Saturday, June 22, 2013

Severian the Executioner


Gene Wolfe is one of my favorite fantasy authors. He fills his writing with classical, Byzantine, and Catholic references, many of them obscure. As an old classicist, Byzantine fan, and eccentric Catholic, I really appreciate this. I've only read one series by him, the "Book of the New Sun," and since then he has written a number of series following that world and its characters into new stories. I ought to return to Wolfe and read the rest of it. In the  1980s, when the "New Sun" was new, I read them with wonder and devotion, savoring the mystical Christianity hidden under the fantasy-adventure goings-on. I also enjoyed the horror elements of the books, including revenant drowned dead people and monsters that devour people and then imitate their voices to draw the loved ones in for their next meal. There were also satirical passages such as the true North Korea-like true believers who can only speak using quotes from their Great Leader. Brilliant stuff. I just had to illustrate it.

The "Urth" of the unrenewed sun is lit by a fitful, dying Sun, so far in the future that the remains of our civilization are flattened into sedimentary rock. The Moon appears to have been terraformed and is covered in green vegetation and blue water, but at least in the first series, you don't get to visit it. Severian, the renegade torturer and executioner, wanders through the decadent lands, armed with his blunt-tipped executioner's sword "Terminus Est," named in Latin after a famous Doors song ("This is the end...."). Severian goes through all sorts of adventures until he gets involved with the nobility and ends up as an Emperor. But he promptly abdicates, in order to somehow renew the sputtering Sun's energy. 

This is my portrait of Severian, in the red-lit, devastated landscape of Urth. The woman behind him is the spectre of Thecla, his beloved lady who dies in a particularly horrible way early on in the story. I have had conversations with Gene Wolfe in the distant past, and he gave me valuable authorial material on what his characters and world looked like. Now that I'm finding these old Wolfe illustrations of mine, it's reminding me again of the illustrative potential of Wolfe's books.

"Severian" is acrylic on illustration board, 14" x 20",  August 1983.

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