I have already reviewed at length the first two volumes of this US/UK omnibus (The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator), but for this series of short commentaries on the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks series, I thought I'd focus a bit on a few minor points of interest to myself. In particular, I want to focus more on the ways that Wolfe's first two volumes appear to be influenced by the blind Argentine author/poet, Jorge Luis Borges, whose motifs have been cropping up lately in several authors' fictions that I've been reading.
The first possibly Borgesian element is that of Severian's purportedly eidetic memory. When re-reading this omnibus for the fourth time this week, I was struck by the surface similarity to Borges's Funes. Now while the two authors employ the use of near-perfect memory differently in their stories, it is interesting in how each author's character have similar quirks about them. But it wasn't until near the midpoint of The Shadow of the Torturer that explicit references to Borges' signature stories begin to appear.
Severian's visit to Ultan's Library, with its labyrinthine passages and seemingly infinite number of shelves, not to mention its blind curator, is a direct homage to Borges himself and to stories such as "The Library of Babel" and perhaps The Book of Sand. Severian's conversation with Ultan bears some passing resemblence as well to how Borges would often frame his stories. Perhaps at a later time I'll go into more detail in regards to Borges' stories, but this is not the time.
Later on, in The Claw of the Conciliator, the influences are even more apparent. The section concerning Father Inire's mirrors and the fish that appears in them, are taken directly from Borges' "The Fauna of Mirrors," with the fish being at the center (China Miéville was also influenced by this short fiction when writing The Tain). The metaphysical explanation behind the mirrors and its form of travel/reality mirror similar discussions in several of the stories found in Ficciónes.
Being a fan of both authors, re-reading each for those subtle little bits leads to the accretion of semantic layers with each successive reading of the text. Whether it be discovering the multitude of ties connecting the two authors (throwing out mentions of Dr. Talos' play, Baldanders, and the like) or noting the level of skill that went into crafting these passages, Wolfe's Shadow and Claw is not only worthy of being "a" Fantasy Masterwork, it perhaps is THE fantasy masterwork of the past century. Its layers add to the re-reading experience and each successive read, for me, has led to a deeper awareness and appreciation for what Wolfe accomplished with his masterpiece. His The Book of the New Sun novels are among the most important novels of the second half of the 20th century, regardless of whatever shallow genre classifications might be used.