He looked at me. “I don’t know what she might have told you, miss, but—” “My name’s Sarah Jane,” I told him. “Sarah Jane Dillard.” He sighed. “But the first thing should have been not to share your name with any stranger you might happen to meet in the woods.” “He’s right about that,” Aunt Lillian said. “I’ve heard so much about you,” I said. “I didn’t think you were a stranger.” “No, he’s a stranger, all right,” Aunt Lillian corrected me. “That’s what you call folks you never see.”

Charles de Lint, Seven Wild Sisters: A Modern Fairy Tale [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher]

Hermetic quote de Lint Seven Wild Sisters heard so much about you a stranger folks you never see

“That’s right, just get rid of me you weirdoes, so you can talk about your stupid make believe stuff,” he replied. “Don’t be ridiculous Angus we’re only going to talk about you,” Sue laughed at him. “Well off you trot then.”

Parker Gordon, Parallel Lives [Amazon]

Hermetic quote Gordon Parallel Lives stupid make believe stuff going to talk about you

The Urth of the New Sun

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Urth of the New Sun [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Gene Wolfe, book 3 of the New Sun omnibus series.

Wolfe The Urth of the New Sun

I bought this book in the twentieth century of the vulgar era, and moved it with my library about eleven times over the succeeding twenty-two years before I finally read it. Somehow that seems fitting. The Urth of the New Sun is the fifth of four volumes in Wolfe’s autotheography of Severian the Torturer, a.k.a. Severian the Great, a.k.a. Severian the Lame, Autarch of the Commonwealth, Epitome of Urth, and incarnation of the New Sun. It first recounts his voyage to and from the neighboring universe of Yesod. (Qabalistic Hebrew is strangely conscripted throughout the book.) Then it details his salvific manifestations on Urth and its successor world Ushas.

There are roughly as many plot arcs and riddling enigmas in this book as in the four previous ones put together, and there is hardly a person or a place in the earlier stories that is not subjected to some sort of revisitation in the sequel. These seem to assume their “proper” dimensions so that it is difficult to believe that the author did not secretly understand them this way from the beginning. There is less here than in the earlier books in the way of nested narrative and storytelling set-pieces; for a book chock-full of the vagaries of time travel and transcendence of space, the tale is surprisingly linear, keeping to Severian’s subjective experience of events.

I did not find this volume as difficult of access as I had its predecessors when I first read them in the 1980s. But there were still bits of it that resisted my full understanding, including the unspecified “plausible speculation” with which Wolfe teases his readers in the afterword on “The Miracle of Apu-Punchau.” I expect that a re-read would yield perceptions that were withheld from me on this pass. But my aim is first to proceed on through the seven further volumes of the Solar Cycle.

Only Begotten Daughter

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Only Begotten Daughter [Bookshop, Amazon] by James Morrow.

Morrow Only Begotten Daughter

Only Begotten Daughter is an enormously clever religious satire, much more incisive than Morrow’s routinely lauded Towing Jehovah. But I’ll probably never re-read it, because the story is just too goddamned sad.

The Hippopotamus Pool

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Hippopotamus Pool [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Elizabeth Peters, book 8 of the Amelia Peabody series.

Peters The Hippopotamus Pool

This eighth novel of the series is set on the cusp of the twentieth century. It is an almost paradigmatic Amelia Peabody tale, with the highest stakes in conventional Egyptology of any of them so far: the tomb of a queen with a sarcophagus unopened since antiquity. The whole multigenerational Emerson-Peabody clan is involved, and the children Ramses and Nefret (along with newcomer David) are now teenagers.

Peters disappointed me by showing some sloppy research: she called a copy of Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled a “slim volume”! (It’s hardly such a scarce commodity that she couldn’t have found out firsthand the beefiness of its two volumes.) 

Again, as in the previous book, a couple of useful maps are included–but at arbitrary points in the text which are not noted in any apparatus. A new feature is a dramatis personae list with descriptions prefaced to the novel. For those who resent spoilers (most mystery readers, I would presume), I recommend not reading this list at the outset, although I suppose it might be useful to those coming to the book without having read earlier volumes of the series. Did the author doubt her own efficiency of exposition with respect to the recurring characters? Still, it’s hard for me to see the value of “Characters Appearing or Referred to in The Hippopotamus Pool,” and I will certainly skip any similar offerings in later books. 

The chapter titles are all quoted from the text, and they give a good sense of the witty tone, from “The Trouble with Unknown Enemies Is that They Are So Difficult to Identify” to “No Mystery Is Insoluble–It Is Simply a Matter of How Much Time and Energy One Is Willing to Expend.”

Eternals

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Eternals [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by John Romita, Jr.

Gaiman Romita Eternals

So, here’s Neil Gaiman’s take on Jack Kirby’s Eternals, in which alien space gods have created humanoid super-custodians for terrestrial life, themselves understood as deities by traditional polytheistic cultures. Readers could be forgiven for assuming that American Gods author Gaiman would focus on the characters’ altar-egos (that’s a pun, not a misspelling) as the gods of Olympus, Valhalla, etc., but that’s exactly what he doesn’t do. Instead, he creates a “reboot” scenario in which the Eternals have been deceived into thinking that they are human, and have forgotten what they knew about the Celestials and the deep history of Earth; and then he uses their process of anamnesia to portray a spectrum of attitudes from the conflicted human to the puissant and impeccable Eternal.

Gaiman cleverly works in a fair amount of Lovecraftian lore, in a hybrid with Kirby’s von Daniken plot-basis, and he gives the Deviants some self-respect as the “Changing People.” The plot integration with Marvel’s Civil War cross-title “event” was a little annoying to me, but part of Gaiman’s challenge was to integrate the outlier Eternals with the “Marvel Universe,” and he seems to have succeeded, at least as far as he took it.

The art by John Romita Jr. (JRJR) is often anatomically obtuse–a good example comes in a page-top panel toward the end of the book, in which Thena’s right foot looks like she’s wearing a clown shoe. But that’s actually in keeping with the Kirby spirit. As Gaiman observes of Kirby in an appended interview: “My little ten-year-old brain would go, ‘Fire doesn’t look like that!” and then you look at his women and go, ‘Women don’t look like that!'” So, like what Gaiman calls the “Kirbyverse,” JRJR manages to offer a coherent visual idiom with its own power. His panoramic images of prehistoric epic are especially fine.

The production values for this edition are positively splendid: a nearly folio-sized hardcover with a sturdy dustjacket, full-process color on glossy paper, and a set of appendices including the aforementioned interview, alternate cover illustrations, preliminary character sketches, Gaiman’s proposal for the series, and an essay about the original Eternals title.

Eyes Wide Shut

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Eyes Wide Shut [Amazon] by Stanley Kubrick and Frederick Raphael, which includes the screenplay and its inspiration, the novel Dream Story by Arthur Schnitzler, translated by J M Q Davies.

Kubrick Raphael Schnitzler Davies Eyes Wide Shut Dream Strory

The screenplay for Eyes Wide Shut in this volume seems to exactly correspond to the film as released, which makes me suspect that the text was actually conformed to the final cut of the movie. Of course, since Kubrick was the director, he was in a position to “enforce” the screenplay, but in any case, those curious for unscreened ideas from writers Kubrick and Raphael will be disappointed. 

The script is bound with Arthur Schnitzler’s novel Dream Story, of which it is in fact a rather faithful adaptation, transposing the narrative from its original setting of Vienna in the 1920s to New York City in the 1990s. There is no editorial apparatus or commentary to assist the reader in any contextualization or comparison of these two documents.

Schnitzler’s novel has been alternately viewed as an precocious piece of Continental modernism, or as an advanced item of Viennese decadence, and it has features to credit either classification. It is certainly informed by the ideas of Freud, with whom Schnitzler had a significant dialogue. The doctor Fridolin (Bill in Eyes Wide Shut) is furnished with ample realism in the details of his medical practice–easily written by Schnitzler who himself had had a career as a physician before dedicating himself to writing.

Schnitzler’s story is more explicit about the protagonist’s confused hostility toward his wife, whereas the screenplay does a better job of communicating a pervading atmosphere of menace. The endings of the two versions also strike somewhat different notes, with a greater sense of closure in Schnitzler’s original–not necessarily to its credit. The dream element is certainly more significant in Schnitzler, and the Freudian tone is overt in the characters’ recurrent trepidation that “no dream is altogether a dream”: that the play of fantasy always provides evidence of a self which is masked by waking responsibilities.