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The Simon Iff Stories and Other Works - A Review by Barry Van-Asten.
on 22 December 2012
Published by Wordsworth Editions in 2012, this wonderful little book and accompaniment to the previous `The Drug and Other Stories' contains the complete `Simple Simon' stories featuring the wildly eccentric mystic detective Simon Iff. Crowley conceived the character of the hugely intellectual and cultured Iff as an idealised image of himself in old-age. Throughout these fascinating and engrossing stories, the great mystic applies his knowledge of philosophy, Taoism, logic and the principles of Thelemic wisdom in the art of solving the various crimes, like chess problems, that come his way. Not being a true devotee of the detective/crime novel, I thought perhaps I would lose interest, but my interest was sustained and of course, Crowley's brilliant yet often dark wit and humour are an absolute delight, such as this from the story `Not good enough', page 100 in The Scrutinies of Simon Iff:
`In summer,' he explained to them, after the first greetings, `meat heats the blood. I am therefore compelled to restrict my diet to foie gras and peaches.'
`But foie gras is meat.'
`The animal kingdom,' said the mystic, `is distinguished, roughly speaking, from the vegetable, by the fact that animals have power to move freely in all directions. When therefore a goose is nailed to a board, as I understand is necessary to the production of foie gras, it becomes ipso facto a vegetable; as a strict vegetarian, I will therefore have some more.' And he heaped his plate.'
The first six stories in `The Scrutinies of Simon Iff' are set in England and France and features the marvellous `Hemlock Club' to which Simon Iff is a member. The stories were published in a monthly periodical called `The International' in New York, edited by George Sylvester Viereck; Crowley would become its contributing Editor from 1917-18, and thus in an act of self-promotion, added his own stories and magical essays within its pages. Crowley published the `Scrutinies' under a pseudonym - Edward Kelly. The stories and their publication dates in The International are: `The Big Game' (vol xi, 9. Sept 1917), `The Artistic Temperament' (vol xi, 10. Oct 1917), `Outside the Bank's Routine' (vol xi, 11. Nov 1917), `The Conduct of John Briggs' (vol xi, 12. Dec 1917), `Not Good Enough' (vol xii, 1. Jan 1918) and `Ineligible' (vol xii, 2. Feb 1918). Crowley says of the `Scrutinies' and the Law of Thelema that:
`The Scrutinies of Simon Iff are perfectly good detective stories, yet they not only show a master of the Law as competent to solve the subtlest problems by considerations based upon the Law, but the way in which crime and unhappiness of all sorts may be traced to a breach of the Law. I show that failure to comply with it involves an internal conflict. (Note that the fundamental principle of psychoanalysis is that neurosis is caused by failure to harmonize the elements of character). The essence of the Law is the establishment of right relations between any two things which come into contact; the essence of such relations being `'love under will''. The only way to keep out of trouble is to understand and therefore to love every impression of which one becomes conscious.' (Confessions. p 828)
The next collection of twelve stories is titled `Simon Iff in America' and they were written, or at least ten of them were written, in December 1917. Crowley lived in America from 1914-1919 and it is a fascinating and magically productive period of his life. The stories are: 1) `What's in a name?' 2) `A sense of incongruity'. 3) `The ox and the wheel'. 4) `An old head on young shoulders'. 5) `The Pasquaney puzzle'. 6) `The monkey and the buzz-saw'. 7) `A dangerous safe trick'. 8) `The biter bit'. 9) `Nebuchadnazzer'. 10) `Suffer the little children'. 11) `Who gets the diamonds?' 12) `The natural thing to do'.
In 1916, Crowley left New York for New Hampshire to stay at the home of his friend the astrologer Evangeline Adams, who owned a house she called `the Zodiac' in the village of Hebron, near Pasquaney Lake (Newfound Lake). She had a small studio built near the house and Crowley stayed there from the summer to the autumn of 1916 and called it `Adam's Cottage' in his correspondence.
Many of the stories have biographical details drawing upon descriptions of his friends and lovers which are `golden nuggets' to the Crowley enthusiast.
The next collection, written around 1918, is titled `Simon Iff Abroad' and the three surviving stories from the original four are: `Desert justice'; `In the swamp' and `The haunted sea Captain'.
The following two stories, also from 1918, come under the title `Simon Iff, Psychoanalyst': `Psychic compensation' and `Sterilised Stephen'.
The character of Simon Iff appeared in Crowley's first novel `The Butterfly-Net' written in 1917 and published as `Moonchild' by Mandrake Press in 1929.
As a departure from the `mystic detective' series are a collection of eight stories which were mostly published in The International, called `Golden Twigs'. These stories of pagan belief were inspired by Sir J. G. Frazer's `The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion'. The stories and their publication dates are: `The king of the wood' (written 30 Aug 1916. Published in The International under the pseudonym Mark Wells. Vol xii, 4. April 1918). `The stone of Cybele' (written 6-7 Aug 1916. Published in The Equinox, vol iii, 10. 1986). `The Oracle of the Corcian Cave' written 3-4 Sept 1916. Published in `Golden Twigs' ed. Martin P Starr. 1988). `The burning of Melcarth' written 2 Sept 1916. Published in The International under the pseudonym Mark Wells. Vol xi, 10. Oct 1917). `The hearth' written 13-14 Sept 1916. Published in The International under the pseudonym Mark Wells. Vol xi, 11. Nov 1917). `The old man of the Peepul-Tree' written 10-11 Sept 1916. Published in The International under the pseudonym James Grahame. Vol xii, 4. April 1918). `The Mass of Saint Secaire' written 31 Aug-1 Sept 1916. Published in The International under the pseudonym Barbery de Rochechouart [author] and Mark Wells [translator]. Vol xii, 2. Feb 1918). `The God of Ibreez' written 8-9 Sept 1916. Published in The International under the pseudonym Mark Wells. Vol xii, 1. Jan 1918).
With an Introduction by William Breeze and 560 pages including notes and sources, `The Simon Iff Stories and Other Works' is an indispensible addition to any collection! Inspiring and definitely intriguing!