Rats and Gargoyles

Julianus review Rats and Gargoyles by Mary Gentle in the Bkywrm archive.

This is an excellent and complex fantasy novel based on Renaissance Hermeticism. It is set in a sort of archetypal world-city where humans are ruled by man-sized intelligent rodents and their huge incarnate stone deities (the rats and gargoyles of the title.) Ms. Gentle has done a splendid job of integrating historical Alchemy and Magick into a fantasy setting, with one interesting twist: she had deleted all references to Christianity. The religious background seem to combine elements of Ancient Egypt, late Antique Mystery religions and Freemasonry. One wishes she had gone into more detail on this point, but it hardly detracts from the book itself.

Find this book at Amazon, Abebooks, and Powell’s.

Revolt Against the Modern World

Julianus reviews Revolt Against the Modern World by Julius Evola in the Bkwyrm archive.

Baron Julius Evola (1898 – 1974) is the leading Italian representative of the “Traditionalist” school, whose better-known members include Rene Guenon and Frithjof Schuon. Evola seems to be a “difficult” member of this group, as much because of his popularity among the European far-right as for his championing of the Warrior nature over that of the Priest. As this is one of his more “political” works I was rather surprised to see it translated, although English versions of his books on Tantra and Alchemy are available from the same publisher.

Revolt is divided into two parts. Part one, where he describes the characteristic features of an ideal Traditional society is by far the better. His concept of Royalty as the centering force of a civilisation, combining the Warrior and Religious functions, and the distinction he makes between Empire and mere imperialism, are significant and fundamental. Part two, which is a “meta-history” of the progressive degeneration of Tradition over the past millennia, is rather weaker. Evola presents history as the conflict between the Tradition of the Northern Races of Hyperborea (a masculine, ascetic, individualistic, transcendental, solar, warrior culture) and the anti-Traditional Southern Races (who are feminine, sensual, collectivist, lunar, and dominated by priests.) As the above makes clear, Evola’s thought has a strong dualist tone with (ironically) a reliance on some rather un-Traditional turn of the century anthropology. He also displays a glaring misogyny that any psychologically-inclined critic would have a field day with. Still, there is much in part one to interest any Thelemite, and for anyone this is a good book for rattling your modernist paradigm.

Find this book at Amazon, Abebooks, and Powell’s.

Marvel 1602

Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, &al, is something I’ve wanted to read for a long time and finally got a round tuit.

This was originally an 8 issue series, now available as a collected graphic novel. Apparently there’s been others created in the 1602 universe, but this is the core story. This is an alternate universe story about the main Marvel superheroes out of time, for some reason, which is eventually revealed. On the main, the cool part is the period drama and how the heroes have turned out in another time, and an extended thought experiment about this alternate reality in which essential natures and essential stories still play out.

I think for me the real feature that drew me to this story was that it featured Doctor Strange, and moreover in the era of John Dee, but it turns out there’s a lot more I enjoyed. Lots of little things that tickled my interests, like Daredevil talking about mystery and audere, Fury and Peter Parker talking about secrets, powers and mysteries, & c.

I think I was really hoping that Doctor Strange would use Dee’s obsidian mirror, but if it was there, even in the background, I missed it. But there’s plenty I found interesting. Two moments that come to mind are the villainization of libertarian, individual as the myopic measure of right Doom opposed to the excellence in a collective of the various others coming together, and an almost Zen parable about tools and weapons that resolves into an oblique takedown of filthy lucre.

On the other hand, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that the Fantastic Four could be seen as the four classical elements. I still don’t enjoy FF much, but it’s a dimension to them I’d not thought about before, that’s kinda obvious now that I’ve read it.

The art is in that almost over-perfect style that is hand-drawn but finished on a computer, which tweaks that peculiar Alex Ross-like trigger of glossy detail while still being minimal. The writing is good, though not stunning, to be honest. The primary novelty is in the time-twist and what-if-ism, which does deliver a solid series. Overall, worth reading and a fun adventure that kept me interested and thinking beyond just what the story presented.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Marvel 1602

The difference between Cinderella’s story and mine is that there are no happy endings here. There is no Prince Charming, no magic pumpkin coach to spirit me away, no light at the end of the tunnel. There is only me, and I am royally shafted.

Harmon Cooper, The Feedback Loop