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 Esoteric Tradition, Hermeticism in a broad sense, Aleister Crowley’s Thelema, and much more. If you would like to participate, contact the librarian. And follow along via the Reading Room social feed at Hrmtc I∴O∴.

Their wider scope,
        Limitless Empire o’er the world of thought,
            Help my desires to press
    Beyond all stars toward God and Heaven and Hope;
        And in the world-amazing chase is wrought
            Somehow — all Happiness.

Aleister Crowley, “Dreams” in Mysteries

Hermetic quote Crowley Dreams Mysteries wider scope limitless empire world through help desires press beyond all stars god heaven hope chase wrought somehow happiness

The Doctor Is Out

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Strange: The Doctor Is Out [Amazon, Hoopla, Local Library] by Mark Waid, Emma Rios, & al.

Waid Rios Doctor Strange The Doctor is Out

Although I came to it without high expectations, Mark Waid has provided the best Doctor Strange story I’ve read in many, many years. He has opened up room to reinterpret the character by centering the story on Casey, his new apprentice. Things have not been going well for Strange since he is no longer Sorcerer Supreme, and his broody attitude seems more justified than it has been in the past. He doesn’t have the use of much of his accustomed magical ability; the damage to his hands has returned as a kind of stigma.

While a previous Strange title (based on the unrealized movie script) reconstructed Doctor Strange’s origin story along the lines of The Matrix, the narrative device of the new apprentice’s perspective makes this one feel quite a bit like an occult version of Doctor Who.

The art by Emma Rios is really excellent. Although I was not seized by it at first — mostly because of the overpowering floral colors (never have I seen so much fuschia in an occult comic!) — a few pages of reading showed me that she could really tell a visual story. Her Doctor Strange is more worn and expressive facially, and he largely keeps to street clothes rather than the ceremonial/superhero getup. Rios noticeably incorporates some of the stylistic traits of Ditko and Colan’s classic Strange art, and she acknowledges their influence in a brief interview appended to the comics. In fact, the off-putting element for me (other than the palette) may have been a sort of extreme “looseness” of composition that I also associate with Colan’s work.

Most importantly, Rios draws the magic well! While keeping some continuity with the Ditko and Colan representations of sorcery, she develops her own graphic idiom for the purpose to good effect — entirely distinct from, but comparable to P. Craig Russell’s past turns on Doctor Strange. This book is also full of nonhuman spirits (yeah, demons), and Rios offers persuasively outre and varied forms for these.

This volume, despite collecting four individual comlcs, reads like an integral graphic novel because they were a “limited series.” It does provide a very conspicuous opening for a sequel, and I would certainly be interested if the creators of this one were to fulfill that.

Kalle was burdened with an intense pain located about a hand’s breadth below his right collar bone. No, there was no tumor or anything of the sort there, he had had it checked, but it was exactly there that it started to hurt whenever life got to him. A black heart pumping despair into his body.

John Ajvide Lindqvist, trans. Ebba Segerberg, Let the Old Dreams Die: Stories [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic-quote Lindqvist Let the Old Dreams Die burdened intense pain no tumor exactly started hurt whenever life got him black heart pumping despair into body

A Rendezvous in Averoigne

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews A Rendezvous in Averoigne: The Best Fantastic Tales of Clark Ashton Smith [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by Clark Ashton Smith, illo Jeffrey K Potter, intro Ray Bradbury.

Smith A Rendezvous in Averoigne

A Rendezvous in Averoigne is a comprehensive, if not exhaustive, collection of Clark Ashton Smith’s short fiction. A Weird Tales contributor and member of the Lovecraft Circle, Smith wrote like a sort of extraterrestrial version of Edgar Allan Poe. Although the title of this book refers to the imaginary medieval setting of Averoinge (compare James Branch Cabell’s Poictesme), its contents span across the various settings and story cycles deployed in Smith’s oeuvre. After “Averoigne” follow “Atlantis,” “Hyperborea,” assorted “Lost Worlds,” and then most fully “Xothique” (the “last continent”).

Each of these stories has a lapidary merit that rewards repeat reading, and I have been able to return to this volume with pleasure many times over the twenty years I’ve owned it. There are no dependable themes throughout; the reliable common denominator is the beauty of Smith’s language, and his ability to communicate a sense of the alien and the abominable. 

Noted weird fiction critic S.T. Joshi has dismissed Smith’s stories as superficial, but to my reading they often have profound contents. As an example, I recently re-read the Zothique tale “Necromancy in Naat,” and realized that its household of three necromancers was the centerpiece of an inverted gospel of the post-Christian far future, in which Yadar and Dalili (twisted from Joseph and Mary) come to the three magi, rather than the magi to them. (And the guiding influence is a black ocean current, rather than starlight.) The inaugurating event of the narrative is death, rather than birth. And Dalili is magically sterile, rather than miraculously fertile. There is to be no redeeming death, since the liches stumble along even after the expiration of the magi. And the curious episode in which a local cannibal is fed to the demon Esrit is a symbolic criticism of the Christian Eucharist that is beyond my powers to gloss! 

This book also includes an introduction by Ray Bradbury and deliciously surreal illustrations by Jeffrey K. Potter. I don’t think there’s any bad place to start reading Smith, but if you had to confine yourself to a single volume of his work, this might well be the one.

The Long Tomorrow

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Long Tomorrow [Amazon, Bookshop (New), Publisher (New), Local Library] by Leigh Brackett.

Brackett The Long Tomorrow

As an SF author, Leigh Brackett is known for her planetary romances, which are indeed very fine. But this novel, perhaps her most lauded book-length work, involves a more serious and credible look at the future of our society. Indeed, the book’s scenario for the not-so-distant time to come is not much less believable now than it was when she wrote it about sixty years ago. The only ways it seems dated are that she didn’t predict the microprocessor, or describe any anthropogenic climate change. Given the nature of the story, the first of these is not a significant lack. 

In some features, this book resembles Logan’s Run, which I read recently. Both involve a protagonist rejecting a stultified society and looking for a possibly-mythical site of organized resistance which has continuity with the lost values of the past. Where Logan’s Run has Sanctuary, The Long Tomorrow has Bartorstown. But while Logan flees an urban technocracy, Brackett’s Len Colter is trying to escape an American anti-civilization in the etymological sense: a society that has overtly rejected the idea of the city, along with all of the industries and technologies of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. 

With this rural, piously conservative, post-apocalyptic environment as the setting for what is in large measure a coming-of-age story, the novel invites an even more direct comparison with John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids. On the whole, I consider Brackett more successful. She better realizes the ways in which even those oppressed by the prevailing morals have internalized them, and she traces a more extensive and nuanced process of maturation in her characters. 

The Long Tomorrow reads quickly — “I finished The Long Tomorrow today,” I remarked paradoxically to my Other Reader — with digestibly short chapters divided into three component “books,” which might have been titled “Piper’s Run” (the village of Len’s childhood), “Refuge” (a community where his exile leads him as a young man), and “Bartorstown.” Although it was not issued as YA fiction, it would serve that increasingly sophisticated market well today. And it continues to deserve the attention of adults willing to reflect on social and technological change outside the myth of progress.

Language, Truth, and Logic

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Language, Truth, and Logic [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by A J (Alfred Jules) Ayer. (See also 2nd edition.)

Ayer Language Truth and Logic

“But it must be understood from the outset that we are not concerned to vindicate any one set of philosophers at the expense of any other, but simply to settle certain questions which have played a part in the history of philosophy out of all proportion to their difficulty or their importance.” (134)

Language, Truth and Logic is a brief and charmingly audacious effort to retire metaphysics and its related issues. Ayer is a mid-20th-century exponent of the Anglo-American analytical tradition in philosophy (including the work of Bertrand Russell and others) which seeks to reduce the discipline to applications of logic. His arguments are sympathetic to the earlier empiricists and positivists, but show more sophistication in pointing out and sometimes surmounting their shortfalls. I am most in accord with his “emotive theory of values” as a method of dispensing with the philosophical concern over ethics. 

Ayers’ professed opposition to “schools” in philosophical discourse reminds me of the ultra-Protestant Plymouth Brethren “coming out of sect” in 19th-century England: they paradoxically insist on a narrowing of their field while claiming to transcend distinctions within it.

The 1946 introduction to the second edition consists of Ayers reconsidering and fine-tuning many of the details in the body of the text. Accordingly, I saved it to read until finishing the original eight chapters. In retrospect, however, because of the intricacies of the arguments, a reader would be better advised to read the 1946 remarks in sequence after each individual chapter.

Although mystics (and magicians, to a lesser degree) are unlikely to find this book easy or pleasant, it would be an invaluable supplement to their intellectual diets. After passing through this crucible, they might proceed to the more congenial offerings of a thinker like Gregory Bateson.

3001: The Final Odyssey

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews 3001: The Final Odyssey [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Arthur C Clarke, book 4 in the Space Odyssey series.

Clarke 3001 The Final Odyssey

This “Final Odyssey” is the last and least of the three novels that Arthur C. Clarke wrote to extend the ideas introduced in 2001. The setup is clever enough: Frank Poole, a Discovery expedition member murdered by HAL 9000 back in 2001, is recovered in his excursion pod still exiting the Solar System, and he is restored to life by fourth-millennium super-science. Much of the book–the more interesting parts, really–concerns his difficulties and successes adapting to a “braincapped” posthuman society after a thousand years out of circulation.

At one point Poole’s birthdate is specifically given as 1996 (199), which would have made him only five years old when crewing the Discovery. This sort of retroactive discontinuity is common to the Odyssey Sequence, which Clarke called “variations on the same theme … not necessarily happening in the same universe” (261, quoting 2061).

The interactions with Poole’s previously monolith-integrated colleagues were a little disappointing. In particular, Heywood Floyd went missing altogether, while Dave Bowman and HAL were collapsed into a character called “Halman.” This element of the plot is focused on a threat posed by the monolith network, and defeated by human ingenuity. Clarke later rather sadly noted that his narrative resolution here was notably similar to that already used in the film Independence Day, which “contains every known science-fiction cliche since Melies’ Trip to the Moon (1903)” (253).

There is a certain irony in the book’s extensive criticisms of religion and metaphysical thought generally, while the Prologue and Epilogue construe the “Firstborn” creators of the monoliths as basically divine entities who may yet judge and sentence humanity. Perhaps inspired by the then-recent (in 1997) Aum Shinrikyo attacks, Clarke makes religiously-motivated terrorism responsible for biological and informational attacks that lead to greater global cooperation among governments in the early twenty-first century (216).

The book includes two pieces of interesting end matter. The Sources and Acknowledgements provide a chapter-by-chapter review of scientific justifications for the speculative technological elements of the novel and references to relevant current events. The Valediction is an author’s retrospective on the full Odyssey Sequence. In it, Clarke protests too much perhaps that “it’s all [his] own fiction” (262), disclaiming any co-authorship for the four books, but thus downplaying the significant contributions of Stanley Kubrick to the development of 2001 from “The Sentinel” and the features of the cinematic narrative later retrofitted to the not-sequels.