managed, thus, to finish reading the tetrology &#42;&#42; in less than a decade and without <a href="" target="links">stealing a copy of the <span class="caps">OED</span></a>.</p> <p>The notebook, however, abides. <dl><dt>A sample:</p> </dt> <dd><strong>gallipot:</strong> little pot, apothecary</dd> <dd><strong>badelaire:</strong> badelar (OED): short broad sword with scimitar-like curve</dd> <dd><strong>myste:</strong> myst (OED): priest initiated into mysteries</dd> <dd><strong>armiger:</strong> one entitled to bear heraldic arms</dd> <dd><strong>mestachin</strong> [I think]: sword dancer in fantastic costume or their dance</dd> <dd><strong>caracara:</strong> aberrant falcon in South America with vulture tendencies</dd> <dd><strong>saros:</strong> Babylonian for 3600 or a period of 3600; also, modern astronomy: cycle of 18 years, 10 and 2/3 days in which solar and lunar eclipses repeat themselves</dd> <dd><strong>nenuphar:</strong> water lily</dd> <dd><strong>wildgrave:</strong> ruler of an uncultivated or forest region</dd> <dd><strong>khan:</strong> a building (unfurnished) for the use of travelers</dd> <dd><strong>coffle:</strong> train of men or beasts fastened together, especially slaves</dd></dt> <p>The list persists beyond the defined part for 13 pages. Looking at it now, I find many words I know &#8211; &#8216;martello&#8217;, &#8216;stunsil&#8217;, &#8216;anchorite&#8217;, &#8216;salubrious&#8217;,&#8216;capybara&#8217;. I don&#8217;t exult too much over my former self, however, because I do seem to recall, in the enthusiasm of my drive <em>to know</em>, adding words I knew, but not precisely, to the pages, confidently expecting I would define them all. I already know about myself that as I have grown I have come to be on better terms &#8211; friends, almost &#8211; with ambiguity, but how startling to see it so demonstrated, the contrast so clearly drawn between the person I am now and the one that scrawled these lists, desperate to know, eight or so years ago.</p> <p>&#42; If anyone I know has a line on where these books are now, please let me know. Maybe I lent them?<br /> &#42;&#42; Really, really. They were a gift from my dad, they&#8217;re beautiful editions, and last time I looked I couldn&#8217;t find those <span class="caps">TPB</span> volumes in print.</p>