There Are Doors is Gene Wolfe’s version of the ancient Indo-European legend of the Goddess/Queen of the Wood and the Horned King. Of all the various versions I’ve read of this story, Wolfe’s definitely has the most interesting and nuanced portrayal of the these figures. In this iteration the relationship between The Wood and The World is described in several different ways, as reflection, frequency, and perhaps most strongly as Sea and Land. Mr. Green [Horned King] is in search of Lara/Lora/Marcella/Tina [The Goddess] through both worlds. Once a person from The Wood has met a person from The World, doors take on a special significance and act as portals between the two areas. I’m used to reading about the Goddess as a cold-hearted and puissant woman who is mourning the loss of her lover, usually without explaining why is this way. Wolfe adds substance to her distant nature by making her the only immortal in either world, and by adding a twist that every man from The Wood who has sex dies immediately after, like drones in a bee colony. When the Queen seeks love she has to go to The World, but also has to leave her lover afterward. So her coldness is a way for her to protect herself from the pain, As she takes other lovers, each of the previous ones becomes a bit sardonically a cuckolded version of the Horned King. We find that she does indeed love all of her Kings, and ones that are persistent enough to pursue her and catch her are allowed to serve her. The service isn’t subservience, but an expression of love.
Gene Wolfe is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors. His books move slowly and appear to jump around until suddenly the pieces fall into place and run smoothly and rapidly to a conclusion. His greatest strength seems to be his ability to lace a story with enough ambiguity that uncertainty never really leaves you until the last page, if then. Mr. Green is in and out of mental hospitals throughout the novel, so we’re not sure if the world through his eyes is true or not. The type of storytelling isn’t like Peace, but the doubt is ever present. I’m starting to round up anything I can find by him.