Tag Archives: T Polyphilus

The Fan Club

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Fan Club by Irving Wallace.

Wallace The Fan Club

Irving Wallace’s novel The Fan Club was quite successful when it was published in 1974, spending nearly six months on the NYT best seller list and serving as the basis for a movie project that never got to the shooting stage. Like most popular novels of its period, it has since fallen into obscurity. It is a “thriller” about the abduction, rape, ransom, and rescue of a sex-symbol movie star. I read a portion of it in the 1980s and I came back to read the whole thing more than thirty years later.

Rather than a single psychopathic villain (cf. Straub’s Hellfire Club), the story offers a misfit team of perpetrators. This feature seems to be an indictment of masculine pack dynamics: the group is morally less than the sum of its parts, while operationally greater than them. This notion is bolstered by fact that the most practically capable and ethically depraved of the four culprits has a military background, having participated in atrocities as an American soldier in Viet Nam.

The four “fan club” malefactors are repeatedly identified by their roles, rather than proper names–first for purposes of concealment in the journal kept by their organizer, and then in the mental indexing performed by their captive victim. These roles–the Club President i.e. “Dreamer,” Accountant i.e. “Milquetoast,” Insurance Person i.e. “Salesman,” and Mechanic i.e. “Evil One”–seem to suggest an allegorical reading, where the diverse character types of the four could represent larger social functions, or even psychological components (e.g. self, super-ego, ego, and id).

Except for some passages from the notebooks of the Dreamer-instigator, the novel is told in an omniscient third-person voice, but using an assortment of characters for perspective orientation. For the most part, focus alternates between the fan club members on the one hand and their captive on the other, with all of the post-abduction rapes and assaults emphasizing her perspective. She does survive the ordeal, and it seems clear that she would not have done so without her own resourcefulness and personal agency.

By making his President/Dreamer character a writer, Wallace invites suspicion of an element of self-portraiture in this eventually declared anti-hero. This protagonist treats the predatory fan club as an “experiment” in the real-world manifestation of fantasy. Are we supposed to congratulate Wallace on having chosen to write a fiction rather than carrying out the sort of criminal acts about which he wrote? The decision here to leave the Dreamer at large and unrehabilitated may have been intended as a horror-style coda to signal the persistence of evil. But given the extent to which the entire novel might be construed as rape-as-entertainment, it does come off disturbingly as “no comeuppance!”–especially in today’s interpretive climate. While I do not myself insist on moral justice in fictional narrative, Emma Bovary this fellow is not.

In any case, I do think the book was more interesting than the only other Wallace novel I’ve read, the later Celestial Bed, which shares some of its preoccupations–even signaling them in the title, which featured as an invocation (with the same historical referent) in The Fan Club.

Other Minds

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith.

Godfrey-Smith Other Minds

My public library had several copies of this recent book on the shelf, and the sexy title makes it easy to imagine why. Author Peter Godfrey-Smith is a professor of philosophy and a scuba diver, and he draws on both of these backgrounds, as well as related research in ethology and evolutionary biology. The main question addressed by the book is the nature of octopus consciousness: Does it exist, and how does it resemble and differ from ours? As Godfrey-Smith points out, of all of the animals we know with complex active nervous systems, the octopus is perhaps the most genealogically alien from us. Yet by virtue of its aquatic character, it is closer to our shared origins of life and consciousness than we are.

A surprising and gratifying element of this book is the discussion of the evolutionary basis of senescence. It turns out that this topic is highly apposite, since hardly any of the big cephalopod species discussed in this book have an ordinary lifespan of more than two years. The result is a strange paradox for human investigators who think of elaborate brains and nervous systems as being concerned with experience and memory. An octopus doesn’t have time to acquire much of a life history.

Another apparent paradox has to do with the dramatic ability of the octopus (and even more so, its remote cousin the cuttlefish) to change its color. Although these creatures have camera-style eyes like humans do, they lack the optical equipment that allows vertebrates to visually distinguish color. The resolution to the enigma seems to have to do with the ways in which they may use their skin, rather than their eyes, to sense the colors in their environments.

The author’s notes to the main text are given as end notes, indexed by page number. They are not called out in the body text itself, although they would be read most usefully with the material that they annotate. They do contain source references, but are mostly explanation and useful digression for issues simplified in the main text. I scanned them quickly at the end of reading the book, and I was irritated that they weren’t footnotes, where I would have been sure to read with profit the ones most interesting to me. It’s ironic that at a time when digital typesetting makes footnotes easy to produce, book marketing evidently forbids them.

The final chapter of Other Minds is “Octopolis,” discussing an apparently unique para-social environment inhabited by octopuses off of eastern Australia, and this concludes with some environmentalist reflections on the perilous state of the oceans. Since this book was written in 2016, a second Australian octopus city (“Octlantis”) has been discovered, and the evidence of human destruction of the oceans has become more stark. In particular, marine ecosystems are being ravaged by heat waves and the accumulation of plastics at previously unsuspected depths.

The Yellow Book

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Yellow Book: The Divine Mother, Kundalini, and Spiritual Powers by Samael Aun Weor.

Aun Weor The Yellow Book

Columbian occultist Samael Aun Weor obviously did not have the French decadence or English fin de siècle quarterly The Yellow Book in mind while choosing the title El Libro Amarillo for this short book of esoteric instruction when he first issued it in the 1950s. He identifies yellow with Buddha and Christ and “the Mental World,” and explains:

“The science of the mind truly constitutes The Yellow Book. This is why this book is called The Yellow Book because the science of the mind is written here. In order to work with the science of the mind, the initiate should retire to bed at 10:00 p.m. daily.” (111)

I’m afraid that’s a pretty representative sample of his prose style as well. The 2011 English edition of this book was produced by Glorian Publishing, a non-profit dedicated to the English-language promotion of Weor’s work. No translator or editor is identified, although significant editorial impositions on the text are evident, even without direct comparison to the Spanish original.

Weor was a student of the neo-Rosicrucian Arnold Krumm-Heller, who was himself a recipient of O.T.O. high degrees from O.H.O. Theodor Reuss. Krumm-Heller was also a sympathetic associate of Reuss’ successor Aleister Crowley. The reader will not learn these facts from The Yellow Book, where the only authorities cited are Mahavatar Babaji and famous Theosophical mahatmas like Morya (91). Weor writes no less than four times in this volume, “Our motto is Thelema (willpower)” (11, 37, 57, 113), but the one explicit reference to Crowley is from a passage in the glossary written by the editor(s):

“Unfortunately the term ‘sexual magic’ has been grossly misinterpreted by mistaken persons such as Aleister Crowley, who advocated a host of degenerated practices, all of which belong solely to the lowest and most perverse mentality and lead only to the enslavement of the consciousness, the worship of lust and desire, and the decay of humanity.” (139)

The “Arcanum A.Z.F.” frequently invoked by Weor appears at first glance to be a close parallel to the Supreme Secret of the Sovereign Sanctuary in O.T.O. doctrine. Weor’s editor glosses it as “The practice of sexual transmutation as a couple (male-female), a technique known in Tantra and Alchemy” (118). If the secret is in any way similar, however, the understanding of that secret certainly differs greatly between Weor and Crowley. Weor construes “chastity” as sexual continence (cf. Little Essays Toward Truth), and he condemns orgasm generally. He further asserts, “seminal ejaculation is a crime; seminal ejaculation is brutal fornication” (31). (For counterpoint, Crowley writes, “There is nothing unclean or degrading in any manifestation soever of the sexual instinct, because, without exception, every act is an impulsively projected image of the Will of the individual who, whether man or woman, is a star,” in his commentary to CCXX I:52.)

Weor makes conspicuous use of the correlation of the sat chakras to the Apocalyptic seven churches of Asia. But he does not credit this concept to its earlier development in The Apocalypse Unsealed of Theosophist James M. Pryse. By contrast, Weor’s notions about crickets as an adjunct to visionary technique appear to be rather novel, despite his claim for their Mexican and Roman antiquity (chapter 13).

The Yellow Book culminates in a set of instructions regarding the hypergeometric thaumaturgy of “Jinn Science,” which Weor affirmatively distinguishes from “Gnostic ritual” (108). The practitioner is directed to aim at the physical ability to fly or levitate as a basic attainment in this discipline, and magical powers are attributed to the powdered eggshells of chickens. I would not recommend this little book as a resource for sincere aspirants, although it has a great number of intriguing features for readers tracing the twentieth-century evolution of occult movements.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein.

Heinlein Stranger in a Strange Land uncut

This review is of the extended second edition (“Original Uncut”) of Heinlein’s seminal cultural satire Stranger in a Strange Land. Avoid it. It is inferior to the first edition, having been subjected to reversion of all of the author’s edits that had tightened up the original manuscript without losing any significant content. (In fact, a few items were added in that edit, and these are consequently missing from the longer edition.) The editorial apparatus of this posthumous reissue falsely suggests that integral content was removed from the manuscript for its first publication, in deference to public mores. The longer book is in fact a crass commercial ploy, intended to get readers of the author’s most popular work to buy it a second time, after it had already stayed in print continuously for thirty years.

Ashenden, or The British Agent

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Ashenden, or The British Agent by W Somerset Maugham.

Maugham Ashenden

I’m surprised that it took me so long to find my way to Ashenden or the British Agent, W. Somerset Maugham’s espionage tales rooted in his own experiences of the First World War. Having read it now, I can see its ideas, tropes, and styles revived in all of the key Cold War spy novels I’ve read, including those by Deighton and Fleming. Even Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana is something of an expanded and reoriented take on the “Gustav” chapter in Ashenden. Curiously, this 1928 book set during the previous war foreshadows the Cold War by concluding with the English spy’s firsthand view of the October Revolution.

The protagonist Ashenden is somewhat modeled on the author, so he is a literary man recruited into the British intelligence service. He spends much of the book in neutral Switzerland, where he writes a play while supported by his spy work. Ashenden is valued by his organization as a judge of character more than a man of action. As a result, the book teems with diverse and carefully-drawn personalities. There is a good deal of humor, all of it very dry.

There is an acute awareness of the nature of intelligence work as being that of a cog in a machine, never seeing the ultimate origins or outcomes of one’s labors, and this sensibility has an impact on the structure and pacing of the book. The chapters are short and unnumbered. Each has a dramatic unity of its own, and they are in chronological sequence, but there is no sense of a grand plot arc embracing the book as a whole. Often, the question that a chapter seems to have been posing with increasing intensity throughout finally goes unanswered–for the reader, if not for Ashenden himself.

Othon & Honorata

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Metabarons : Volume 1: Othon & Honorata by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Juan Gimenez.

Jodorowsky Gimenez The Metabarons Othon Honorata

This American publication collects the first two bandes dessinées in a series of eight. A blank page joins the two originally separate volumes. Under this cover is the immediate pre-history and first generation of the Metabarons–the line of warriors whose descendant features in the Incal space operas of Jodorowsky and Moebius. The artist for The Metabarons is Juan Gimenez, whose work is quite capable, but lacks the luminosity of Moebius’ illustrations.

The story is framed as a recounting from one robot to another, as they serve in the “Metabunker” home of (presumably) the Metabaron of the later Incal period. These two are set as camp characters, irritating each other and exhibiting displays of exasperation, and they add no real value to the narrative proper.

The main plot and setting elements are, it saddens me to say, mighty unoriginal. While there have been cosmetic changes and some shuffling of tropes, almost every element of note here is derivative from Herbert’s Dune. For “epiphyte” read spice. For “Shabda-Oud” read Bene Gesserit. There are space-magical features of the type found in Dune, but actual mystical symbolism of the sort that Jodorowsky emphasized in The Incal is much less apparent here.

The original Metabaron Othon has a little family of indigenous slaves: Ikku-Tta and his two daughters. These have their noses painted black. In some panels, this makes them look like puppies, and in others skulls. I wonder if the ambivalence was deliberate.

It’s possible that the translators are at fault, but I suspect that Jodorowsky himself is to blame for the excessive indulgence in exclamation points! I don’t think there’s a plain period at the end of a sentence in the entire book! Although there are occasional ellipses …

Maybe this series picks up in later volumes, but I wasn’t thrilled with this one.

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.