The Call of Cthulhu (film)

The Call of Cthulhu (film)

Today’s post is a little out of the ordinary, but very much within our purview. When I took an emergency trip to the library last weekend, needing something for my research and more Cam Jansen mysteries for the kids, I came across a DVD on the racks that grabbed my attention. “The Call of Cthulhu is a movie?” I thought. Then I looked closer and found that it was produced by The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society in the style of a 1920s silent movie, complete with a be-tentacled, stop-motion Cthulhu. Clearly this was not to be missed.

I have to admit that not only am I an uneducated film watcher, but I am surprisingly ignorant of Cthulhu. It’s part of the nerd background noise, so I know it like I know Star Trek or The Forgotten Realms, but I haven’t actually read Lovecraft since early high school. In fact, I suspect that I never actually read this particular story, just some follow ups. Still, I know who The Old Ones are, I know who lies sleeping in his sunken city, and I’m familiar with the misty New England horrors. I also know that some debate rages around Lovecraft to this day, both over the lasting quality of his writing and his rather deplorable social attitudes. I’m not really qualified to go into all of this though, so rather than offer deep analysis, I will keep this review to a more advisory role.

The movie is an undemanding 47 minutes, a length that is both perfect for someone with my attention span and sufficient to tell the story. It also leaves plenty of time to watch the must see Making Of special feature, which is a gold mine of valuable information for discount film makers. Most interesting is how they combined older film techniques with green screen and digital effects, things that go completely unnoticed when watching all the Lovecraftian hijinks. Particular shout outs go to the swamp scenes (and the enthusiastic cultists), the period details, and the otherworldly city, as each in its way evokes the best parts of the the Cthulhu mood. Some parts are understandably cheesy, but I don’t think it detracts from the overall effect. Cthulhu is somewhat florid and overwrought anyway, so nothing in the movie is out of place.

Cthulhu is readily available on Netflix and other streaming options. It has a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, though I suspect that anyone who seeks it out and takes the time to write a review is probably going to be a huge fan anyway. I found the film to be a good introduction to the Cthulhu mythos and a fun diversion for the well-versed veteran. Clearly a labor of love, it is definitely worth checking out.

The Book of Common Dread

The Book of Common Dread
Brent Monahan

[Ed. note: Brad again joins us with a touch of the supernatural. He is due a byline and photo, once one or more of the Two Dudes gets around to it.]

José, bless his pea-pickin’ little heart, has been pretty busy these last few days, poking people’s eyes out.  From what I have heard through the rumor mill, the redoubtable Senhor’s index fingers are shagged out after a prolonged jab—placing him on injured reserve for the moment; he can’t type book reviews until said fingers recover their dexterity and drive.  Having recently lost my own gig on the pitch and finding myself waiting on fickle suitors, I have a few spare moments to while away with the finest in fiction.  And today I bring you a real jewel:  Shy but gallant bookworm saves the day and wins the hand of fair damsel, while thwarting the dastardly plot of an urbane and truly wicked vampire.  Place this struggle in the intellectually rarefied climes of Princeton University, include the ubiquitous staple of a hidden tome of vast arcane powers (thank you once again, Umberto Eco, for hooking up with the ghost of H.P. Lovecraft and making eldritch lore hidden away in forbidden books a necessary prop in almost all dark fantasy!)[1], and you have all the makings of a memorable, if somewhat bloody, mess.  All of that, and more, abounds in The Book of Common Dread.  Translation:  I liked this book, a lot!

Vincent DeVilbess is more than an unusually charming charlatan who has a way with the fair sex.  He’s also a merciless killer, a sort of hit man for a local vampiric cabal.  In this case, the undead powers-that-be have tasked Vince with finding and destroying an ancient rare book located in the Special Collections at the Princeton University Library.  This book, rightly understood, holds the key to the total and utmost destruction of vampires in general and in particular.  It’s in the care of young Simon Penn (no relation to Sean Penn that I’m aware of), one of the curators at the Library, and remains safely ensconced within a hermetically sealed chamber at the Library that even Vincent cannot penetrate.

If that’s not enough, there’s also the obligatory love interest, in this case the beautiful but disturbed Frederika Vanderveen, whom Simon loves from afar.  This young lady, as they say, “has issues of her own,” in this case an unresolved relationship with her late father.   His premature death left the girl fabulously wealthy but emotionally and psychologically unprepared to meet the challenges of adulthood.  Frederika attempts the use of black magic (necromancy) to raise her father’s spirit from the dead.  As Simon is drawn more and more into her orbit, he finds himself pitted directly against Vincent; the vampire has decided the best way to get to Simon, and hence to the book he covets, is through Frederika.  But Simon, for all his apparent meekness and gentleness, is made of sterner stuff than one would think, and this will be tested in his battle of wits with the amoral, cold-blooded Vincent.

It is here that The Book of Common Dread gets a little more convoluted and contrived than it need be.  However, Monahan paints his characters sympathetically; in most cases, the mortals (such as Simon and Frederika) act within the bounds of what one would expect.  There is no deus ex machina that rescues the characters when they’ve been cornered.  Simon is brave, but not foolhardy.  Frederika isn’t the most attractive character—I often wondered what Simon saw in her.  And Frederika’s change of heart regarding Simon— she totally ignores him, then suddenly invites him to move into her late father’s mansion with her—is contrived.  Simon’s presence in Frederika’s home is necessary for plot development, but this sudden change in the protagonists’ relationship one with another is perhaps the least satisfactory part of the book.  But it’s a minor quibble—this isn’t Madame Bovary; it’s a vampire novel!  In general, Simon is a believable character—moreso than Frederika.  Vincent is a cool vampire; capable of wit, charm, and affection; yet utterly ruthless and sadistic.  But he is not invincible, something that makes the book even more interesting, as the protagonists puzzle out the most likely ways to best him at his own game.

Needless to say, the ending is ambivalent—Monahan wrote a sequel, which I haven’t read, entitled Blood of the Covenant.  (I will read it, once I get José’s fingers out of my eyes.)  But all in all, this is a most worthy addition to the venerable genre of vampire fiction.

For those who wonder, I wrote this review while listening to Blood Libels by Antaeus.  Fine blackened death metal, menacing and thoroughly evil.

Rating:  A match between AC Milan and Juventus.  Some dirty play, a few dives, but thoroughly entertaining—although afterwards, you often feel like you should take a shower just to wash the grime off.

[1]Eco, of course, wrote perhaps the greatest literary thriller of the late 20th century, The Name of the Rose, in which a rather disreputable bunch of Benedictine monks—with the odd Franciscan friar thrown in—kill each other off in imaginative ways, over a lost manuscript of Aristotelian literary criticism.  He built on that theme in his next novel—my favorite of all his books—Foucault’s Pendulum, wherein a group of editors at a Milan vanity press construct a harebrained scheme for world domination from the crackpot theories of crackpot authors who self-publish  with the vanity press; only to see this most unlikely of conspiracy theories take shape before the editors’ very eyes.

Lovecraft, of course, is the creator/propagator of  the Necronomicon, the prototypical book of forbidden knowledge; the history of that blasphemous tome of blackest magic, the product of the fevered mind of “the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred,” hidden away in the bowels of Miskatonic University in Providence, Rhode Island, oozes its way through Lovercraft’s Cthulhu mythos.  One is never quite certain if this grimmest of all grimoires actually exists somewhere, or if Lovecraft succeeded merely in creating from whole cloth a cultural artifact that speaks to our darkest desires.

Needless to say, both Eco and Lovecraft are very high on my list of authors!  Now it seems as if every author is jumping on the bandwagon—hidden manuscripts here, black books of satanic power there, everywhere a big bad book.  Monahan has joined the fray, but handles this part of his novel with aplomb—the manuscript at issue isn’t contrived, it’s important to the plot-line, and it doesn’t overwhelm the other aspects of his story.

The Club Dumas

[Ed. Note: We are pleased to once again welcome Brad to Two Dudes. We were initially skeptical about this review, falling more into “Fantastic Literature” than our usual purview. Brad convinced us, however, because Pep owes him favors and this is a fabulous book anyway. Enjoy.]

The Club Dumas
Arturo Perez-Reverte

I hadn’t planned on reviewing The Club Dumas for this inestimable blog.  Quite honestly, I’m not sure that it fits within Two Dudes’ stated purpose of providing “informed reviews, profound commentary, ribald and witty conversation, and insightful snark about all things Science Fiction and Fantasy.”  But people who know me (a mercifully tiny but highly exclusive group) also know of my deep and sincere admiration for Spanish author Arturo Perez-Reverte.  After Umberto Eco, the godfather of the “literary thriller,” Sr. Perez-Reverte is its foremost living practitioner.  Beginning in the late 1980s, highly literate, intelligent, tightly-constructed thrillers emerged from his pen about one every two years:  The Fencing Master, The Nautical Chart, The Flanders Panel, The Seville Communion (my personal favorite), The Queen of the South, The Painter of Battles, and the title reviewed, The Club Dumas.  Perez-Reverte has also produced an a more straightforward adventure series, set during the Thirty Years’ War in the Spanish Netherlands, whose protagonists are the war hero Captain Diego Alatriste y Tenorio, and his redoubtable sidekick Iñigo.  Not one of these titles is either science fiction or fantasy, although some of them, like The Club Dumas, deal with the fantastic.  Each one is superb.

Perez-Reverte’s work has an impeccable pedigree. In 1980, Umberto Eco released his great novel, The Name of the Rose; translated from the original Italian, it was published in its English version in 1983.  Haunting the pages of The Name of the Rose is another book—the supposedly lost second volume of Aristotle’s Poetics—for whose secrets a sinister group of Benedictine monks were willing to kill each other and anyone else who got in the way.

The book was a smashing success.  The big publishing houses suddenly discovered a segment of the reading public that thoroughly enjoyed books about books:  hidden books, secret books, lost books that had been found, suppressed books, books containing secret histories, books of magic, subversive books, books whose contents threatened civilization as we know it, books that could bring down Christianity, books to summon Satan himself.[1]  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and in this way many authors “flattered” the great Professor Eco.  Needless to say, Eco’s imitators and spurious godchildren produced works of wildly varying quality.

We’re going to by-pass Dan Brownish mediocrity and head to the top of the authorial heap, right next to the Master himself, where we find the redoubtable Spaniard Arturo Perez-Reverte.  I’ve read everything of his that I can get my hands on, both in English translation and in Perez-Reverte’s native Spanish.  It’s all good!  In fact, it’s all great (although I was slightly disappointed in The Flanders Panel—the ending was just a little too contrived, and it felt like Perez-Reverte was struggling just a bit).  First among equals are The Seville Communion and The Club Dumas.[2]

So let’s talk about The Club Dumas.  It has several plot lines that Perez-Reverte deftly weaves together:  The one from which the book’s title is taken involves a mysterious manuscript that may or may not be a missing Alexander Dumas autograph for a chapter in The Three Musketeers.  But the more fascinating plot line, one that  overshadows everything else, deals with a suppressed book—-The Nine Doors to the Kingdom of Shadows.[3]  This (fictional) book, published by an obscure Venetian in 1666, supposedly contained a ritual for summoning the Devil himself.  The author and publisher, Aristide Torchia, fell into the not-too-gentle hands of the Inquisition, was condemned as a sorcerer, and burned at the stake in 1667.  The Inquisition was thought to have destroyed all copies of The Nine Doors, but surprise!  Three copies survived; humanity still has within its grasp the infernal rituals to open forever the Kingdom of Shadows and unleash Ol’ Scratch Hisself on an unsuspecting world, if only somebody can decipher Torchia’s coded messages and inscrutable instructions.  Can I get an ominous-sounding chord here, along with a portentous tympani roll?

The protagonist, Lucas Corso, is a middle-aged rare book dealer and book detective, suitably weary, battered and bruised, careworn and cynical.  (Selling used books has a way of doing that—I should know!)  His client, Varo Borja, a multi-millionaire and unscrupulous book collector, has acquired one of the three surviving copies of The Nine Doors.  (Question:  Is Varo Borja a literary allusion to the great Argentinian writer/philosopher Jorge Luis Borges, who writes about the fantastic with such felicity and wit?  Or perhaps he’s the reincarnation of that dogmatic guardian of orthodoxy Jorge of Burgos, the villain in Eco’s Name of the Rose, which I have already praised to the heavens (and which makes a surprise appearance at The Club Dumas’ stunning conclusion)?  Little touches like this abound in Perez-Reverte’s jewel.) 

Borja, though not the most appealing character in the book, is no fool.  Through his network of book scouts and rare book dealers, he has discovered that of the three surviving copies of The Nine Doors, two may be forgeries, leaving only one of them as the authentic work—a label that immediately challenges the postmodern shibboleths of authorial intention and the independent life of the text.  So Borja’s request of Corso is straightforward:  Find the other two copies of The Nine Doors; acquire them for Borja by any means, fair or foul; and in the process determine which of the three copies is genuine.  And while you’re at it, Señor Corso, here’s a ton of money to throw at the problem to help you grease the skids just a bit.  Simple, no?  An afternoon’s stroll in the park.

Only, surprise . . . it isn’t so simple.  In fact, it nearly costs Corso much more than he’s willing to pay.

The result is one of the most sophisticated literary thrillers I have ever read.  It is, in every sense of the phrase, a tour de force.  Perez-Reverte recreates the seamy underside of the rare book world with skill and flair.  He patiently leads the reader along the primrose path to a plausible solution, and then when the reader’s guard is down, the author deftly stabs him (or her) in the back—a knife job that never felt so good.  In the process, the lines between reality and fantasy blur:  Corso may or may not have angelic help in his quest; he may or may not have a direct confrontation with infernal powers; Borja may or may not be who he seems, a foolish rich greed-head; or he may be something/someone else altogether—and altogether much more sinister.  The solution to this complex thriller is ingenious, it holds together, it doesn’t require an implausible deus ex machina, and it showcases Perez-Reverte’s skill as a story-teller and writer.

As a bonus, the book contains many cool visual representations that look like something between a classic Rider-Waite Tarot deck and Albrecht Durer engravings from the 15th and 16th centuries.  These add to the reading experience:  Not only does the reader participate in unpacking the contextual puzzles as Corso slowly sorts out the truth concerning the three competing versions of the Nine Doors to the Kingdom of Shadows (an anti-Derridian notion if ever there was one), these engravings add to the otherworldly ambiance that Perez-Reverte’s prose induces and remind us there was a time and place when secret instructions for summoning Satan were not only taken seriously, the possession of the same could result in excruciating pain and death inflicted by the State at the Church’s behest.

My unqualified suggestion:  Beg, borrow, buy or steal a copy of this book.  Then read it.  (Sorry, that was two suggestions.  My bad.)  If, like me, you find yourself enthralled by Perez-Reverte’s story-telling skills, then read The Seville Communion for dessert.  (It’s about a little Roman Catholic church building in Seville that one-by-one, kills the very people who have been commissioned to tear the building down.  THAT’S an interesting idea!)

Rating: Barcelona with all cylinders firing against anyone else.  Really, the book is that good!  (P.S.  The movie is good, too.  It’s not exactly the book, but weaves a spell of its own.  Plus, it has Johnny Depp.  What more need I say?)

Musical assistance for this review:  For the initial write-up:  Swedish black metalers Watain, who are “Sworn to the Dark.”  For the re-write:  Austrian black metal-industrial Abigor’s CD “Channeling the Quintessence of Satan.”  There are Durer-like engravings and paintings throughout the booklet that comes with CD; they look very much like the art materials in The Club Dumas.  And Abigor’s subject matter complements The Nine Doors.  Who could ask for more from his black metal?

[1]H.P. Lovecraft is a generation earlier; his Necronomicon (the “Book of the Law of the Dead”) may have come to him in a dream in 1937, as he said.  On the other hand, there are many who are completely willing to believe the Necronomicon, the blasphemous book of the blackest magic, the fevered scribblings of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, is objectively real.  Numerous “editions” have been published.

[2]The Club Dumas was the basis for the Johnny Depp movie, The Ninth Gate, involving a renegade rare book dealer searching for the infernal book.  The movie more or less tracks the “magical book” plot line from the book The Club Dumas, although there are major differences.  Nonetheless, I recommend the movie whole-heartedly, partly because of Depp, partly because it’s a great entertainment, and partly because I want to expose Perez-Reverte’s writings to as broad an audience as possible.

[3]The Nine Doors is solely a product of the author’s fecund imagination!  Although there are many grimoires (books of ritual magic) that were in existence in the mid- to late-17th century, The Nine Doors isn’t one of them—it’s fictional!  If you want to know about grimoires that were around at the relevant time, check out Owen Davies, Grimoires:  A History of Magic Books (New York/Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2009); or P.G. Maxwell-Stuart, The Occult in Mediaeval Europe, 500-1500:  A Documentary History (Basingstoke, UK:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Scholars of the occult Stephen Skinner and Joseph Peterson, working independently, have produced updated editions of many of the infamous grimoires in existence in the late medieval and early Renaissance periods.  Most of their editions are still available through the major on-line booksellers.  Older editions of some of these grimoires were produced by English occult scholar Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, acting alone or with the famous mage Aleister Crowley.  Practicing occultist Donald Tyson has specialized in the works of the late Renaissance mage Agrippa (Henry Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim), whose Three Books of Occult Philosophy made their appearance in 1531, and were first translated into English in 1651, and whose Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy showed up in 1655.

The point of this lengthy footnote is that there were many, many, grimoires floating around at or about the time the fictional Nine Doors made its appearance.  The latter was distinctive, not for the fact it purported to be another book of magic, but because it didn’t beat around the bush.  It had one purpose only:  To summon up the Devil!

The Tortuous Serpent cont.

[Ed. Note: Here is Part Two of Brad’s guest review. Read Part One here. Two Dudes would like to thank Brad for stepping up to the plate while we were enjoying a ill-gotten summer vacation.]

 Tyson takes this historical event as his point of departure. In the novel, an infernal organization known as Sons of Coronzon and loyal to the Demon-Queen Lilith, has engineered the theft of a grimoire (a book of ritual black magic) of immense power from Dee’s library at Mortlake, covering up the theft by destroying the library itself. This adventure will take Dee, his scryer Kelley, and their wives (Jane Dee and Johanna Kelley) into Central Europe as they attempt to recover the grimoire and at the same time thwart the Sons of Coronzon’s conspiracy to wage magical war against England. The consequences of such a war would be devastating; as Protestant England was at the time confronting Catholic Spain — a nation then at the zenith of its military prowess. In any war, most expected England to lose badly.

Dee’s only allies in his quest to recover the grimoire are his three companions and a mysterious Jewish rabbi in Prague, who is also a practicing magician and a student of the Kabbalah, a body of esoteric and mystical Jewish doctrine and ritual. The rabbi and his daughter will play an important role before the story ends. Against Dee are arrayed formidable forces: Not only must he confront the Sons of Coronzon and their demonic hosts, led by Lilith the Demon-Queen herself; he must also avoid the clutches of an Inquisition eager to find him. Dee and Kelley are notorious as practicing magicians, trafficking with spirits. Now they are outside of England, away from the Queen’s protection, and in hostile territory indeed. The Inquisition intends to stamp out ritual magic in the most violent and painful ways possible; should Inquisitors get their hands on the good Dr. Dee, he faces the rather unattractive prospect of an exquisitely slow and agonizing death. Ouch!

Tyson is a good writer–only occasionally does his prose get a little too purple. His intimate knowledge of occult arcana stands him in good stead; he creates a credible scenario–credible to those who understand that ritual magic, whether it “actually works” or not, has nonetheless exercised a hold on human minds for millenia. Ritual magic is a phenomenon with its own set of practitioners and adherents, its own vocabulary and jargon, its intensely complex and arcane rituals, and its own set of unpleasant consequences for those who trifle with it.

There’s no sense in giving away more the plot here. Anyone interested enough to have read this far will be interested in the book. Likewise the interested reader will appreciate the deft manner in which Tyson has melded fact with fantasy, using his own deep knowledge of Renaissance high magic to make his story even more credible and interesting.

I first read this book 15 years ago. But I wanted to read it again, so I tracked down a copy on Amazon’s website and purchased it. It’s out of print but there are lots of copies available, and the price is right! Anyone who enjoys reading about the occult — not wizards with pointy hats throwing massive fireballs at each other or turning hapless citizens into newts — but men of iron will and strong courage conjuring up infernal entities from the netherworld, twisting these demonic powers to accomplish their own dastardly ends; who finds interesting the labyrinthine politics of 16th century Europe — the diplomatic dance between Protestant England and her much more powerful Catholic nemesis Spain, with the Holy Roman Empire looking on, not wanting Spain to get too big for its britches, but determined to return the true Catholic faith to English soil; and who enjoys a good yarn with damsels in distress and heroes who save the day, should give this book a shot. I think the brave reader will find it most enjoyable. The flaws are there, but they are few enough, and spread far enough apart, that they don’t detract from an interesting novel.

For those interested in the musical inspiration for this review, I listened to the amazing French black metal band, Blut Aus Nord, and their most recent offering, 777 Sect(S). Like John Dee’s ritual magic, calling up malevolent spirits of the netherworld, Blut Aus Nord is not for the faint of heart. It is rewarding if listened to in the privacy of one’s own home, accompanied by trained professionals.

Rating: The day the U.S. National team beat Spain in the Gold Cup, 2-0. I remember it well; I watched in Pep’s and Jose’s inestimable company, and the three of us exulted together. But the match required me to suspend my belief for awhile; I believed the U.S. side was pretty mediocre. That turned out to be true, but suspension was highly pleasurable, albeit very brief. If one can suspend any disbelief about the efficacy of ritual magic and simply enjoy some of the lush word pictures that Tyson paints, it should be fun. But when putting the book down, the reader will have to remind himself that he isn’t going to be able to send demonic sadists to torment a obnoxious boss, even if the thought felt so good.

The Tortuous Serpent

The Tortuous Serpent: An Occult Adventure
Donald Tyson

[Ed. note: We are once again pleasedto present Brad’s musings here at Two Dudes. He has written a learned treatise on what some may consider fantasy, but others treat with the utmost seriousness. We hope everyone enjoys the two part review and learns something new about summoning demons.]

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” So wrote the bard of Stratford-on-Avon, in his greatest play “Hamlet”. The old master wasn’t joshing, either.

Donald Tyson, author of the book here reviewed, is a practicing occultist and an expert in his chosen field. This needs to be known before we go any further. Practitioners and scholars of ritual magic are likely familiar with Tyson’s magnum opus, Three Books of Occult Philosophy (Llewellyn’s Sourcebook), his edition of Henry Cornelius Agrippa’s famous text, to which Tyson has now added The Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy: The Companion to Three Books of Occult Philosophy. These works show Tyson is a careful editor and a scholarly writer; indeed, he has made sense of some of the more abstruse writings to emanate from the high magic of the Renaissance. So it’s no great stretch for Tyson to use this knowledge and come up with a very entertaining tale of the great Elizabethan English mage John Dee and his scryer Edward Kelley, as they confront and ultimately best unspeakable evil.

Dee and Kelley are historical characters, and their names are famous among students of the occult. For those who don’t know, John Dee claimed to have contact with a series of angelic messengers, using Kelley as his medium. For whatever reason, Dee himself, though a very learned man and a great magician, was unable to communicate with the spirits he raised through his magical rituals. Edward Kelley, however, was a natural scryer. The two men established a rather dubious partnership; Dee would perform the hazardous rituals necessary to call up the spirits; Kelley would talk to them and reveal the results to Dee, who wrote everything down. Over a lengthy period, these spirit messengers revealed to Dee through Kelley a complex system known as Enochian magic. Tyson has also written about Enochian magic in several works, among them Enochian Magic for Beginners: The Original System of Angel Magic (For Beginners (Llewellyn’s)), Ritual Magic: What It Is & How To Do It (Llewellyn’s Practical Magick Series), and The New Magus: Ritual Magic as a Personal Process (Llewellyn’s High Magick). Dee’s and Kelley’s revelations have also recently been published in a handsome edition from occult scholar Joseph Peterson, entitled John Dee’s Five Books of Mystery: Original Sourcebook of Enochian Magic.

Much of what Tyson writes about in The Tortuous Serpent has a factual basis: John Dee was in reality a fixture at Queen Elizabeth I’s court. Whether as her spy, court magician, adviser, or a combination of all three, he was among the most important and well-educated of the brilliant men who found their way to the Elizabethan court; the Virginal Queen relied on Dee as she did on few others. Undoubtedly, this produced not only the usual sordid gossip but also intense jealousy at court, as the galaxy of stars circling around Good Queen Bess jockeyed and fought for positions of influence. The Queen’s patronage meant money, status, and, most of all, power over others. To say this patronage was highly coveted would be a rank understatement; behind the masques of civility and elegance lurked wickedness and constant plotting—the hand that shook yours in a gesture of friendship one moment would, moments later, plunge a dagger into your back or pour poison into your goblet of wine.

The tale opens as Dee discovers the library at his country estate of Mortlake, a library he had built up over decades, has been destroyed and ransacked by his country neighbors, ostensibly concerned that he was trafficking with infernal powers. This is an historical event, well documented in the standard biographies on John Dee, The Queen’s Conjurer: The Science and Magic of Dr. John Dee, by Benjamin Woolley (New York, 2001), and John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus, by Peter French (New York, 1972). Thousands of books and manuscripts, many of them no doubt concerned with ritual magic, astrology, alchemy, and other occult doctrines, were either destroyed or stolen in the conflagration. Sadly, Dee possessed the only known copy of many of the books or writings that were destroyed or mutilated, so this historical event was truly a loss, not only to occultism but also to scholarship in general.

Continued soon in Part Two.