Master Ash’s joke

1231349594_1-11.jpgPictured: Severian looks like he could use a good laugh

Let’s take a little break from all the grimness with a bit of levity from “These Are the Jokes” by Gene Wolfe, a series of jokes told by characters from The Book of the New Sun, ostensibly compiled because Wolfe’s son thought his epic of a dying Earth needed “more funny bits.”

Master Ash: Once a man such as I, a man who walks the corridors of time, was approached by a rich woman. “I wish to see the end of the world,” she said. “Show it to me, and I will double your fortune.

“Doubled, my fortune would remain but small,” said the scholar.

“Tripled, if you like,” said the woman.

“It is forbidden to use such powers as mine to satisfy idle curiosity,” said the scholar.

Then the rich woman told him all her riches should do to him and his children if he did not obey her.

“Very well then,” said the scholar. “ Would you see the time when the sun swells and Urth falls thereto like a cinder in a grate?”

“No,” said the rich woman. That is only a larger fire, and I have seen many fires.”

“Then would you see the Grand Gnab, when the universe shall fall into itself?”

“No,” said the rich woman. “For that is not the end of anything, but the beginning of a new universe.”

“Then tell me what I must show you,” said the scholar.

The rich woman took thought with herself, and at last she said, “Show me the end of Life. I would see the last agonies of the last creature to live upon Urth.”

“Very well,” said the scholar; and they stood upon a plain of ice, with the red sun no brighter than the moon.

“Where is the last creature?” said the woman. “That is what I wish to see. Here everything is already dead.” A cold wind scoured the plain, and she drew her furs more tightly around her.

“Why no,” the scholar told her. “You live, and so do I.” Handing her a mirror, he vanished down the corridors of time.


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