Tag Archives: FICTION / Fantasy / Dark Fantasy

The Place of the Lion

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Place of the Lion [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Charles Williams.

Williams The Place of the Lion

This novel is certainly the least accessible of Charles Williams’ novels I’ve read so far. Principal characters discuss matters like Neoplatonism and angelology in ways that I understood, but would likely mystify the general reader. There is also a little plot sloppiness: for example, trains become inoperable, and then a character takes a train on the allegedly impassable line, with no explanation of how it was restored. The conclusion lacks plot closure in some important respects, with the cause of the book’s central crisis never really explained, despite the exposition of how it becomes mystically resolved.

The central concern of The Place of the Lion is a class of theriomorphic “Celestials” that answer to the denotations of Christian archangels, Platonic ideas, Gnostic archons, and so forth. These are somehow unleashed on the countryside by a minor theosophical organizer named Berringer, and they proceed to sow terror and ecstasy among the locals. The first two Celestials to emerge are the Lion and the Serpent, as manifestations of archetypal Strength and Subtlety. 

Although the characters overtly reference Plato and Abelard, the theology central to the book’s plot is very much that of Pseudo-Dionysius, with the protagonist Anthony Durrant prosecuting cataphatic mysticism, while his complementary character Richardson is engaged in a severely apophatic aspiration. Gnostic elements are also conspicuous; the philosophy graduate student Damaris Tighe takes the role of the inferior Sophia in a redemptive process that also makes Anthony Durrant into a possessor of the Holy Gnosis. 

A friend recently pointed out the class-constrained character of Williams’ diction (which he finds off-putting), and I did notice that this novel was not only fully as class-conscious as the other Williams I’ve read, but that the omniscient third-person narrator seems to assume and validate class prejudices more often than overturn them.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book, but I found it to be the weakest of the author’s books I have yet read.

The Tindalos Asset

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Tindalos Asset [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Caitlín R Kiernan, book 3 of the Tinfoil Dossier series.

Kiernan The Tindalos Asset

The Tindalos Asset is the third and likely final slender novel in Kiernan’s Tinfoil Dossier series. It introduces a new central character, while pulling along several from the earlier books. This character Ellison Nicodemo is the “asset” of the title, a subordinate agent of the deep black intelligence directorate referred to as “Albany” in this series. Usage in this book shows that the “Dreamland” of the previous volume’s title does also denominate this same outfit. (I had noted its ambiguity there.)

I was startled that the title of the first chapter was a quote from Leah Hirsig–but Kiernan seems to have received it via its use as a song title by Coil: “Paint me as a dead soul.” In the appended author’s note, they list all the music that was integral to the composition of the story (168). It’s no secret that these books are built around neo-Lovecraftian yog-sothothery, and this one is as much as anything an updated and re-imagined “Call of Cthulhu,” with generous bits of “Dagon” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Frank Belknap Long’s “The Hounds of Tindalos” is of course a significant source as well, and Kiernan ties its notions to the Manhattan Project, among other space-time problems.

Following the precedent in Black Helicopters, this book’s chapters are episodes presented under dates that are not in linear sequence, ranging from 1956 to 2151. The chronological core of the story is in January 2018, around the time it was written. This sort of time-loose montage effect has a self-similar relationship to the entire Tinfoil Dossier series, and I think the books could be read with enjoyment in any order. Indeed there seems to be some confusion among readers about the sequence of the first two books, since Black Helicopters, the one Kiernan calls “first,” was expanded and re-published as a series element after Agents of Dreamland.

Looking back on the series as a whole, its mixture of the weird horror Lovecraft canon with espionage and a certain measure of sympathy for the “monsters” is a common ground with other recent/current series: the Laundry Files of Charles Stross and the Innsmouth Legacy of Ruthanna Emrys. Kiernan’s more experimental style definitely makes these books distinctive, though. There really aren’t any of the comedic elements that Stross uses, and there’s more of a high-tragic sensibility despite the fact that the Tinfoil Dossier books are much shorter than their comparanda.

This work is rife with extra-textual and inter-textual allusions, which supply a lot of the enjoyment. Given its manageable size and convoluted presentation, I think there is a good chance I could return to it in the future for a profitable re-read.