Category Archives: Hermetic Library Reading Room

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition, Hermeticism in a broad sense, and Aleister Crowley’s Thelema. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Pretty Deadly

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Pretty Deadly Volume 1 by Kelly Sue Deconnick, and illustrated by Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowles.

Kelly Sue Deconnick Emma Rios Pretty Deadly

This collection of the initial issues of Pretty Deadly is a good read, with lots of sex, violence, and numinosity, set in the Old West. The storytelling is inventive, and on the mythic level which is central to the narrative, it deals with the ruler of the Land of the Dead, and issues surrounding that character’s affines, other relations, and succession of office. The art is loose and dynamic, with a muted palette — very different than superheroic four-color.

Although the story ends with a momentous climax, and it seems to conclude a reasonably full plot, it may be intended as simply an “origin” scene-setting for a continuing series. [via]

The Carnelian Throne

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Carnelian Throne by Janet Morris.

Janet Morris The Carnelian Throne

The Carnelian Throne is the fourth and last of Janet Morris’s “Silistra” books, and while I enjoyed it well enough, it was something of a disappointing ending to the series. In general, it was not as engaging as the previous books. It was further detached from them by two mechanisms. First, the three central characters were removed to another continent about which they were largely ignorant, and where none of the elaborate dynamics of the daykeeper-ruled Silistran society had ever obtained. Second, a new pivotal character Deilcrit was introduced, with his parallel adventures described in the third person in chapters alternating with the first-person narrative of Estri that continued from the earlier volumes.

I didn’t much care for the “happily ever after with more adventure to come!” spirit in which this book concluded, which differed from the clouded and ironic endings of the other volumes. It almost seemed as if this book were an effort to create an episodic format that could further extend the series, rather than a truly intentional ending. Most significantly, this last segment failed to address some conspicuously ominous portents from the earlier books, where the narrating protagonist had looked back ruefully on her own decisions without detailing what was to come. All of these books were written over forty years ago, and there now seems little hope that the author would ever return to complete the story. [Spoiler! Hover over to see . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .]

Still, the novel had some of the features that made the rest of the series interesting: strange forms of inter-psychic phenomena, sexual rivalries and peculiarities, and civilization-toppling fulfillment of personal destinies. [via]

The Club Dumas

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Club Dumas by Fred Miller Robinson.

Arturo Perez-Reverte The Club Dumas

This novel enjoyed some international popularity for some time before it became the basis of Roman Polanski’s delightful thriller The Ninth Gate. Happily, that movie does not exhaust the merits of this book, being an adaptation of only one of the two interlaced central plots, the duplicity of which are fundamental to the story being told.

From my own perspective, The Club Dumas is notable for being a modern novel to involve the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Pérez-Reverte’s protagonist Lucas Corso is a broker of rare books and manuscripts. Besides the explicit mention of a 1545 (second edition) Hypnerotomachia (47-49), it is apparent that Poliphilo — as well as H.P. Lovecraft’s imagined Necronomicon — has influenced Pérez-Reverte’s conception of his plot-crucial imaginary grimoire, the 1666 De Umbrarum Regni Novem Portis, with its offensiveness to Christian sensibilities, provocative woodcut illustrations, impenetrable text, and Venetian origin. The novel includes the illustrations, which are richly iconic Tarot-like images.

But all that is within the plot-line harvested for The Ninth Gate. At the same time, Corso in the novel is involved with an attempt to locate an alleged fugitive original manuscript of a chapter from The Three Musketeers, and it is the phenomena of textual obsession, multiple authorship, and criminal intrigue that tie the literary and occult halves of the story into a braided whole. The novel is lively, not dense: a genuine pleasure read for the bookish. [via]

Afterlife with Archie #6

Afterlife with Archie #6, with regular and variant covers, by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla, a story about Sabrina the Teenage Witch in an asylum with Dr Lovecraft, is part of the collection at the Reading Room. You might also be interested in the upcoming series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina that begins in October.

Afterlife with Archie 6

“The Nether-Realm”: The unthinkable has happened: Riverdale has become ground-zero for the zombie apocalypse, and the surviving members of our gang have been forced to flee their beloved home. However terrible things have been for Archie and friends, they’ve been MUCH worse for Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Banished to witches’ purgatory after using the dreaded Necronomicon, she’s now fighting for her immortal soul! The award winning team of writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Francesco Francavilla continue their celebrated run on the critically acclaimed series. A perfect entry-point for new readers as the smash horror TEEN+ hit of the season continues! Definitely NOT for all ages! [via]

Afterlife with Archie 6 variant

The Man in the Bowler Hat

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Man in the Bowler Hat: His History and Iconography by Fred Miller Robinson.

Fred Miller Robinson The Man in the Bowler Hat

I took my time reading this book, which is a social history drawing on fashion, art history, literary criticism, film studies, theater, and other disciplines, constellated around the image of the bowler hat. Author Robinson takes the bowler as a quintessential icon of both modern consciousness and consciousness of modernity, and he follows its chief cultural appearances from its 19th-century invention, all the way through the 20th century.

The argument addresses such cinematic instances as Chaplin’s “little man,” the work of Laurel and Hardy, and A Clockwork Orange. Various painters are considered, but Magritte gets his own chapter, of course. There are high-resolution black-and-white illustrations throughout the book. [via]

Esoteric Pathways to The Divine

Esoteric Pathways to The Divine by Paul Robins, a limited edition self-published paperback, has arrived from Australia at the Reading Room courtesy of the author.

Paul Robins Esoteric Pathways to the Divine

“This book is the result of my search for spiritual meaning, having finally become disillusioned with the opinions of my inherited religion. I felt an inclination to examine esoteric disciplines, and found the paths of that ancient wisdom credible and engaging…and began to understand why religious authorities so actively discouraged its adherents.

As I progressed with my studies, there were many things I did no comprehend about esoteric teachings, and so set out on a long path of research and discovery. Much ‘was’ obscure and hidden, and in seeking to gain an understanding, I began to write down explanations for my own enlightenment.

This book is the result of those writings.” — back cover

Wind from the Abyss

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Wind from the Abyss by Janet Morris.

Janet Morris Wind from the Abyss

One of the features of the sword-and-planet genre that wins my interest (and even loyalty) is its low-culture approach to high-concept issues. Perhaps the chief of these is gender. From the very outset — if we can take Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars as an inaugurating work — these often apparently unreflective adventure stories have been almost obsessively concerned with the ways in which gender can viewed and performed in profoundly differing cultures. The 19th-century American southerner John Carter is shocked (though hardly repelled) by the martial prowess and lack of physical modesty of the princess Dejah Thoris, while she is put off by his efforts to behave like a “gentleman” toward her. That being the case, it is hardly surprising that some of the most effective sword-and-planet authors have been women like Leigh Brackett and Catherine Moore.

This gender-challenging salience may account for the popularity of the genre among authors in the 1970s. Curiously, the vanguard of this group were the Gor books of “John Norman,” which are, on the whole, beyond reactionary in their insistence on a masculinist gender ideology. These were followed quickly, however, by two other highly notable cases that continue the work of interplanetary gender exploration. David J. Lake’s Xuma books may be the extreme instance of thought-experiment in gender, by introducing a humanoid race with a different sexual biology and assortment of corresponding genders. And Janet Morris’ Silistra series seems to continue the conversation begun on Barsoom and further argued in Gor, adding some new perspective.

Unlike Burroughs and Norman, Morris does not have any earthlings to help clarify the Silistran gender dynamic by contrasting reaction. Her protagonist and narrator is Silistran, and although an alien race called the M’ksakkans seems to be a little more “human” in their traits and culture, the books don’t really invite readers to identify with the M’ksakkans who figure in the story.

Wind from the Abyss is the third volume in the series, and it obliterates and then recreates the core relationship of the books: the protagonist Estri’s connections to two men, themselves sometime lovers with one another. The story becomes more explicit, yet still somehow incoherent, about the nature of its gender ideals:

“But therein lies perhaps the difference between the male and the female conception, that difference that was made once and for all understood to me in what was to follow. But not then did I know it, except in the way that all things, if only to themselves, admit their singularity to be dependent upon the effluence of their sex.” (235)

Also, and perhaps not irrelevantly to the sexual component of these books, they present sword-and-planet with substantial magic. This is not the lightly mystical “Force” of Star Wars; it’s more like the prophetic destiny-shaping consciousness of Dune, but with more thaumaturgy. Estri’s accounts of her own sorcery (the books are all told from her point of view) are more psychedelic than most sfnal supernaturalisms.

Still recognizable as part of the genre, Morris’s contributions occupy a very distinctive niche within it. [via]