Michael Andre-Driussi’s Lexicon Urthus: A Dictionary of the Urth Cycle; The Wizard Knight Companion: A Lexicon for Gene Wolfe’s The Knight and The Wizard

One of the notable features of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun> is the vocabulary. (Well, there’s more of course — it’s a notable cycle on a number of fronts.) When I reviewed the Urth Cycle (Andre-Driussi’s term), I commented on Wolfe’s use of language:

Perhaps, before you realize that Severian is lying to you (not consistently — just when it suits him), you will be captivated, and then puzzled, by Wolfe’s language. He is at pains to explain, in an appendix that follows The Shadow of the Torturer, that this story is a translation of a book “originally composed in a tongue that has not yet achieved existence.” He goes on to point out that, although it might have been easier to invent words, he has not done so: these are all real words, or words developed from real words. The one thing that is missing is a glossary: meanings must be derived from context. And so as you read along, you develop a rich framework of meanings, potential meanings, associations, connotations, none of which have any particular foundation.

Well, now Michael Andre-Driussi has given us that glossary, and somewhat more: in addition to the lexicon, which contains not only Wolfe’s unusual coinings, whether actual words or put together from parts, but named characters, places, and other “things” (that’s the only word that fits some of these), with their derivations and histories, maps, older maps, a listing of special articles on various subjects (as well as a subject listing with the relevant words, a synopsis of Severian’s narrative, an introduction by Gene Wolfe, and a delightful dedication that alone would make the book worth having (and gives some insight as to the nature of its author). This is the second edition, following on the first edition and several supplementary “corrections.”

I realize the whole idea of a lexicon for a very literary work of science fiction sounds a little over the top, but trust me — this volume is absolutely captivating. If you’ve read the books, you’ll find yourself searching your memory for particular scenes and characters, and fighting the temptation to dive back into all five volumes. If you haven’t read them, you’re going to be tempted to run right out and get them. Give in.

The Wizard Knight Companion is a similar book, a compendium of mostly names of characters and places from Wolfe’s two-volume novel, The Knight and TheWizard. It also includes supplementary listings, in this case a cosmology that illustrates the levels of the world(s) included in the books, a map of Celidon, a bibliography, and an introduction by Wolfe. (Alas, this one lacks the impish dedication.)

Together, these two volumes, the product of dedication, if not downright obsession, are, I think, valuable tools for the Wolfe scholar (yes, there truly are Wolfe scholars) and, what’s even better, fun to read in their own right.

(Sirius Fiction, 2008)
(Sirius Fiction, 2009)

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

You may e-mail him, but include a reference to Green Man Review so you don’t get deleted with the spam.