Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gene Wolfe

I "met" Gene Wolfe at Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions' bookstore in Hollywood when I was in law school.  I was surprised that a writer who could write so elegantly would look like an iron worker.

This is an interesting interview with Wolfe, including this:

//Which writers have most influenced you?

It’s a difficult question. My first editor, Damon Knight, asked me the same thing when I was just starting out, and I told him my chief influences were G. K. Chesterton and Marks’ [Standard] Handbook for [Mechanical] Engineers. And that’s still about as good an answer as I can give. I’ve been impressed with a lot of people—with Kipling, for example; with Dickens—but I don’t think I’ve been greatly influenced by them.

What struck you about Chesterton?

His charm; his willingness to follow an argument wherever it led.//

And:

//I see you often called a Roman Catholic writer. Once, even, “a very subtle but also very emphatic Roman Catholic propagandist.”  Is this identification unfair?

I think it an oversimplification. I’m a writer who is Catholic, as a good many of us are. I do not write Catholic books intentionally. I’ve never been published by a religious publisher.//

And:

//If it’s not too personal a question, do you consider yourself a professing Catholic?

Certainly I am. I go to mass; I receive Communion; I pray.

Were you born a Catholic, or was Rosemary?

No, I was a convert.

Like Chesterton.

It’s a bad thing in that born Catholics tend to look down on you. But being looked down upon has its advantages.

Like what?

You don’t put yourself forward as an expert. You understand other people who are in similar situations, and not only in religious matters. I once met Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who we’re trying to get made a saint now. He looked at you and you felt that he knew all about you, that he had taken your worth, both positive and negative, and had formed a correct opinion about you, and that was it.

Did Sheen feel saintly? He was canny by your account; he had an intelligent eye.

Sheen was a very intelligent man. He was smaller than I had expected. I suppose he was about five-five, five-six, or something like that.

John XXIII was a little man, too.

Well, size only counts with football players, really.

But did Sheen feel saintly? Did he have a quality of holiness?

He had a quality of something really quite extraordinary. I was at a party once for locally important politicians—a former governor of Illinois, for example. And Sheen came through as somebody who was actually on a higher level. A hundred years from now, he was the only one at the party who would still be important. The rest of us were lost. //

Chesterton is a gateway drug to Catholicism.



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