Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Felicia Campbell

Second Committee Member

Gary Totten

Third Committee Member

Vincent Perez

Fourth Committee Member

Satish Bhatnagar

Number of Pages



The goal of this study is to re-examine the possibility of determining authorial intention, focusing on an author considered by many to be sui generis, science fiction grandmaster Gene Wolfe, well known for his confusing and difficult texts. Wolfe has a reputation as a “puzzle box” writer. Chapter One will trace some of the critical controversy surrounding his reception. Chapter Two will touch on a shift in recent twentieth- and twenty-first-century criticism from poststructural and deconstructive tenets to a more authentic trust between author and reader, attempting to minimize the implications of the hermeneutic of suspicion without decreasing the richness of interpretation and reading. Figures such as Paul de Man and Jacques Derrida will be considered before turning to the critical discourse surrounding Wolfe, focusing in on the seminal early story “Trip, Trap” and his Soldier series, juxtaposing critic Nick Gevers’ overarching thesis, which champions Wolfe’s writing as subverting universals and suggesting a multiplicity of truths against my own reading of the text as the ultimate Christian syncretism, casting Wolfe as one of the most purely traditional writers and symbolists in the modern era. Chapter Three will focus on Wolfe’s use of archetypes and the collective unconscious, presenting a very difficult novel of Arthuriana in Castleview against the palimpsest of his Wizard Knight series, highlighted by Wolfe’s direct use of Carl Jung and the critical perspective of Northrop Frye. Chapter Four will begin to approach some of Wolfe’s narrative tricks, including an assessment of an overarching theme in his work which is completely and utterly orthodox in nature: many, such as Peter Wright, read his Urth of the New Sun as a work espousing literary naturalism criticizing organized religion. Unfortunately, that work, along with its sequel, The Book of the Short Sun, are complex but clear examples of Augustinian or Thomist theodicy played out in narrative form, the furthest thing from Naturalistic principles imaginable. Chapter Five will look at intertextuality in Wolfe’s stories “The Changeling,” “Seven American Nights,” and in his novel The Sorcerer’s House. All three of these stories have been used to champion the idea that Wolfe is intentionally poststructuralist in nature, inviting a variety of open interpretations and no definitive one. However, once the obscurity is pierced, much as in the case of some of Vladimir Nabokov’s work, the possible readings begin to close off. The theoretical work of Bakhtin and Kristeva will be used to highlight some of this narrative intertextuality. Chapter Six will attempt to codify some productive methods of reading Wolfe, including emphasizing his allegorical use of local symbols to provide narrative closure. Cogent scenes from the novels Peace, The Fifth Head of Cerberus, and The Book of the Short Sun will illustrate this mise en abyme technique that, in Wolfe’s hands, becomes allegorical and self-referential. Our conclusion will look very briefly at some other figures who might be considered to write puzzle box (or at least epistemologically puzzling) narratives such as Vladimir Nabokov, Samuel Beckett, and William S. Burroughs, further elaborating why the specific techniques that work so well on the Apollonian Gene Wolfe might have variable success on other less structurally concerned Dionysian authors.


American literature; Apollonian; Gene Wolfe; Literary analysis; Science fiction; Structuralism


Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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