Thank you to David Chapman for sending in these pictures of himself with a copy of The Mariner at various sites in Sighisoara! I’d been meaning to do a quick blog post about this amazing medieval town and he has given me the perfect opportunity. Here’s the pictures of David, and if you haven’t read The Mariner, beware – there be SPOILERS ahead!
Sighisoara is a well preserved medieval town in Transylvania, Romania. Most famous for being the birth place of Vlad Tepes (aka Vlad the Impaler, aka Vlad Dracula), but unfortunately this is probably the site’s biggest drawback as it’s littered with tourist traps stuffed with vampire memorabilia. I visited Sighisoara way back in 2007, before the onset of vampire-mania, so I dread to think how bad it’s gotten now.
The site was originally that of a Roman fort, built upon by Saxons and then in the 12th century a citadel was constructed, but it was only in 1431 that we find the first reference to the name Sighisoara being used. Highlights include a 14th century clock tower, church on the hill, Venetian house and Church of the Dominican Monastery.
My own experience of Sighisoara was that of a fever dream. A friend and I had travelled to the town of Targu Mures for a music festival, but alas fate (and twelve shots of vodka) conspired to render us lost in this town with nowhere to stay and without a tent to camp in. A freezing night later and I was a wreck. Worse for wear (I shall spare you the gruesome details) we abandoned Targu Mures and fled south, hoping to find sanctuary at the next major tourist destination: Sighisoara. Shivering, sweating, shaking and swearing, I remember all too well the long walk from the bus stop to the citadel, desperately hoping I’d be able to keep control of my bowels until we found a room in an inn. Fortunately, we did find a hotel with space: the beautiful Casa Wagner
, which our budget could extend to a single night.
Unfortunately my illness, while abating somewhat over the next 24 hours, never departed and our stay in Sighisoara was limited. We were soon forced to abandon our trip around Transylvania and retreat to Bucharest to find a doctor to bribe.
So when the Mariner sought his own oasis, it seemed only natural that his should be the same as my own. Indeed, his waking in the town square was reminiscent of my friend leaving me shaking on that same spot whilst the locals kept a wary distance in case I was contagious.
So is Sighisoara the same one that features in The Mariner? Yes and no. Similar to the fictional island, Sighisoara does have a hill rising up inside a citadel, and as in the book that hill is topped with a church. In the story, Tetrazzini has built a comfortable home around it, symbolic of his apparent stabilising influence in an era difficult to pin down.
After the Shattering, as the Wasp slowly drew the minds, meme by meme, from the human race, the world as it had stood became fragmented and chunks ceased to exist. Those minds that remained untouched, or only slightly removed were those closest to the source of the Wasp’s panic: [the Mariner] himself. So those in faraway Romania would not have been left “untouched” by the Wasp; they would have become mindless as their minds became a part of the collective whole. Sighisoara would have gone the way of most of the world, disappearing as the cocoon of reality dissolved, had it not been for Christopher McConnell, focusing his mind on a place he’d never seen but been described by his father. In the turbulent time of the Shattering, when reality (supported by the collective minds of those infected by the Wasp) was morphing in response to that collective splitting, Sighisoara was preserved, albeit a version more closely associated with the Sighisoara of McConnell’s imagination, rather than the memory held by his father.
Sound confusing? Basically, Sighisoara in the book should not be taken as a direct representation of the one in real life. Like all the ideas, religions, sciences, politics and philosophies in The Mariner, the landscape is rotten. Entropy is at work everywhere.
The Mariner’s Sighisoara is another broken promise. It is the illusion of redemption. The Mariner arrives at the settlement thinking that he is the monster, but what he finds is a society corrupted to the core with the façade of civility. At the first instance he is accosted by corrupt officials and soon after observes the funeral of a young lady who’s been recently murdered, the killers of whom he clashes with when he witnesses a gang rape in a shady gambling den. Indeed, even the supposed beacon of light, Tetrazzini, reveals himself to be a far darker creature than the Mariner could ever be. To paraphrase JRR Tolkien, the Mariner looks foul but feels fair unlike Sighisoara which (in the book) is quite the opposite. It looks fair, but as the Mariner soon learns, it is most certainly foul.
So once again, thank you David! And to the rest of you out there, why not do the same and send in pictures of you doing something Mariner related with your own copy? How about petting a Tasmanian devil? Flagellating with a whip? Or perhaps simply masturbating off the side of a boat? The choice is yours!
Oh, and for those of you wondering, the rest of my stay in Bucharest did not improve my luck. No sooner than I’d recovered from my illness I got attacked by wild dogs. Ho hum.
Tetrazzini’s Sighisoara, artwork by Christopher Hayes