With the previous installment of this reread, we’ve approached the halfway point of Gene Wolfe’s masterwork, The Book of the New Sun. (I’m referring, naturally, to the four volumes that comprise this story. The fifth, The Urth of the New Sun, is a coda, and it will be considered as such for the purposes of this rereading.)
The Sword of the Lictor begins with an epigraph by Russian poet Osip Mandelstam: “Into the distance disappear the/mounds of human heads. /I dwindle – go unnoticed now./But in affectionate books, in children’s games,/I will rise from the dead to say: the sun!”
It’s a beautiful elegy, and not very hard to interpret in the context of the saga: the poet is Severian, in his incarnation as Autarch, describing in a nutshell his trajectory, disappearing into the wilds of Urth until he rises again as the New Sun. But how is this transformation accomplished? The third volume gets us closer to the answer.