Severian, the main character and narrator of The Book of the New Sun, is a notoriously unreliable narrator, according to many Gene Wolfe fans.

There's no doubt that Severian often leaves out information (such as answers to questions he thinks he learns the answers to, 1 & 2), and that he most likely embellishes the narrative to present himself in a better light (like his relationships to Thecla, Jolenta, Dorcas and others), but does he ever outright lie without it being a lie by omission? He also clearly lies to people he meets along the way several times, but we as readers are usually privy to the fact that they're lies.

Does he lie to us, the readers?

  • 2
    This is a good question!
    – zeta-band
    May 31, 2017 at 19:33
  • I'm afraid we can't tell; there would need to be some serious contradiction in his tale, I guess. Don't see a reason he would. Without another PoV it seems problematic.
    – Mithoron
    Jun 1, 2017 at 0:03
  • @Mithoron I don't think it's out of the question that there might be serious contradictions in Severian's tale. There are already some contradictions in his story pertaining to his "infallible" memory, but I don't think those are deliberate lies.
    – tobiasvl
    Jun 8, 2017 at 20:34

2 Answers 2


I'm mostly through the fourth sub-book of the novel and I believe that while the narrator is often confused and unsure about what he as experienced, Severian doesn't appear to outright intentionally lie. At least not in a way that is verifiable since almost the entire narrative comes from him.

I think that Severian's intention is to layout his story to the best of his abilities. I don't think there is any motive for the character to intentionally deceive the reader. At times and in many cases, the narrative reflects badly on Severian's character. He sometimes acts cowardly or foolishly, and while sometimes he is almost selflessly heroic, at other times he appears pointlessly selfish. As someone would imagine a real person would act, rather than how someone might sanitize their autobiography to exclude the things they are ashamed of.

So I don't think the main character lies, as he doesn't appear to be concerned with how he appears to the reader, in order to maintain his ego. He would rather state his story as he recalls.

  • 1
    I agree. He is as reliable as he can be, although he finds himself in the most confusing of situations and is deliberately lied to and misled by almost all he comes across. That is the theme of the novels: dissimulation and manipulation. Perhaps the greatest of all literary science fiction series? Who can say, but Wolfe sure did something major, I say with complete assurance.
    – releseabe
    Mar 28 at 23:06

Yes, he lies at least once.

When he relates the story of Thecla's death, he clearly means us to understand that he had no other way to save her from torture than by assisting her suicide. But much later he admits that he knew at the time that he could release her, instead, but didn't have the courage to do so. "We strive to repay the debts of the past with the debased currency of the present. At that counter I tendered Cyriaca's life in payment for Thecla's."

Maybe a lie by omission, but he's deliberately misled the reader.

  • 2
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Nice catch; that said you could improve this answer by including the exact quotes.
    – DavidW
    Mar 28 at 22:56
  • Nice first contribution that can be improved as DavidW suggests.
    – releseabe
    Mar 28 at 23:07
  • Actually, I've noticed that the question specified "without it being a lie by omission" So I've not answered the question. But the lie's worth noting, as an illustratration of just how tricky Severian is. He's at his worst, and most deceptive, when dealing with women, as OP noted.
    – Scott
    Mar 30 at 12:11

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