Tag Archives: T Polyphilus

Pterror Over Paris and The Eiffel Tower Demon

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec Vol. 1: Pterror Over Paris and The Eiffel Tower Demon [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Jacques Tardi. (Also, by the by, there’s a film adaptation.)

Tardi The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec Pterror over Paris The Eiffel Tower Demon

The intrigue of the Blanc-Sec graphic novels starts in media res in this first volume, made up of translated reprints of the first two numbers of the French series. “Pterror over Paris” is pretty bewildering–a complicated plot is only further confused by a passage of three pages or more where it seems like everyone in 1911 Paris is running around in dark glasses and false moustaches! Despite numerous murders and maimings, it seems that little has been resolved by the end of this episode.

The second number “The Eiffel Tower Demon” offers a more conclusive ending, and also provides a brief reprise of the previous one that gave me some needed reassurance that I had understood the story to that point. Throughout these yarns, there are no especially noble or heroic characters, although protagonist Adele is gradually coming into better focus. There are competing criminal elements, dangerously idealistic scientists, and cops who are alternately incompetent or corrupt. 

Tardi’s art is great fun, and reminds me somewhat of the virtues of Ted McKeever. The Thompson translation of the text seems quite able.

The Best of OZ

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Best of OZ [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Stephen J King, & al.

King The Best of OZ

OZ was the regular organ of the Australian Grand Lodge of OTO from 2006 through 2018, with paper distribution left behind circa 2010 in favor of digital only. Although I did often read it, and always found something of value in the issues I did read, I am embarrassed to admit that I sometimes left much of it unread in my inbox, just as the Grand Secretary General intimates in his introduction to this volume. I was excited to get a copy of a handsome softcover book claiming to collect the “Best Of” OZ in a hardcopy format that I could subject to my thorough attentions.

The prohibitive majority of the content in this volume was written by Australian Grand Master Shiva X°, which is consistent with the original periodical that often contained long articles from the Austral Throne. The rationale for the sequence of the selections is not entirely clear to me; they are certainly not chronological. (And for that matter, the date of each article is given at its end, and I would have appreciated seeing these citations at the top of each piece and/or in the table of contents.)

Many of the pieces are concerned with organizational and institutional issues, highlighting the distinctive Australian approach to implementing the constitutional legacy of OTO and its component rites. While they are doubtless invaluable to all members of the Australian Grand Lodge, readers in other countries are most likely to find these pieces useful and engaging if they have already begun to serve in roles of national leadership such as those associated with the Second Triad. OTO-EGC clergy should certainly read the several articles regarding EGC organization and sacramental philosophy, in that they detail an approach distinct from the one in the US, with no less fidelity to the mysteries of the rite.

Two of the longest and most rewarding articles are set near the end of the book, under the byline of Stephen J. King. The first of these is “Apocalypsis 418,” an exploratory doctrinal piece which should be of tremendous value to any serious Thelemite. Its significance relates at least as much to A∴A∴ as it does to OTO, and it includes cross-references not only to the two volumes of Daniel Gunther’s Inward Journey, but to three different volumes by Shiva X° in preparation. In significant connection with this particular essay, I would suggest reading To Take Place by Jonathan Z. Smith as well as Henri Corbin’s “The Imago Templi in Confrontation with Secular Norms” (in Temple and Contemplation).

The second King article is “Temple Mount: The Oriental Templar Crusade for Verità.” This paper was clearly the result of a compositional process originally aimed at and emerging from the Academia Ordo Templi Orientis conference at Monte Verità in Ascona, Switzerland in 2017, although it doesn’t report what form it had been in at that earlier time, and it saw publication in the fiftieth and final issue of OZ in late 2018. It is concerned with Past Frater Superior Theodor Reuss’ efforts in Switzerland and their durable effects in the countercultural milieu of Ascona and later Esalen. While there is some measure of speculation involved in this study, there is also a wealth of positive historical detail to support it. The conclusions offered regarding the history of ideas make this paper valuable to Thelemites seeking to understand the logical (and possibly genetic) relationship of our doctrines to other intellectual and cultural streams with which they are in clear resonance, and not just to scholars of OTO history.

I recommend this book as a useful addition to the library of any chartered OTO body or individual initiate, as well as for students of Thelema generally.

Black Colossus

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Conan: Black Colossus [Amazon, Publisher] by Timothy Truman, with Tomás Giorello, José Villarrubia, and Joseph Michael Linsner, volume 8 of the Dark Horse Conan series.

Truman Conan Black Colossus

Although this book collects six issues of the continuing Dark Horse Conan comic, it really is a solid graphic novel with its own coherent plot arc and narrative integrity. Tim Truman has done a terrific job of adapting and expanding on the original Robert E. Howard “Black Colossus” short story, in light of the difficulty–which I have mentioned in earlier reviews–presented by the novel form which latter-day Conan writers have adopted. In 1974 the Savage Sword of Conan cover boasted “a novel-length tale,” but provided a mere 35 pages to exhaust Roy Thomas’ Savage Sword of Conan adaptation of the same story: less than a quarter of the length of the Dark Horse version.

The illustration in this Black Colossus is really terrific. Joseph Michael Linsner, who is no slouch, provides striking interstitial art (first used in the original comics covers, I think), but I honestly prefer the work on the continuous panels by Giorello and Villarubia. As much as I liked the Buscema art of the 1970s, the 21st-century artists are putting it to shame. 

Truman’s writing did include a tiny amount of grammatical failure in attempting mannered archaic speech in the way that made Michael Avon Oeming’s Red Sonja comics excruciating to read. But most of the writing was as eloquent as it needed to be, and he used a lot of Howard’s original prose. 

“Black Colossus” is in many ways a quintessential Conan story. It gives the whole of Conan’s rise from rootless rogue, through disciplined warrior and military leader, to (temporary) royal station, all within a single adventure. He defeats an evil prophet-sorcerer and rescues a princess. Commendably, the sorcerer-sacrificing-the-girl-on-the-altar scene is motivated by more than mere custom or following the grimoire! 

Overall, this book combines many of the best features that have been accreted to the Conan concept from its REH origins on. It has the sort of adventure pacing that we think of as “cinematic,” but really originates with Edgar Rice Burroughs and the pulp writers. The characters are recognizable from their prior iterations, and the Hyborian settings are fantastic and visually splendid. The violence and sex are unapologetic. To call this the eighth volume of a series is a little misleading. If this were the only Conan book ever, it would be a good read on its own, and it could communicate the whole notion of Conan and his world quite worthily.

Fearful Symmetry

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Northrop Frye.

Frye Fearful Symmetry

This book was Northrop Frye’s first, and probably his best. If he had never written another word, it would have been enough to make him a titan of English literary criticism. As a comprehensive study of William Blake’s writings and art, it is so far-reaching and so penetrating as to make the reader suspect that no one had ever succeeded in reading Blake before Frye did so. 

While Fearful Symmetry is trained on Blake, its consequences go far beyond him: “We cannot understand Blake without understanding how to read the Bible, Milton, Ovid and the Prose Edda at least as he read them, on the assumption that an archetypal vision, which all great art without exception shows forth to us, really does exist. If he is wrong, we have merely distorted the meaning of these other works of prophecy; if he is right, the ability we gain by deciphering him is transferable, and the value of studying him extends far beyond our personal interest in Blake himself” (418). Accordingly, in the final pages of Fearful Symmetry there is a clear adumbration of the project Frye was later to execute in his magisterial Anatomy of Criticism.

Frye’s own prose is routinely beautiful. For example: “Jerusalem is Blake’s contribution to the struggle between the prophet and the profiteer for the soul of England which is England’s Armageddon: it is a burning-glass focusing the rays of a fiery city on London in the hope of kindling an answering flame” (392). But the book is not a fast read by any stretch; each page demands considered thought. Frye has so fiercely developed a sense of critical sympathy for his subject that he often continues for pages as though possessed by Blake, expressing the earlier man’s views in the words of the later, “mentally fighting” the divide between the reader’s situation and the transcendent imagination that is the prize for Blake and his ideal audience. 

It is possible, despite Frye’s indisputable intimacy with Blake’s work, that there are inaccuracies involved with Frye’s attempted representation of Blake’s intentions and views. Even if that were the case, however, the fact remains that what Frye offers as “Blake” is a dynamic perspective removed from the conventional epistemes of Blake’s 18th century, Frye’s 20th, and our own 21st, and that it therefore has its own sovereign value. It exhibits genius, no matter whose.

Micro Chapbook RPG: Deluxe Core Rulebook

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Micro Chapbook RPG: Deluxe Core Rulebook [DriveThruRPG, Amazon] by Noah Patterson, part of the Micro Chapbook RPG series. Be aware that there is apparently a separate Micro Chapbook RPG: Deluxe Core Rulebook Updated Edition [DriveThruRPG, Bookshop, Amazon].

Patterson Micro Chapbook RPG Deluxe Core Rulebook

The jacket copy and front matter of this little booklet implore the reader not to buy it, at least not until after downloading it from the DrivethruRPG.com website. I did not follow this advice, since I knew basically what sort of thing this book was, and that I would not want to bother with printing my own copy or reading and referencing it from a digital device. The material quality of the booklet is in fact just fine. It’s apparently print-on-demand, but it is a nice glue-bound publication. The cover art is good, although some of the many clip-art style interior illustrations leave a bit to be desired. The book includes three significant pieces: The Micro Chapbook rule set, a “dungeon” scenario, and an “adventure” scenario.

The rules outline character generation, basic play, combat, and level advancement for a streamlined solo roleplaying game, set in a largely unspecified fantasy world that the cover characterizes as “grimdark.” I am impressed with how minimalist these rules manage to be. Conventional six-sided dice are the only randomizers required, and characters are defined by four base statistics and two derivative ones. There are only four character classes, each oriented to proficiency in one of the base statistics. (Wizards surprisingly have no spells, merely proficiency in Wits.) Section 5.0 prescribes that seven points be allotted among the four base stats when creating a character (10), but my initial play demonstrated that such characters were vexingly weak. Looking at another iteration of these same rules in a different publication, I found the option to use nine points for a starting character, and I have found that to be more reasonable–still leaving plenty of challenge.

The dungeon scenario is “The Tomb of the Necro Lord.” In this game, dungeons are created algorithmically via dice rolls while exploring. A scenario supplies tables of room types, door attributes, and monsters for this purpose, with a boss monster to crown the achievement and signal the completion of the dungeon. The “Necro Lord” dungeon is full of rats and undead. Despite multiple attempts, I never managed to get to the boss, and I only “cleared” a handful of rooms each time. It is a durable sample of its genre, not just a tutorial.

I was able to make much better progress in the adventure scenario “The Haunting of Gilroy Tavern.” While the dice-driven dungeon sometimes feels too chaotic, the programmed adventure format has a tendency to feel like it is “on rails.” In either case, I wished there was a little more opportunity for meaningful choices. In this respect, I felt that the system was less satisfying than the comparable “Four Against” series. (Four Against Darkness is a popular solo dungeon crawl, and I have experienced its rules engine through the Four Against the Great Old Ones yog-sothothery game.) Still, I tend to prefer the Micro Chapbook approach of “true solo” for solitaire RPG to the team-management centered by “Four Against.”

It’s only in the last few months that I have started to investigate the genre of solitaire pencil-and-paper RPGs. Designer Noah Patterson has put out an impressive amount of supplementary rules, scenarios, and campaigns for his system, which has evidently been propagated online for quite a few years now. I’m sufficiently encouraged by this first sample that I will continue to try other Micro Chapbook content.

Mask of Silver

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Mask of Silver: An Arkham Horror Novel [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Rosemary Jones, part of the Arkham Horror series.

Jones Mask of Silver

Mask of Silver is the first properly jauniste “Arkham Horror novel,” which is to say: Of the now ten full novels (not counting the separate run of novellas) based on the Arkham Horror games, it is the first to center itself on the lore stemming from Robert W. Chambers’ King in Yellow. According to Chambers’ stories collected under the same title, The King in Yellow was a play which inculcated madness in its readers, and so it served as a model for Lovecraft’s equally fictitious grimoire the Necronomicon.

There is none of Grandpa Cthulhu’s Yog-Sothothery in this story, aside from the town of Arkham itself. The Necronomicon, Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, Mi-Go and the rest are entirely absent. There is one mere unconvinced mention “that alien entities colonized the South Pole” (286) from an unreliable secondhand source, alluding thus to “At the Mountains of Madness.” The title of The King in Yellow is never mentioned, but the book brims with its tropes and characters: the sisters Camilla and Cassilda, the mask, the king, the cursed play. In this story, the play is serving as the basis for a silent film in the Hollywood studio system of 1923, with the cast and crew undertaking a location shoot in Arkham at the family manse of the auteur Sidney Fitzmaurice.

As with other Arkham Horror novels published in recent months by Aconyte, the player-character investigators of the games appear only in peripheral, supporting capacities–this time these include photo journalist Darrell Simmons, Ashcan Pete the drifter, and Pete’s dog Duke. Agnes Baker’s predecessor at Velma’s Diner, the waitress Florie Wilson, plays an important role. The narrator of Mask of Silver is costume designer Jeany Lin, and there are a number of other vivid new characters introduced as members of the film company. Author Rosemary Jones has clearly done worthwhile research into the work of silent film production and the experience of Chinese-Americans in the early twentieth century.

Jones portrays Arkham as the site of a multigenerational struggle between male occultists (including Miskatonic scholars) with their alien sorceries and a network of women defenders of the quotidian community. The Californian “movie folk” are assimilated to both sides of this combat. As a costumier, Jeany is tasked with providing the important mask, and she only gradually becomes aware–in ways that most of the cast is not–that there is a menacing ceremony providing the narrative infrastructure of the “terror film.”

With its theme of artistic creation and its slow and ominous build to a final catastrophe, this novel has more in common with The Last Ritual than it does with The Wrath of N’kai, to compare the other recent volumes in its series. (It is also close kin in flavor to the recent novella Dark Revelations.) But there is no direct continuity of plot or character with either, and except for its epilogue, this one is set earlier. It is a capable addition to the Arkham Horror franchise, but my main enjoyment of it related to its hypostasization of the mythos around The King in Yellow, which was quite effective.

Exquisite Corpse

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Exquisite Corpse [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Robert Irwin.

Irwin Exquisite Corpse

In Exquisite Corpse, Irwin’s novel takes the form of an “anti-memoir,” during the context of a London Surrealist cabal in the interwar period and the later dispersion of its members. The painter Caspar gives an account of his love for Caroline, his loss of her, and his subsequent efforts to find her, including the writing of the story itself. “What you hold in your hands is not literature, but a magical trap. Its sole purpose is to seek out Caroline” (10).

The result is a sort of Hypnerotomachia–not one in which the dreamer sleeps, but one where he adventures in “hypnogogia,” the Surrealist term of art for what a ceremonial magician would call the spirit-vision or “astral.” Nor is the dream one of nostalgia for classical knowledge and beauty. “At the dark heart of Surrealism is ugliness and terror” (49). Irwin captures the inchoate compulsiveness of left-esotericism in the first half of the 20th century.

The tale is littered with famous figures as bit players: Salvador Dali, Aleister Crowley, George Orwell, and others. They, along with the events of the war, help to anchor and orient the “marvellous” derangements of Caspar-Poliphilo, which finally arrive at the ambiguous consummation of his quest.

Rock Jaw: Master of the Eastern Border

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Bone: Rock Jaw: Master of the Eastern Border [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Jeff Smith, volume 5 in the Bone series.

Smith Bone Rock Jaw Master of the Eastern Border

This volume of Bone is concerned with Phone and Smiley’s effort to return a stray rat creature cub to its kind. Many complications ensue, with opportunities to reveal more about the larger plot around events in the valley. There are no humans in this segment, but there is a lot of action, with multiple chases and a big fight or two. And Smith really lays on the cute, with the possum kids encountering various peers in the eastern mountains. On the whole, this collection is a fine installment in the continuing series.

Mefisto

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Mefisto [Amazon] by John Banville.

Banville Mefisto

Banville’s Mefisto is a hell of a novel, brim-full of the evocative and penetrating prose for which the author is justly famed. I read it rapidly; the compulsiveness of the story and lucidity of its style was balanced by my desire to savor the images and ideas it conjured. The tone is quite dark throughout, moving unflinchingly through passages of pain, confusion, and disgust, punctuated by moments of ecstatic reflection and reverie. The unreliable narrator often pauses to question and contradict himself.

I found it strange that some of the conspicuous narrative elements in Mefisto had been presaged in other, longer novels by different authors I had read within the last year. The opening passage, in which an autobiographical account commences in utero and proceeds with failed twinning, was strikingly similar to the beginning of And the Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave. The build of the first part toward a mining accident, the consequences of which would define the remainder of the story, was like Robert Coover’s The Origin of the Brunists. Banville’s anti-hero Gabriel Swan “doesn’t believe in coincidence”; do I? 

Swan is a mathematical prodigy who lets his ideas entrance him. In the two parts of the book (“Marionettes” and “Angels”) the mephistophelean Felix is perhaps one of those ideas. (Having previously read Fight Club was in no way injurious to the experience of this book, which further made me observe that Palahniuk’s debut was also a Faust story.) I couldn’t help picturing Felix as an actual charming sociopath of my former acquaintance, even in defiance of some of Banville’s details, like his red hair. There are many internal parallels between the two parts: each involves a sanctuary, a patron, a woman whom Swan desires, and an arc through an enterprise to its unraveling. Perhaps Sophie in the first part is Faust’s Margaret, and Adele in the second is Helen. 

The novel takes place in a 20th-century Ireland, with a certain parabolic vagueness of time and place. Could it be a politico-historical allegory? Not to the extent that it would diminish the human story presented at the individual scale. It is definitely a book worth multiple readings, and one that can hold its own in the rarified club of elite Faust literature alongside Goethe, Bulgakov, and Mann.

This Book Is Full of Spiders

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews This Book Is Full of Spiders [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by David Wong, book 2 in the John Dies at the End series.

Wong This Book is Full of Spiders

Although it’s eight years old, this is a book for our moment at the outset of 2021. I just saw the results of a CBS YouGov opinion poll asking “What is the biggest threat to the American way of life?” where a majority of respondents answered, “Other Americans” (in preference to such options as economic forces, natural disasters, foreign actors, etc.). I am not a fan of the “zombie apocalypse” genre. This Book Is Full of Spiders might well be classed as a member of that genre, but it interrogates the fear of zombies, rather than taking it for granted. The mostly-explicit conclusion involves a prehistoric dog and Dunbar’s number, and the corollaries extend to dehumanizing social conflict in general.

As a sequel to John Dies at the End, this book stands on its own just fine. It inherits from the previous volume the central characters David, Amy, and John, the weirdness of the small Midwestern city of “[Undisclosed],” and the thaumaturgy of Soy Sauce. But the plot is well contained in this book. In fact it begins with an overture to readers not to read the earlier book: “It’s better if we get a fresh start. … I’m pleased to have the fresh opportunity to try to convince you I’m not a shithead.”

It is on the comic end of the horror spectrum, with plenty of gross-out moments and hapless antics, but it wasn’t until the final sections that I got to some laugh out loud passages. I recommend this book as a sound mix of lowbrow humor, weird horror, and social commentary.