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Shadow & Claw (The Book of the New Sun #1-2)
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2011 Reads > S&C: Shadow & Claw - Underlying themes

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message 1: by Jared (new)

Jared (jared_king) | 51 comments We used to do this at school. What do you think are some of the major themes of Shadow & Claw (so far).

For me, Sean introduced me to a new word - semiotics. In Shadow of the Turturer, there are many musings and discussions around symbols and their interpretations, and how those interpretations affect the world in which they exist. Help me out with some references.


message 2: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (last edited Feb 15, 2011 07:26PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
Well the biggest example of symbols as a theme is that quote from Chapter 1:

"We believe we invent symbols. The truth is they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is an acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life - they are soliders from that moment, thought they may know nothing of management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all."

There's some discussion of it in the You've Got Your Science Fiction in My Fantasy! (gradual spoilers) thread. a summary of Sean's interpretation: the passage reveals part of Severain's world-view -- he believes that symbols exist independently of culture and act on people independently (which Sean says is basically a belief in magic). Likewise Severian thinks that a person who believes in the "efficacy in pure knowledge" (ie, someone with an scientific outlook, who would analyze the coin-symbol as a creation of human culture) is a bebased "would-be sorcerer."

But the passage, as well as revealing some superstition/mysticism in Severian's thought, also has some truth to it -- "it is profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them" is true in that Urth's inhabitants are constantly effected by technology they no longer understand.

Other themes so far:

Memory -- Severain has a photographic memory but also is a unreliable narrator. Likewise, his society has some-mixed memories of its history and achievements. This ties into:

Identity -- Personal and cultural identity is based on memory. Identity gets played with in many ways in the books.

Storytelling -- Encapsulating all of this is the theme of storytelling, and how stories can reveal or distort memory and identity.


Larry (lomifeh) | 88 comments Identity is a big thing so far. How one identifies oneself, as well as how one is identified by others. Not to be too spoilery but it comes up with all the major characters.

Also degeneration is something mentioned. How the culture has degenerated, how Severin's order has, and how other groups have become a shadow of what they were.


message 4: by Noel (new)

Noel Baker | 364 comments The Aristotleian idea that memory equals identity is a constant fascination for me. Explored in A.E. Van Vogt's 'Null A' classic SF books, it lies at the heart of much SF writing.


Larry (lomifeh) | 88 comments Relationships, the bonds they can form, and the supportive and destructive nature of both seem to be a constant theme.

From page 32:
"His quarry stands to the hunter as our clients to us; those who buy to the tradesman; the enemies of the Commonwealth to the soldier; the governed to the govenorsl men to women. All love that which they destroy."

And this does come up a number of times in the relationships Severian has, in the ones he sees in others. This I think ties with the overall themes of the book well.


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