Daemonomania (The Aegpyt Cycle, Book 3) Paperback – 1 May 2008
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About the Author
John Crowley was born in the appropriately liminal town of Presque Isle, Maine, in 1942, his father then an officer in the US Army Air Corps. He grew up in Vermont, northeastern Kentucky and (for the longest stretch) Indiana, where he went to high school and college. He moved to New York City after college to make movies, and did find work in documentary films, an occupation he still pursues. He published his first novel (The Deep) in 1975, and his 14th volume of fiction (Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land) in 2005. Since 1993 he has taught creative writing at Yale University. In 1992 he received the Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He finds it more gratifying that almost all his work is still in print.
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Crowley is able to instil terrible urgency into the most mundane and quiet events. I was often breathless with anxiety for these characters, and constantly on the edge of my seat. Crowley isn't for everybody, but if you aren't of the faction that would label him flowery, obscure or pretentious, get your wallet out and your intellect in gear: you owe it to yourself. Why, towards the end there's even a cameo by -
Find out for yourself.
Thus declares the familiar spirit with whom Dr John Dee converses. This view contrasts with that of Dee's contemporary, Jean Bodin, who in his tract `Daemonomania' "asserted that `witches by the thousands are everywhere, multiplying upon the earth even as worms in a garden.'" Who the witches - or angels - are in this volume is as ambiguous, to this reader, as the moral of the tale. Or rather, the moral of the tales, for one realises by now that this Aegypt cycle is not a straightforward teleological exercise, but instead witnesses the development of Crowley's characters through each house of the zodiac. For example, in the ninth house we learn that Beau Brachman is a man of many previous lives, and also of his being a man with a precious and moving mission: "his vocation had revealed itself to him ... that [since] once he had failed often enough himself he would then spend years finding and caring for others who had failed: offer himself for them to love." A fallen angel angel?
Part three of Crowley's Aegypt cycle (which has nothing to do with Egypt) moves us through the zodiac's seventh, eighth, and ninth houses, namely those respectively (we are told in the preface) of marriage, the dead, and religious observance. It is the time of afternoon, of autumn, of the watery element: the humour is supposed to be melancholy, the wind from the west. All well and good, but by now this reader was starting to become weary with the vicissitudes of the characters, with the plodding and padding of the text, with little return for time spent and energy expended. Unless I've missed something. One might be cynical and argue that when our leading character Pierce Moffet writes of "a willed suspension of disbelief (the same sort of state, he supposed, he was trying to induce in the readers of his book, who were to be thought of as equally ready to believe", Crowley might equally be writing about his own readership. Anyway, what is it with Americans and big books?
The opening chapters reprise the characters and story so far. Thus we have Dee and Bruno, Mendoza and King Henri III, London and Paris. (Is it an intended anachronism to place Tower Bridge in the reign of the first Elizabeth's London?) The second house features Dee, Bruno, and Edward Kelley in the Prague of the Emperor Rudolf. And the third and final house in this instalment sees us witness Arcimboldo Arcimboldi demonstrate the fruits of his labours (pun intended) to the imperial court, as well as the deaths of Dee, Kelley, and Bruno. But these historical characters - there is still some ambiguity in Crowley's text as to whether they are supposed to be historically real in his novel or are merely the construct of Kraft's (and Pierce's?) historical novel, a tale within a tale - gradually tend to take a less prominent role in the book in favour of Pierce himself, his two Roses (presumably representative of so many Renaissance symbols), and the inhabitants of his part-imagined Appalachian landscape.
There are the odd flourishes that arouse interest in the hope of developing narrative, such as Dr John Dee and Sam Rasmussen briefly encountering each other across time, and the link made between the miners of sixteenth century Bohemia with their descendants mining in the Appalachians two or three centuries later. But neither of these potentially intriguing plotlines is extended. The focus of the previous two instalments on Pierce's concept of the `passage-time' is less dominating in this the third, but is still present nevertheless. We are presented with alternate sets of possible realities, alternate roads for Pierce to follow, or, as Rose Rasmussen conjectures, "courses that turn halfway or two-thirds to the end and proceed back through the events or conjunctions that formed them, reversing each one in turn, or most of them, to bring about an ending."
Now three-quarters through the cycle, I am loathe to give up the final fourth of the zodiac, but I must admit that my curiosity is starting to wane, and my impulse to pick up the final volume is not as strong as it was when I picked up the second. Still, I may be pleasantly surprised and inspired. We shall see.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Reading this book is like eating chocolate truffles, it's so rich dense and detailed that it must be savoured slowly.
Pierce Moffet, the imperfect Fool, Parsifal, the protagonist, has the discovered writings that suggest that the World jumps in quantums, that certain things, like Alchemy, were posible at some time in the past, but then the World (or History) changes, shifts gears, reaches another quanta, and Magical things once possible become only impossible stories. Pierce intuits that another World change is happening (maybe in book four), but he, The Doubting Thomas, is not sure if he really believes any of this. He is a historian, author, renaissance and occult scholar (much like Crowley himself). He has been hired to write a book which will prove/or and tie all these ideas together.
Then there is Beau Brachman, another character, the contemporary Magus.
There are two other story lines from the 1500's, those of John Dee and Giordano Bruno. These stories, woven into the other are even more fantastic, were it not for the fact that they are appearently "extracts from the dairies , works and letters of John Dee and are quoted more of less verbatim". Dee was astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I, who, with Edward Kelly, claimed to have conversations with and Angel (or demon) Madimi who told him how to make gold, and gave him a wind to command, which he conjured and used to destroy the Spanish Armada! After he made gold!
Giordano Bruno, who Dee meets repeatedly and quarrels with, said that sun was the center of the solar system, the earth revolved around it and the the universe was full of other stars, like our sun, with inhabited planets. He got burned at the stake for his views by the Catholic Church.
But this, 400 odd years ago, was the Last World shift, the end of Dee's Universe, the begining of Bruno's (and ours!)
So, will Pierce Moffat be the patient donkey who ushures in the New World? What will happen? Tune in for book four! Crowleys book is brillant in places, complex, rewarding and confusing. I found myself thinking I might understand what he meant but never quite sure. It's chock full of Latin, alchemical, occult and astrological symbolism. He descibes unusual moods states of mind which are, well, extremely introspective. He writes of the intersection of the mundane world with a fantastic one as he did in "Little/Big". Things seen out of the corner of the eye which disappear when you look directly at them. Dreams, fugues, fits, imaginings, memories, maybe-they-were-maybe-they-weren't.
However, it must be stated that John Crowley has killed off his most interesting characters Dee, Edward Kelly, and Bruno in this, book three. Does Crowley have enough plot left for another book? Let's hope the concluding book four comes soon. But writing of this quality can't be rushed, I guess.