Tag Archives: review

The Fate of Dreams

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Doctor Strange: The Fate of Dreams by Devin Grayson.

Grayson Doctor Strange The Fate of Dreams

This original “prose” (i.e. not sequential-art) novel about Marvel occult superhero Doctor Strange was published in 2016, concurrently with the release of the MCU film featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as the Master of the Mystic Arts. In this book, Strange is already long established as the Sorcerer Supreme, and there is thankfully none of the “sling ring” gimmickry that was on display in the movie. The style of the book is very Marvel, with ample intertextual references, deep investment in the prior narrative continuity, and occasional wisecracking. There is sparing black-and-white illustration in this book, for which nine different artists are credited! I suspect that the art was simply repurposed from previous comics work.

The Fate of Dreams concerns itself with Strange’s efforts to address an enigmatic corruption affecting the realms of dream. He works in eventual concert with a dream-specialist neuroscientist, a young Inhuman (i.e. superpowered human-alien hybrid), and Strange’s erstwhile foe Nightmare, a sovereign of the dream realms. The characters are interesting and fairly well-developed relative to superhero genre standards, and the plot is quick-moving. Author Devin Grayson introduces some Nebraska backstory for Strange prior to his career in medicine, and this material was new to me despite extensive reading in old Strange Tales and Doctor Strange comics. I don’t know if the ideas are original here, though–she seems to be working hard to use as much comics material as she can.

I was pleasantly surprised when the plot resolution turned out to hinge on the Inhuman Jane Bailey taking the role of a messianic sacrifice to redeem the dream realms. Her function as a sort of Gnostic Sophia on these lines was amply foreshadowed with reference to the descent of Inanna, along with other related tropes. In this particular drama, Strange was awarded the part of an esoteric Judas!

.. (Spoilers – hoverover to reveal) ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The Fate of Dreams is likely to engage and entertain fans of Doctor Strange comics. Those readers familiar only with the theatrical film will perhaps find it a bit inaccessible for its constant allusions to the larger Marvel metatext. Non-comics-fan occultists and students of the occult who are looking for a gratifying potboiler tale of magical heroism might perhaps be better served by Frank Lauria’s Owen Orient novels from the 1970s and 80s.

Three Gates to Meditation Practice

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Three Gates to Meditation Practices: A Personal Journey into Sufism, Buddhism and Judaism by David A Cooper.

Cooper Three Gates to Meditation Practice

The title of Three Gates to Meditation Practice suggests that Sufism, Buddhism, and Judaism will figure equally as sources of mystical technique in its pages, but that is not the case. Judaism dominates the narrative of this memoir, which supplies an account of author David Cooper’s formation as a “post-denominational” mystic rabbi and a turn-of-the-millennium proponent of contemplative meditation in the context of Jewish “renewal.” And yet the original impulses for his meditation techniques were in his experiences of the two other religious traditions indicated.

Sufism figures as a source of inspiration regarding religious community and an initial orientation toward universalist mysticism. Although Cooper received formal initiation into a tariqah, Sufism has the lightest footprint of the religious traditions present in this book. The particular form of Sufism in which Cooper participated was the “Sufi Order of the West” of Inayat Khan and his successors, which is “eclectic and not bound to Islamic law” (6), favoring instead an emphasis on prayer and meditation inclusive of various cultures.

Buddhism for Cooper is largely a matter of technical resources for contemplative practice, and he is particularly enthusiastic about Theravāda Vipassanā (“insight”) meditation. Even after his Rabbinical ordination, though, he sought and received training in Tibetan and Nepalese dzogchen teachings of non-dualist realization. It appears to have been retreat facilities sponsored by Buddhist groups that provided him with mentors and contexts for the better part of his training and development as a meditator.

The memoir is full of excerpts from Cooper’s journals, set in italic type to distinguish them from the retrospective text. These are a healthy mix of “positive” accounts in which he describes his experiences of attainment and realization with “negative” ones detailing the stress and suffering involved in mystical practice. A distinctive feature of this book (and Cooper’s spiritual career) is the involvement of his partner Susan, who changed her name to Shoshana, converted to Judaism, married him, and increasingly participated in his retreat work. This situation forms a contrast to the usual solitude of the mystic biography.

Cooper has Jewish family roots, but was raised in a thoroughly secular manner by assimilated parents. David and Shoshana spent much of the 1980s living in Jerusalem and connecting with his Jewish heritage, although he was not sanguine about the political situation of Israel and eventually the social stresses drove them back to the US. He never seems to thoroughly identify with the doctrinaire intellectualism of Jewish orthodoxy, and his relationship to kabbalah seems to involve a reasonable amount of reinvention, but his connection to Judaism is evidently sincere and dynamic. The account of his rabbinical ordination (180-3) is quite moving.

On the evidence of this book, I feel comfortable regarding Cooper as an adept. Although he does not frame them as such, he supplies accounts of his proleptic visions (19-20, 23) and his Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel (171-2). His term of art for the augoiedes is the “inner mentor.” It doesn’t appear that he had (in the twentieth century anyhow) undergone the Adventure of the Abyss, but he did have a vision (191-2) corresponding to the War of the Rose and the Cross as presented in the 4th Aethyr of Liber CDXVIII.

Small World

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Locke & Key: Small World by Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez, and Jay Fotos.

Hill Rodriguez Fotos Locke and Key Small World

It’s been years since I read the original Locke & Key comics, but they absolutely blew me away when they first came out. Small World is a “one-shot” supplementary story, one of a handful charted for the “Golden Age” of Keyhouse, and it features a Klein bottle effect with a dollhouse that appears to simulate but actually positions the functioning Keyhouse within itself. The story relies on an informed readership who know something about the crazy magicks of the Locke family and their mansion.

Although Joe Hill does a good job of creating distinctive characters for the Golden Age here, a single comics issue is not really sufficient to cultivate the sort of affection I experienced for his protagonists in the original series. And this book, despite its hardcover format and apparent “graphic novel” length, is really no more than a single comic book. It is extensively padded out with reproductions of every conceivable draft and rough on the way to the finished product: manuscript facsimiles, typescript, panel breakdowns, pencil sketches, etc., etc. The comic itself takes up less than half of the volume. This publishing trick is not new, and I find myself less and less interested in these exhibitions of process.

Gabriel Rodriguez’s art is still awesome, and the book does include one of those breathtaking two-page spreads that he pulled off regularly in the original series.

The Doom that Came to Gotham

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham by Mike Mignola, Richard Pace, Troy Nixey, Dennis Janke, and Dave Stewart.

Mignola Pace Nixey Janke Batman The Doom that Came to Gotham

When Grant Morrison wrote Arkham Asylum to blow Bat-minds in 1989, he infused Gotham City with actual occultism, but in terms of the Yog-Sothothery suggested by “Arkham,” he didn’t make any significant impositions. He certainly didn’t go half as far as Mike Mignola and Richard Pace’s Doom that Came to Gotham. The latter is part of the DC “Elseworlds” imprint, and it reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s Marvel 1602 with the full transposition of a multi-superhero character matrix into another setting and time. For Doom that is the Lovecraftian 1920s. Originally a three-issue limited series, the breaks between issues have vanished in the trade edition that collects them into a single graphic novel.

Besides Batman, Alfred, and Bruce Wayne’s wards (none of whom have Robin or Nightwing identities or powers), key characters include Oliver Queen (not quite Green Arrow), Barbara Gordon (not Batgirl, but certainly some sort of Oracle), Jason Blood (every bit the Demon), Harvey Dent (who doesn’t start as Two-Face), Talia al Ghul, and Ras al Ghul (this world’s version of Abdul Alhazred). Alternate, Cthulhvized versions of such Bat-villains as Mister Freeze and Poison Ivy are also clever and outre.

Nixey & Janke’s internal art is suited to the mood of the story, but it pales against Mignola’s covers. To fully enjoy this book requires appreciation of both the Lovecraft source material and the Batman franchise as it has evolved into the 21st century. Once those are granted, it is a fast, broody, macabre, and worthwhile read.

God of Tarot

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews God of Tarot by Piers Anthony.

Anthony God of Tarot

I had known of this book since it was new on shelves in the 1980s, but my discouraging experience of the author’s Xanth series had put me off his work altogether. As time passed, my curiosity about the Tarot books increased, but they became scarcer. Finally stumbling across a cheap battered copy recently, I went ahead and read this first of the three books in this series. The author’s front matter is very clear that the “trilogy” is really a single work divided into three volumes for convenience of production and sales, and the text bears that out. There is nothing like a resolution of the larger plot at the conclusion of the book. God of Tarot was good enough that I went ahead and ordered an inexpensive copy of Vision of Tarot directly after finishing it, so that I wouldn’t lose the thread of the story. But it was just bad enough that I had genuine reason to worry that I would lose that thread.

The protagonist Brother Paul is an adherent of the Holy Order of Vision, a religious body on a future Earth that has been depopulated and energy-rationed into pre-industrial levels of technology, while most of humanity has departed into exoplanetary colonization efforts. He is very explicitly an octaroon identifiable as “black” to his colleagues, a point of occasional relevance to the plot. It is not reflected in Rowena Morrill’s cover art, which otherwise accurately shows a scene from chapter 7 of the book, with Paul confronting a dragon who represents Temptation.

The general plot concerns Paul’s investigation of strange phenomena on the colonized planet Tarot. The planet’s “animation zone,” in which thought-forms take on physical reality, seems to be Anthony’s science-fictional conceit for what occultists would call the astral plane. As he explores it, he encounters simulations of significant historical patrons, designers, and commenters on the Tarot, including Filippo Maria Visconti, Arthur Edward Waite, and Aleister Crowley. Anthony gets Waite’s diction just right, to the point where I suspected him of simply cribbing from Waite’s work for some of the dialogue. Crowley is not quite as spot-on, and is given misogyny as a disproportionate keynote of his character. Still, it is Crowley who becomes Paul’s principal guide in the animation zone.

The final section of the book is occasioned by Paul’s effort to know his True Will, as goaded by Crowley. The upshot is that he recovers a Phildickian, proto-cyberpunk sort of tale from his previously inaccessible memories of his life before joining the Holy Order of Vision. Thus the very end of the book takes place in narrative chronology before the beginning, and the reconnection of that knowledge to Paul’s dilemma on Tarot is left for later volumes. It seems that I will need to read further before reaching any real opinion on the merits of the work as a whole.

The Martian named Smith

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Martian Named Smith: Critical perspectives on Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land by William H Patterson Jr and Andrew Thorton.

Peterson Thornton The Martian Named Smith

When The Martian Named Smith was published in 2001 it was the only full book dedicated to literary analysis of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. If that has changed in the years since, I haven’t been able to find the others. Author William Patterson was a longstanding and insightful proponent of Heinlein’s work, who went on to write the magisterial two-volume biography Robert Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century. Co-author Andrew Thornton is a cipher to me.

This book is clearly designed for use in undergraduate instruction. It is written in an academic style, but it also pauses to furnish a great deal of background on basic concepts that might have been addressed with more succinct allusions and citations. Each short chapter is supplied with a set of “questions for discussion” to aid instructors and students, and the book includes a glossary defining terms that the authors considered recondite. Since Stranger in a Strange Land has been included in college curricula since the 1960s, these choices are reasonable, but they did make the book feel a little remedial when I read it.

The larger monograph is divided into five sections, named after the sections of Heinlein’s Stranger (just as The Martian Named Smith was a working title for Heinlein’s book). But the criticism does not proceed through the novel’s contents in sequence. Instead, “His Maculate Conception” treats the biographical context and publishing history of Stranger, “His Preposterous Heritage” concerns literary traditions and critical concepts relevant to the book, and “His Eccentric Education” works through the book’s concerns and themes in detail. “His Scandalous Career” includes a full review of the prior critical publications concerned with Stranger, and the authors don’t find much to like, entitling this section’s only chapter “Martyrdom.” The final section “His Happy Destiny” is concerned with the popular reception of Stranger and its presence in American culture. An appendix on “The Significance of Names in Stranger” has a slightly wider scope than its title would indicate, speculating on the general significance of the main characters of the book, individually and in combination.

Although I should have read this book last year when I was researching toward the composition of a paper on the relationship of Stranger in a Strange Land to Thelemic occultism, there was hardly anything relevant here that I didn’t already know from my own studies (which included a good deal of Patterson’s other scholarship). On the whole, I found it an admirable treatment, and I would recommend it to anyone undertaking critical analysis or serious textual study of Heinlein’s pivotal work, which I believe will endure as a key to the culture of its era as well as perennial inspiration to those who can read it lucidly.

Raga Six

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Raga Six by Frank Lauria.

Luria Raga Six

Raga Six is the second of Frank Lauria’s Doctor Orient novels. The protagonist is just sufficiently removed from Marvel Comics’ Doctor Strange to dodge trademark litigation. Owen Orient has an alliterative name, fame as a medical practitioner, a mansion in New York City, and training in esoteric sciences from Tibet. I found this second volume significantly less campy than the original Doctor Orient. There was nothing about the goddess Urvashi in this one, but the encounter with a sheikh in Marrakesh who superintended Orient’s “expansion to the second level” was a high point of the book. Orient’s parapsychological studies are relevant in this book, but occultism is even more to the fore.

The first third of the book takes place in New York, followed by episodes on a transatlantic voyage, adventures in north Africa, a climax in Rome, and denouement back in New York. The pacing is unusual, with Orient dispossessing himself of all his worldly assets and accomplishments at the outset. He falls in with hippies, and the first third of the book could have almost stood alone as he eventually arranges a coercive exorcism to break up a little black magic cult. (This subplot was left strangely incomplete, in that there was no follow-up regarding the well-being of the girl whose safety initially led him to explore the group.) Chapter 9 (out of 28) is a vivid occult murder, which at that point seems rather loosely connected to the plot of the novel, with Orient absent. This chapter is where the story pivots to his international voyage, though.

Orient is less healthy and less confident in Raga Six than in the prior volume, but he is more amorously accomplished, bedding nearly every desirable woman he encounters. There’s no editorial condemnation of this behavior, but it is evidently not to his full advantage. “Raga Six,” the reader learns shortly before the midpoint of the novel, is the name of a character, the wife of the menacing Doctor Alistar Six, and she becomes the object of Orient’s chief romantic affair.

There are several major plot turns, none of which are especially surprising, but Lauria manages to sustain enough ambiguity about the real state of affairs that the reader can experience some real suspense. I did enjoy this book, and I’d read another in the series. There are seven!

The Lucky Strike

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Lucky Strike by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Robinson The Lucky Strike

This slim book includes the eponymous novella “The Lucky Strike,” a closely-related essay “Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions,” and an interview with author Kim Stanley Robinson by Terry Bisson. I would totally recommend it as a chaser for anyone who has just finished Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt and can’t stop thinking about it. (Not that further ideas on those lines will stop anyone thinking.) The story and the essay deal with philosophy of history, and the evolving understanding of the relationship between chance and determinism, under the sign of non-linear dynamics and its “strange attractors,” as well as the relationship of all of this business to any understanding of free will.

The interview was entertaining, and reassured me that despite the prominence of Robinson’s scientific curiosity and social conscience, his ambitions as a writer are primarily literary. I especially enjoyed his angry rejoinder to those who object to the expository elements of his style: “go read Moby Dick, Dostoevsky, Garcia Marquez, Jameson, Bakhtin, Joyce, Sterne–learn a little bit about what fiction can do, and then come back to me when you’re done. That would be never, and I could go about my work in peace” (87).

Cry Silver Bells

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Cry Silver Bells by Thomas Burnett Swann.

Swann Cry Silver Bells

I don’t know how I managed to miss the work of Thomas Burnett Swann for all these decades. Cry Silver Bells is the first novel of his I’ve read, and I liked it very much. It is set in ancient Crete, with the matter-of-fact inclusion of various Beasts (Swann’s capital) of ancient myth and fable, such as Harpies, Centaurs, Tritons, and Sphinxes. The title character is a Minotaur. Narration duties alternate between a young Egyptian exile (of Achaean descent) and a Dryad, but the book as a whole is really the Dryad’s story, with the human narrator just supplying a more familiar viewpoint and priming the reader to sympathize with the Dryad Zoe.

George Barr provided the cover art and a small handful of interior illustrations for the DAW paperback, and they are all quite nice. I don’t think it was just Barr’s art, though, that made me think this book would make a wonderful animated feature, although not a Disnified juvenile one by any means. Swann is frank about the erotic motives and activities of his ancient characters. There is a significant plot twist, but enough foreshadowing that an attentive reader will be prepared for a less-than-happy ending.

Cry Silver Bells is a short book, with some interpolated poetry (sung by various characters). The prose style is direct and lucid. I wouldn’t call the book especially edifying, but it was a pleasure to read. I will certainly read more by this author, who died of cancer in his late 40s when I was under ten years old. Although Cry Silver Bells is part of a trilogy (the first of the three in narrative chronology, the last in publication order), I have already acquired a copy of the standalone novel Moondust.

The Coming of the Terraphiles

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles, or Pirates of the Second Aethyr by Michael Moorcock.

Moorcock The Coming of the Terraphiles

Michael Moorcock’s Doctor Who novel has for its protagonists the eleventh Doctor (the one played by Matt Smith) and Amy Pond (but no Rory). The central characterizations are solid, but it doesn’t pick up much else from the Doctor Who narrative other than a couple of references to the Time War and the relatively amicable presence of some Judoon. On the other hand, as the subtitle Pirates of the Second Aethyr indicates, it does connect to Moorcock’s Eternal Champion hyperwork by means of Moorcock’s “Second Ether” trilogy–which I haven’t read. Jerry Cornelius puts in a guest appearance too. I’ve only read thirty or forty of Moorcock’s books, many of them several decades ago, and I felt sure I missed quite a few passing intertextual references.

The “Terraphiles” are fans of and competitors in the “Renaissance Tournaments” of the fifty-second millennium, which purport to revive the sports of Old Old Earth, albeit in a quite muddled and relatively unrecognizable form. There is talk about whether a “broadsword” should be more or less than three feet wide. One of the principal games involves cracking nuts with hammers. And there is a lot of archery, with arrows routinely caught by hand. Moorcock supplies just enough description of these events that I was completely stumped at attempting to visualize them. He did manage to communicate the pacing and drama of the competitions, however. The whole scenario of a far-future affection for a dimly perceived human past also put me a bit in mind of some of my favorite Moorcock books, the “End of Time” series, as well as a number of Doctor Who episodes in which interstellar humanity have distorted understandings of their history.

In The Coming of the Terraphiles, the multiverse is imperiled by the “black tides” unleashed by a defect of the Cosmic Balance. It needs a component restored to it, and the Doctor is sure that it is connected with the Silver Arrow of Artemis that serves as the trophy for the recurrent galactic Terraphile championships. The Doctor joins the Gentlemen, a Terraphile sporting team, in order to travel with them to the grand tournament. . . . . . . . . . . . . (spoilers – hover over to reveal) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This book wasn’t entirely silly, but it was certainly silly enough. Moorcock didn’t let down Doctor Who, nor did he mess up his own sprawling metatext. Still, I wouldn’t suggest it as an introduction to either. It’s the sort of indulgence that a veteran author should be permitted, but one that really needs an experienced fan to appreciate.