The Eternal Footman

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Eternal Footman by James Morrow.

James Morrow The Eternal Footman

This book is the third of James Morrow’s Corpus Dei trilogy, following Towing Jehovah and Blameless in Abbadon. I might have enjoyed it the best of the three, although I think the second stands out in terms of its literary interest and philosophical coherence. More than the second, this third book presumes an orientation to the other volumes of the series. It could probably be read on its own with enjoyment, but it reintroduces characters from Towing Jehovah in key supporting roles.

The conceit of this book is that in the final stage of the dissolution of the deceased Abrahamic God’s monstrous body, His bare skull flies up and assumes a geostationary orbit over the Western Hemisphere, from which its baleful influence instigates a strange metaphysical plague. The disease, called abulia (“will-lessness”) centers on the victim’s interaction with his own personal genius, represented as the malign personification of his death, also called a “fetch,” or a “leveler.” These entities begin by introducing themselves personally to the victims, who subsequently vomit black “fear syrup,” become catatonic, develop horrific skin conditions, and die. The process can be rapid or very slow.

The plague causes the general collapse of civilized society in the Western world, and much of the story follows the odyssey of an English-teacher-cum-florist’s-deliverywoman in her efforts to find a cure for her teenage son, who was the first to contract abulia, although a slow-moving case that has lingered while millions of others have died from it. A complementary story arc, eventually joining with the first, is the tale of the religious sculptor Korty, who is enlisted to create idols in a new religion intended to provide a cure to the plague.

There are a number of inspired sub-plots that widen the satirical scope of the novel. But what interested me most (in retrospect, at least) was the nature of abulia itself. The fetches all have supernatural powers and praeternatural intelligence, particularly with respect to the humans to whom they are attached. Their own motivations are unexplored, but their aims and effects do not seem to be consistent. In some cases, they seem to be a positive force for both the individual and humanity. In Thelemic magick the individual’s interaction with the personal genius is understood to furnish “occult puberty” and to be “the central and essential work of the Magicians.” The Eternal Footman seems to raise the objection that most people (in the modern West, leastwise) are not cut out for such metaphysical adulthood, and would receive “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel” principally as a death sentence.

On the other hand, perhaps what has happened in the story is that the climate of the divine skull has sickened these genii, who are ordinarily both more benign and less conspicuous. That would fit with the general suppositions of Thelemic occultism, as well as the overarching narrative of Morrow’s Corpus Dei. [via]