Sunday, July 21, 2013

Book Spotlight: Moonchild by Aleister Crowley

Cheers Beardies!

Here’s hoping you are well and life is swell wherever you are! Sadly I have less to report this time (life in Essex makes the average puddle look like a rave party). That said, I have now tried ‘Filthy Tramp Juice’ at a festival—an achievement sadly diminished by the foul taste of said cider.

Would the author of this next Spotlight have enjoyed such a drink? It’s not impossible. For the redoubtable figure we discover today was once known as the ‘Wickedest Man in the World’ and ‘The Great Beast’ (although the second title did come from The Daily Mail. For those outside of Britain, this website should tell you whether you should read the Mail).

There are some facts about Crowley (born Edward Alexander) which are certain at least. Firstly, he was born into a wealthy family and enjoyed a high-quality upbringing. Secondly, he was extremely bright, showing a strong performance at Cambridge (before he dropped out as a result of illness and an existential crisis). Thirdly, he was either a fantastic actor or stark-raving bonkers.

Crowley was an occultist, a libertine, and many other things besides in his time. His larger-than-life figure, cultivated mystique, sexual experimentation, drug usage, and general oddness were allied to a keen mind and a sharp wit, all of which led to an over-sized ego. Making connections with other esoterics was difficult, at best—he fell out with W.B. Yeats in a fit of jealousy whilst Arthur Waite, famous for the Ryder-Waite Tarot cards, is parodied in Moonchild itself.

Crowley died a broke, broken, drug-addled figure, and most of his literary works have fallen by the wayside since then. So here is my attempt to restore some glory to a much mocked but deeply intelligent author.

The Premise:
Moonchild follows Lisa la Giuffria, a rather normal young lady, as she is drawn into a world that is distinctly abnormal. With the hot-headed, young Cyril Grey, his older mentor, Simon Iff, and their wizard buddies, it is her ‘duty’ to bear (quite literally) the Moonchild, even as the forces of darkness gather to try and stop her.

Gems for Writers:
Humour.  Regardless of the fact that Crowley seemed to take himself seriously, there is a great, cutting satire throughout. At one point, he describes sĂ©ances as not fit for anyone with more intelligence ‘than a limpet,’ and he mocks his characters mercilessly. This ability to make these caustic, sarcastic comments helps to keep us amused throughout and give a wonderfully dry English humour to the story.

Characters.  It has often been noted that Aleister Crowley held grudges rather poorly. His response was to mock his foes and so figures like Arthwaite do appear, which might lower the tone for a lesser author. When Crowley wants to make a good character, he can put on a strong turn—the Black Lodge, as well as Grey and Iff, play out with a great deal of aplomb and comedy (for example, Grey, on hearing ‘All change’ on a train, stands up and embraces the conductor for converting to Buddhism!). Whilst Lisa is rather dull, the rest of the cast create adequate light and humour, and encourage us to read on.

Philosophy.  I have thought for a while that even if something is entirely misdirected, it may reach a valid point by mistake. This is especially true of Crowley, who approaches issues from a Blavatsky-esque pseudo-science and comes out against ‘tribal’ marriage boundaries, encourages inner peace instead of anger, and other fascinating thoughts. I wouldn’t say that using the fertility rituals of Hermes Thrice-Great are a great plot twist by themselves but, considering that his observations fascinate and add to the story, they can’t be said to hurt.


I love Crowley’s work here, but I don’t think it would be fair to give it a 5 out of 5. It is a rather Marmite-like work (and no, not black and foul-smelling). If you don’t mind your magic with a healthy dose of paganism, a rather unfortunate amount of misogyny, and a few cardboard characters, then Moonchild is fantastic. Otherwise you may find it something of a tangential and poorly-written drag. It’s hardly a long read, though, so you won’t waste much time either way!

Good Scribing and Good Health,

***Moonchild (1929) by Aleister Crowley is published and copyright Mandrake Press.  It is available in stores, online (see above), and at your local public library.

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