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Ægypt (by which I mean the single novel of four volumes published over 20 years) is a work of patterns. Does the recurrence of names—Rosie Rasmussen, Rose Ryder, Julie Rosengarten—simply lead us (and Pierce Moffett, the historian and failed academic whose arrival in Blackberry Jambs sets in motion the events in Ægypt) towards Christian Rosencreutz and the Rosicrucians (who feature significantly in the last volume, Endless Things [2007], though less so in earlier volumes), or to Roo (also known as Roseann), who will become one of the most prominent characters in the last volume, or is there more to it? There is Sam who is Rosie's daughter and Sam who is Pierce's uncle; the two patterns even seem to coincide in the brief appearance of a Sam Rosenblatt in Dæmonomania (2000), though he disappears forever in the very next sentence. There is the way that uncles seem to consistently take a more paternal role than fathers do, there is the fact that every car mentioned in the novel seems to be named for an animal (and even the one publisher mentioned is Cockerell, though that could be a reference to Bantam, who published the first three volumes). And so it goes on, patterns that seem obvious and patterns that keep their meanings hidden. But the overwhelming pattern that guides our journey is the zodiac, or rather the twelve houses laid out in an eccentric interpretation by the mystics of Blackberry Jambs.

These houses, we are told in the final part of The Solitudes (1987), represent "a cumulative expansion out of childhood and personal concerns through socialization and family toward cosmic consciousness, a story in twelve chapters" (p.300). Or, as Pierce Moffett puts it when planning his own book (though it could as easily have been one of Crowley's own early notes on the project that is Ægypt): "Organize the book according to the twelve houses ... each house a chapter or segment. Somewhere tell story of how 12 houses came to be, how changed meaning over time, but save this till late; let reader ponder" (The Solitudes, p.301).

This is a subtle, delicate, frustrating pattern to be held over so many pages and so many years, and indeed it is not always clear that Crowley himself has managed to sustain it. When the curious zodiac that shapes the quartet is first introduced, we learn that the first quaternary—Vita (Life), Lucrum (Wealth), and Fratres (Brotherhood)—is dawn and spring. So the third quaternary which makes up Dæmonomania—Uxor (Wife), Mors (Death), and Pietas (which I would have translated as Piety or Faith but which in this system seems to stand also for Travel)—should represent afternoon and autumn. But Dæmonomania, the third volume in this extraordinary sequence, is, or becomes, a very wintry book. Perhaps it is the position of Mors at the heart of this quaternary that gives it this air of finality. Yet Mors, we have been told long ago, also means the cosmic perspective, and in Pierce Moffett's original schema he sees it as the point at which Giordano Bruno is burned at the stake.

Bruno, the 16th-century mystic and iconoclast, is one of the central figures in Ægypt's book within a book, which may be a novel or a biography or even a memoir by the popular historical novelist Fellowes Kraft, whose posthumous papers Pierce is now engaged in sorting out. But Bruno is also central to Pierce's own long-planned but unrealised book about when magic left the world in the paradigm shift that marked the end of the 16th century, and how it may now be about to re-enter the world in a similar shift at the end of the 20th century. So the figure of Bruno echoes across the centuries, and his death at the stake in 1600 is also where his ideas—Ægypt, as Pierce christens them—begin to expand. A death is also a rebirth: the pattern holds.

The work that I have always felt Ægypt most closely resembles is Lawrence Durrell's Avignon Quintet. That is a work which also sets modern, rationalist ideas in opposition to historic, quasi-magical world views—in Durrell's case the medieval viewpoint of the Templars at the moment of their dissolution—and it is also a work that fudges the distinction between fiction and reality. On that model, Dæmonomania should represent the point in the sequence where the creation has become too big, so that it starts to slip out of the author's sure grasp. In fact I think it is where Crowley reasserts his grip on the story after the (relative) slippage of Love & Sleep (1994). But it is also where he breaks the pattern of Ægypt.

In a trivial sense he does this by giving a title to each quaternary as well as the name of the house it represents; it is the only volume in the series in which he does this. On a deeper and more significant level, Dæmonomania is where story enters the world. There are stories in all four volumes, of course, most notably the novels of Fellowes Kraft, which take us into the parallel worlds of John Dee and Giordano Bruno and William Shakespeare, but there are are also retellings of "The Golden Ass," Bible stories, the lives of the saints: the stories all of the characters are forever telling each other. In this sense, Ægypt is replete with story. Despite this, it is not story that drives us through these four dense and complex volumes, it is not the need to discover what happens next that keeps us reading; it is pattern.

In the first two volumes we followed, in the modern sections of the book, Pierce Moffett's arrival in Blackberry Jambs, his attempts to wrestle his ideas about magic into some sort of coherent form, his burgeoning though oddly abusive relationship with Rose Ryder, and his developing friendship with and employment by Rosie Rasmussen. In the historic sections of the book (which may or may not have been written by Fellowes Kraft) we have followed Bruno's escape from Rome and his curiously meandering wanderings through Europe as he develops his science of memory, and we have seen polymath John Dee become fascinated by Edmund Kelley, who tells dubious stories of being able to see angels, and who leads Dee to Prague where they hope to transmute base metal into gold. There is, in other words, a lot going on in these volumes, but that is not what keeps us engaged. Rather, we read on to see more of the shape that Crowley is constructing, to understand the next twist of the knot with which he binds his characters, to appreciate the echoes and parallels that sweep across time like the great wind that, at the climax of Love & Sleep and again in the beginning of Dæmonomania, dispersed the Armada though no wind was recorded, the same wind that swept through 1978 though none of us now remember it.

In Dæmonomania, however, these patterns seem to acquire the urge of story, pushing them in the direction of the close of the year, of an ending. John Dee, in exile in Bohemia, does conjure gold in the alchemical fire (another pattern: when Dee and Kelley first set out to make gold in Love & Sleep the furnace is described in sexual terms; when Pierce and Rose get together in Dæmonomania their sex is likened to a furnace) but realises its worthlessness and in the end flees aboard his wondrous, wind-driven carriage, returning at last to his despoiled home in Mortlake and the last few bleak years of his life. In giving up magic, Bruno tells us in Endless Things, Dee cast out magic from the world. Bruno himself fails to find a willing audience for his radical expansion of Copernicus's heliocentric view of the universe to posit multiple worlds, an idea that is anathema to the increasingly besieged Catholic Church. He falls once more into the hands of the Church, and is burned alive in Rome in 1600. (Curiously, this precise moment, the execution of Bruno, is what Adam Roberts identifies as the starting point for modern science fiction and what Crowley identifies as the starting point for another form of imaginative rationalism, Rosicrucianism.)

While the two stories which encapsulate the birth of the modern world thus reach their end in Dæmonomania, there are conclusions also in the stories from the end of the world (or an end of the world; we are told repeatedly in The Solitudes that there is more than one history of the world, so there must be more than one end of that history). Rosie loses her daughter Sam first to frightening epileptic fits and the medical procedures entailed, then to her ex-husband, Mike Mucho, and the disturbing Christian sect he has joined known as The Powerhouse. But in the furnace of loss and threat her courage is tempered; she discovers the strength of mind to take on the running of the Rasmussen Foundation, the charitable organisation that her wealthy forebears established and which, as next in the family line, she has hesitated to take over. Moreover she gathers together friends who stage a bold raid on the former insane asylum that has been taken over by The Powerhouse, and recovers her daughter.

Meanwhile Pierce discovers the truth of his feelings for Rose too late, after she has already been drawn inextricably into the net of The Powerhouse. His efforts to recover her prove ineffectual, and he must confront his own failures. Along the way he comes face to face with his own past when he meets Bobby Shaftoe in Rose's apartment. All through the quartet, one abiding theme is Pierce's quest to make sense of past, the way in which the present, or at least our understanding of it, is shaped by that past. One of the key moments in his personal history, the subject of the first quaternary of Love & Sleep, is that childhood summer in Kentucky when he and his siblings hid Bobby from his family and attempted to convert her to their own Catholicism. But now he does not recognise her. Both the Powerhouse and the Rosicrucians promise that you can have what you most desire, but the ironies of the novel demonstrate time and again that this is not possible.

Or perhaps this significant meeting never takes place. Ægypt is a work written in broken sentences, hesitations, incomplete thoughts, echoing the doubts and uncertainties that assail all the characters. It is also a novel whose chronological structure is broken and hesitant, and not just in the shifts back and forth between the late 1970s and the late 16th century. Love & Sleep, for example, concludes long after the events that open its sequel Dæmonomania, and Endless Things is not the simple continuation of events from its predecessor that it might at first appear.

But as Dæmonomania progresses, time breaks up even more noticeably. Pierce mistakenly fills his car with diesel and the car breaks down; but no, this didn't happen, at the last minute he notices and uses the correct fuel. And again, and again, throughout the final quaternary of the volume things happen to Pierce then stop, rewind, and run forward again along a slightly different course. The world, as we have been promised throughout the preceding two volumes, is shifting, the course of history is changing. Or, at least, the course of Pierce's history is changing. It is exactly the stuttering effect we might expect as the world moves on through the death of one age and into the birth of the next. And that's the point, for if things reach a conclusion in Dæmonomania it is only so they can start again in Endless Things: the pattern continues. And it is not that there is more than one history of the world, but that we all shape the world our way. That is what Ægypt is about, the way we cope with the world by remaking it, and the way we remake the world by telling stories about it. As we see in Endless Things, "All that language can do is transform" (p.203).

Paul Kincaid received the SFRA's Thomas D. Clareson Award for Distinguished Service for 2006. He is the coeditor of The Arthur C. Clarke Award: A Critical Anthology.



Paul Kincaid has received the Thomas Clareson Award and the BSFA Non-Fiction Award. He is the author of What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction and Call and Response. His book on Iain M. Banks will be published by Illinois University Press in 2017.
One comment on “The third book of Ægypt: Dæmonomania by John Crowley”
John Wright

"(which I would have translated as Piety or Faith but which in this system seems to stand also for Travel)"
The word 'Pilgrimage' encompasses both meanings.

 

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