Five great occult novels
By L. R. Fredericks
Posted on August 10, 2017 in Books with tags LR Fredericks
Take a trip through the literary occult with L.R. Fredericks, the author of The Book of Luce – a quest for a mysterious rock star that leads the reader on a mind bending journey across Camden clubs and distant continents, and through mystical forces and occult practices.
A marvellously atmospheric tale about a deeply repressed brain surgeon (‘What he did not know about the machinery of the mind was not worth knowing, but what he knew about the mind itself was precious little.’) whose encounter, in both dreams and real life, with a fascinating cloaked figure (the high adept Lilith Le Fay) transforms and saves him.
This deeply moving story of a woman’s magical power to rescue and redeem a man oppressed by society and convention is, in my view, the occult novel that defines and sets the standard for the genre. The writing is really excellent, and if the text sometimes lays on the magical teaching a bit thickly, just remember that Fortune’s four great occult novels (MM plus The Goat Foot God, The Sea Priestess and The Winged Bull) do actually teach magic. As Fortune herself said, ‘… those who study The Mystical Qabalah [her seminal textbook, required reading for all students of the Western Magical Tradition] with the help of the novels get the keys of the Temple put into their hands.’ A recently published book, The Keys to the Temple, (Billington and Rees, Llewellyn, 2017) deals with this topic in depth – I highly recommend it.
He is writing that sort of book in which we begin by saying, let us suppose that this everyday world were at some one point invaded by the marvelous.
— C.S. Lewis on Charles Williams’ novels
If ever a writer were adept at depicting the intersection of the material and non-material worlds, it is Charles Williams, whose passionately felt Christianity never got in the way of his true insight into the nature of reality and the human condition. Set in a perfectly realised contemporary (1930’s) world, richly varied, fully-fleshed-out characters encounter the awesome transcendent power of the inner realms and are drawn into danger, conflict and redemption.
Kurtz’s series of Adept novels are perhaps better known, but I’m very fond of this fictionalised account of the Magical Battle of Britain, when British witches, magicians and occultists of every sort united to combat the Nazis’ evil magic with good magic, and prevent Hitler’s planned invasion of Britain. (It worked – Hitler inexplicably failed to invade us after the fiasco at Dunkirk – which is when Lammas Night begins.) As a writer who often merges historical fact with my fiction, I admire Kurtz’s deftness in this novel, which combines some very accurate descriptions of magical workings with a poignant study of friendship, family and sacrifice.
Not a novel, but a collection of short stories (although Simon Iff appears also in Crowley’s novel, Moonchild). For sheer intelligence, wit and erudition, you can’t beat good old Uncle Al. Imagine if Sherlock Holmes were a Taoist psychoanalyst who dealt with malefactors by absorbing them.
I’ll let Iff speak for himself in this random excerpt:
‘You’ve heard? Isn’t it awful?’ [re the news that someone had been ‘taken away’ to the insane asylum]
‘No,’ replied Iff, ‘not more so than the fact that two and two make four. Which in a sense is awful indeed, and according as you are for or against the tendency of the universe, is encouraging or terrifying. But it is fatal and inexorable. Perhaps to say that is to say enough!’
‘Explain what you mean.’
‘The further in you go, the bigger it gets.’
I have to admit that I first picked this book off a book store’s shelf because of the author’s surname. It turned out to be the start of a wonderful experience with what remains perhaps my favourite book ever. It’s not, strictly speaking, an occult novel, though it definitely deals with hidden (occult means ‘hidden’) forces. It’s a family saga, a romance, a Romance, an alchemy, a tragedy and a transcendence. And simply stunningly well written. It won the World Fantasy Award, while also gaining its author mainstream literary acclaim. This is the book that has most inspired me, with its combination of magical themes, gripping narrative, deeply affecting characters and uncompromisingly excellent literary style.