The Land Across
February 5, 2019 3:50 PM - by Gene Wolfe - Subscribe

An American writer of travel guides in need of a new location chooses to travel to a small and obscure Eastern European country. The moment Grafton crosses the border he is in trouble, much more than he could have imagined. His passport is taken by guards, and then he is detained for not having it. He is released into the custody of a family, but is again detained. It becomes evident that there are supernatural agencies at work, but they are not in some ways as threatening as the brute forces... SPOILERS AHEAD

Read this book recently and hoping to discuss the story behind the story.
NPR review: "If you thought no one could improve on Kafka, try this one at home." "I’m on to you, Gene Wolfe. You and your tricksie word games."
Gizmodo: "Don't expect to figure out Gene Wolfe's new novel on a first reading."
posted by bq (3 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Here's another very good analysis from the Urth List.

Observations and questions:

The word 'vampire' does not appear in this book.

Grafton acts like a stereotypical horror movie idiot what with his spending the night in haunted houses and wandering around dark castles with men dressed in black.

None of the natives ever invite anyone across a threshold.

Rosalee: former mannikin. Was the other female prisoner murdered to animate her?

Is the girl with the red pen a vampire? It sure seems like she must have some behind-the-scene role, what with Grafton ending the book calling her 'my lady'.

The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien.

Who is the third policeman? The ghost of Grafton's father? The dictator looks very like his father; given the storyline of Russ and the illegitimate Papa Iason, this seems like a strong hint that they are related.

The archbishop: what did Papa Zenon see when the Archbishop came down the stairs? This is the question that bugs me the most, because it feels like the answer is in the text and I'm missing it.

Is Grafton evil or good, and if he's evil by the end of the book, when did he get turned, if he did? Are the tattoos on the hand prayers or curses?
posted by bq at 4:04 PM on February 5, 2019

Actually, the word ‘vampire’ is in the book. Papa Zenon says it. Grafton is asking about the funeral for the corpse from The Willows, and asks if he said prayers, sprinkled holy water and if Martya had any fits, and Zenon says (paraphrased) “You think she’s a vampire? She’s not, but a witch wouldn’t have trouble with any of that. A witch could walk right into a church, attend mass, and take communion.” This is the same conversation where Zenon says he saw the archbishop that morning (and was unsettled).

So, Zenon brings up vampires after seeing the archbishop at dawn. And also that devil worshipping magic users have no problems with churches and church ceremonies. Whatever he saw put him on this line of thinking.

It’s not in the text itself, but The Land Across definitely references Dracula, and in Dracula, vampires not only have no reflection, but also have no shadows. And this no shadow thing sometimes occurs in folklore for others who have lost their souls too, like if they had made a deal with the devil for instance. Like I said, it’s not here in this book, though…
posted by rodlymight at 9:58 AM on February 11, 2019

Or less meta, maybe he sees the archbishop is not alone. Grafton says there is someone with him during their confrontation (technically the 4th, since the 3rd policeman is also there), and describes a feeling like he gets around the man in black.

What does he trip on in the stairway?

I do get the feeling everything is just a show for Grafton’s benefit. All the people who resemble each other, as if they were actors playing multiple roles, or dolls. And the phones, and other details.

It reminds me a bit of Walls of Samaris, a graphic novel where a man visits a city that turns out to be completely empty except for him. And a lot of The Man Who Was Thursday.
posted by rodlymight at 2:44 PM on February 11, 2019

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