The Necronomicon Files: The Truth Behind The Legend by Daniel Harms and John Wisdom Gonce, reviewed by Bkwyrm, in the archive of Bkwyrm’s Occult Book Reviews.
Hooray! A book about the Necronomicon that actually explores the myth and legend behind this “terrible text” with accuracy, scholarship, and a sense of humor. Before those of you clutching a copy of the Simon paperback in your sweaty hands have a chance to gasp (I’m kidding), they come to the conclusion that there is no such thing – and was no such thing – as the “real” Necronomicon. Rather than just saying “well OBVIOUSLY” the way the rest of us do, Harms and Gonce give footnotes, quotes, and interesting essays about things like H.P.’s father’s possible magical background (unlikely) and so forth. Rather than an actual narrative by two authors, this is a collection of highly relevant and interesting essays by them.
The introduction does what it’s actually supposed to do – introduces the reader to the subject. Interesting reading even if you hang out on alt.necronomicon and know how to say Goat-With-A-Thousand-Young ten times fast. The Necronomicon In Literature is the first section, which covers H.P. Lovecraft, the rumors surrounding the existence of the book, and the connection with the Voynich Manuscript. Three essays cover a wide array of literary topics – with (be still, my heart) footnotes, quotes, end notes, and proper bibliographic notation. Those good things continue throughout the book. Speaking as a staunch defender of the English language and someone who named her cat after a bibliographic citation system, it is such a nice thing to find a book on an occult or mythologic subject that is not only well written, but nicely edited and complete with such academic geegaws as citations to other literature that is not necessarily written by the authors, by friends of the authors, lodge brothers of the authors, or even people who agree with the authors. Ahem. I’m done applauding madly now. Back to the actual book.
The second section of the work is titled The Necronomicon In Magick, and covers just what it says it does. Four essays review the various “hoax” Necronomicons, the Cthulhu mythos in magic, and begins with one of the best “Brief History of Modern Magick” sections I’ve ever seen. This section covers most of the important topics – is there a Cthulhu, if there isn’t how come people are able to work with the mythos as a magical system, why it is that occultists have such a fascination with a book that ought to summon something that will destroy the world, etc. There’s an essay on something here I’d never even heard of – apparently, there’s a myth that along with the Necronomicon, there’s also a powerfully magic sword. The title of that essay had me laughing in the aisle on the plane to South Carolina – “Nameless Cutlery – The Sword of The Necronomicon”.
The next collection does not consist of essays. The Necronomicon in Film and Television consists of “Unspeakable Cuts: The Necronomicon on Film” and “Call of the Cathode Ray Tube: The Necronomicon on Television.” In these, the authors give an overview/review of every film that has some homage to pay to Lovecraft or the Necronomicon. They give the title of the film, the year it was released, the director, and the main actors involved. I disagree with some of the authors’ opinions with some of these films (I hated In The Mouth Of Madness) – but agree with what appears to be their conclusion that the vast majority of Lovecraft-derived or Necronomicon-related films have been really awful. “Call of the Cathode Ray Tube” was a section that I found fascinating. Even as a mythos fan, I didn’t realize how many television shows or TV movies have a debt to pay either to Lovecraft or the Necronomicon/Cthulhu mythos. Again, the authors go in and provide the reader with the name of the show/TV movie, the director, the year it was released, the major actors, and a brief synopsis of the plot. The synopsis gives you an idea of how bad (or good) the television show was, and how closely it was related to the Necronomicon or the mythos.
Probably the most valuable essay in the book is Evaluating Necronomicon Rumours. Well-written common sense with footnotes. The provable history of the Necronomicon has already been established, in the first section. One might see this section as a wrap-up reminder to readers that however seductive the legend might be, people need to keep a tight rein on their common sense and not get tied up in rational and logistical knots in to in order to justify a belief that the real Necronomicon is in someone’s attic because a guy on a newsgroup who seemed really reliable said that it was. Harms and Gonce are not condescending, or snide. They’re earnest and sensible. Triple points to the authors for not falling into the easy trend of ridiculing people who do believe in the Necronomicon. Hopefully, by the time a reader gets to this section, they’ve read enough about the actual history and legend to know that the chances of the Necronomicon existing are virtually nil. In case they haven’t, though, the authors have provided “Six Guidelines for the Evaluation of Necronomicon Hoaxes.” This guide could (with a bit of alteration) very well serve as a guide to evaluating whatever rumors that crop up occasionally about various books/items in the occult community. They refer to various web-FAQs and “new editions” of the Necronomicon that haven’t been discussed earlier in the book, as well as novels that mention the book. Harms and Gonce wrap up their work with a separate and distinct conclusion – that the Necronomicon, as Lovecraft and the various other authors of Cthulhu mythos works described it, does not exist.
The Appendix, consisting of H.P. Lovecraft’s own text (with annotations by Harms), is interesting in and of itself. The end notes show clearly the painstaking research that went into the creation of this book. A short chronology of the supposed book, using events described by Lovecraft and other authors, shows how little was actually written about the book, in comparison to the size of the legend around it. And, if you buy the book, make sure to read the final page. It’s not about the typeface, the binding, or the authors’ mothers.
So. All in all, well worth reading. More than that, well worth buying and having on hand. Not only to combat the eternal silliness of people who email you asking for information on where they can get the “real” Necronomicon (could be just me who gets these emails), but also as an example of a book on an “occult” subject that is scholarly, well-written, and with excellent documentation to secondary sources. Would-be authors of texts on magic could do much worse than to look to Harms and Gonce for an example of intelligent prose about a much-debated subject.