A Solar Labyrinth


Wolfe's comments from the Introduction to Storeys from the Old Hotel

"'A Solar Labyrinth' is another favorite. Labyrinths seem to fascinate just about everybody, and for a while I was almost equally interested in what used to be called dialing. I tried to keep the sinister element well in the background, and it seems I kept it so far back that few readers notice it at all; but I like it that way."


A very short story about a maze constructed in the Adirondacks, it consists of objects on a big lawn that cast shadows. Because it is a maze of shadows it changes as the sun crosses the sky, it is only solvable at certain times of day and not at all at mid-day.


  • The narrator says that "Fayre Rosamund... furnish[ed] Queen Eleanor's knights with the clue they required to solve Hampton Court Maze." This is wrong: Hampton Court was not built until some centuries after the time of Queen Eleanor; the maze that concealed Rosamund was supposedly at Woodstock.
  • The Adirondacks are a mountain range in the northeastern part of New York.
  • The special nature of the maze make it insoluble at noon. No shadows are cast if the sun is directly above the maze.

Mythological background

  • Much information can be found in the wikipedia.
  • Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos of Crete, for whom Daedalus designed the labyrinth in which the Minotaur (a creature that was part man and part bull) lived. Every ninth year, seven youths and seven maidens had to be sent into the labyrinth to be devoured by the Minotaur.
  • The labyrinth had a single path to the center. Ariadne helped Theseus to navigate through the labyrinth.
  • According to the scholar Arthur Bernard Cook, Minos and Minotaur are only different forms of the same personage, representing the sun-god of the Cretans, who depicted the sun as a bull.

The labyrinth as metaphor for books

  • See A Solar Labyrinth - Sean Whalen's theory for a short overview.
  • Solar Labyrinth is the name of Robert Borski's collection of essays about the Book of the New Sun. By choosing this title Robert Borski acknowledges Gene Wolfe's talent as master of disguise. Like Daedalus he designs labyrinths in which most visitors get lost.
  • In John Clute and Peter Nicholls' Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the story is described as metafiction about the entire Book of the New Sun. No further elaboration is provided.

The labyrinth as metaphor for television

Who is the minotaur?

  • Mr Smith is Minos and the Minotaur:
    • There are hidden speakers that make the sound of a bull. It's all show. This is similar to the pseudo-magic of the Wizard of Oz (Don't pay attention to the man behind the curtain!).
  • Gene Wolfe is Mr Smith.

Unresolved Questions

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