Months before Rowling’s fans were able to blog their disappointment or outrage over the terminal Harry Potter book, my Other Reader was expressing her rue and quiet lamentation over Endless Things, the fourth and final volume of John Crowley’s Aegypt. These books have been published over a twenty-year period, and I read the first volume myself in the late 1980s, taking in the second and third each within a year of their issuance. In light of my intelligent wife’s evident dissatisfaction, it was with some trepidation that I finally embarked upon the last of them.
Crowley’s prose is gorgeous as always, and littered with wonderful observations. The scholars of esotericism who have so informed the writing of the three previous books actually begin to intrude as characters in this one; the brief appearances of Frances Yates and Gilles Quispel were special treats for those who are familiar with the academic underpinnings of Aegypt. And protagonist Pierce’s gnostic attainment in the antepenultimate chapter is a very wise and beautiful passage.
But it’s not a happy ending—not as I reckon them anyhow. How can you expect a happy ending from a work with an explicit structure that works its way through the astrological houses from Birth to the Prison? Crowley metafictionally tips his hand in describing a manuscript within the novel that does not provide linear or cyclic resolution, nor even the sense of a completed part of an adumbrated whole: “It was without end but it was finished.” Finishing Aegypt involves a great deal of calculated disenchantment that can feel like betrayal to those of us who have been so under the spell of the earlier volumes. Once or twice too often for my taste, the numinous is reduced to the neurotic.
At a couple of points in Endless Things, Crowley seems to intimate that genuine, world-transforming magic was only possible during the 1970s. Perhaps that was really true for him, although it would be a genuine shame if so. After reading the exercise in disenchantment of Endless Things, on behalf of 21st-century magicians, conventicled and unconventicled, I feel I may—in all readerly friendliness—rebuke him as a splitter. [via]
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