Tag Archives: folk tales

The Memory Theater

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Memory Theater [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Karin Tidbeck.

Tidbeck The Memory Theater

This novel rewrites and massively expands author Tidbeck’s prior (2009) short story “Augusta Prima” concerning inhabitants of the Gardens, a rather small and artificial fairyland whose chief inhabitants have fallen into a sybaritic cruelty in their never-ending festivities. Augusta herself, a Lady of the Gardens, is the villain of the story, and she expresses a strangely innocent and nevertheless repulsive sort of evil. The heroes of The Memory Theater are Thistle, a “servant” (i.e. slave) who had been abducted from Earth to the Gardens as a child, and his adoptive sister Dora, an enigmatic magical offspring of one Lord of the Gardens. A non-human sorceress named Ghorbi assumes a tutelary role for these two.

Despite my original inferences from the title, The Memory Theater really has nothing to do with Renaissance memory arts or the mental theater of Giulio Camillo (ca. 1480–1544). Instead, the title refers to a small collective enterprise with larger metaphysical consequences: a set of performers enacting memories in order to dignify vanished cultures and values. It is the polar opposite of the Gardens. In the Gardens, time is suppressed, suffering is taken for comic entertainment, and Lords and Ladies are expert at forgetting.

Tidbeck’s prose in this book is lean and efficient. It reads quickly, and some of the descriptors in the original story (e.g. the servants of the Gardens as “changelings,” Ghorbi as a “djinneya”) have been dropped. One effect of this change is to open up a little sfnal ambivalence: the “traffic controllers” of the inter-world crossroads have an air of extraterrestrial exoticism for instance. The relevant Earth history is set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, largely in Sweden.

From jacket copy and other short descriptions, I expected this book to have a feel like works I had read from Susanna Clarke, but it didn’t. The constellation of central characters and the worlds-transiting magic involved reminded me more than a little of Paul Park’s Roumania books. Still, the flavor was really its own, and I enjoyed it as a distinctive instance of the micro-genre of “fairy weird.”

The dude don’t see himself as a bad man. Way he sees it, he’s an angel for hire. He can gather in lost lambs from the four corners and kiss away their tears, or he can shake a flaming sword. Up to his employers. Saint Michael don’t question why when the Big Dog says git. Ole Mike, he just ties up his war-bag, thumps his golden road, eats his beans out of the tin, and when he sees his mark, he gets to it no fuss. That’s the dude in a nut.

Catherynne M Valente, Six-Gun Snow White [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Valente Six-Gun Snow White dude bad man angel for hire-

It was a snake, cold of eye, its tongue flickering, its fangs dripping with poison. It hissed, and a drop of poison from its mouth dripped onto Loki’s face, making his eyes burn. Loki screamed and contorted, writhing and twisting in pain. He tried to get out of the way, to move his head from beneath the poison. The bonds that had once been the entrails of his own son held him tightly.

Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Gaiman Norse Mythology snake cold eye tongue fangs dripping poison Loki burn screamed contorted writing twisting pain bonds entrails son held tightly

Mythologies

Mythologies by William Butler Yeats, the 1969 softcover edition from Collier Books, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

William Butler Yeats' Mythologies

“Banshees and faeries, demons and curses, village ghosts and mystic poets…

work their Gaelic magic in this enthralling collection of supernatural tales from the pen of William Butler Yeats. Based on Irish country beliefs, traditions, and folk tales, the stories were first published at the height of Yeats’ romantic period in three collections entitled The Celtic Twilight, The Secret Rose, and Stories of Red Hanrahan.

A concluding section of essays reveal Yeats’ own speculations on and experiences of the supernatural and his philosophy of self and not-self. Together with the stories, they offer rich and varied perspectives of Yeats’ genius and eloquent proof that the great poet could work unique enchantment in prose as well as in poetry and drama.”

 

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