I’ve often been intrigued by the novels written by Pagans and occultists. Whether well-known like Starhawk’s “The Fifth Sacred Thing,” now in the process of being pitched as a feature film, or obscure like Stewart Farrar’s post-apocalyptic Wiccans-save-the-world (or at least Britain) novel “Omega.” I feel that religiously-motivated works like this can often tell you a lot about the beliefs, ambitions, and hopes of the author. While “religious fiction” is often synonymous today with Christian literature, we shouldn’t forget that modern Paganism and the occult/magickal arts have a long used fictional stories as a way to teach and entertain, from Gerald Gardner’s “High Magic’s Aid” to Dion Fortune’s “The Sea Priestess.” One of the most influential novels of all time is “The Metamorphoses of Apuleius” (aka “The Golden Ass”) by Lucius Apuleius, an initiate to the cult of Isis, written between 160-170 CE. So it’s fair to say there’s a long lineage of “Pagan” novels.
Lon Milo DuQuette has now added his own volume to this tradition, a work that takes a romping fictionalized look at the early life and magical adventures of the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley. “Aleister Crowley – Revolt of the Magicians” is set during Crowley’s time with The Golden Dawn and features a who’s who of famous occultists from that period, including William Butler Yeats, Maude Gonne, and Bram Stoker. DuQuette, who has written several texts on magick and the occult, and is something of an expert on the subject of Crowley, brings a knowledgeable flair to the dramas and intrigues of the time, putting his own unique spin on history. I was lucky enough to have brief email exchange with DuQuette about the new work, how it came about, and what he really thinks about Crowley’s fiction.
“Aleister Crowley — Revolt of the Magicians” is actually my second novel. The first, “Accidental Christ — The Story of Jesus as Told by His Uncle” came out a few years ago. “Revolt…” began not as a book but as a screenplay I was hired to write about 10 years ago. It was optioned by a film production company, and for a while looked like it would actually be produced … but nothing came of it. I had more or less forgotten about it when I was contacted again about nine months ago. As it turns out another film company is interested in the story but in order for the project to qualify for partial funding from (whatever the newest incarnation of …) the UK Film Council the screenplay must be written by a Brit or a Commonwealth citizen. They could, however, adapt the screenplay from a novel written by a non Brit. So I transformed my screenplay into a novel so it might be transformed into a screenplay. Have I confused you enough?
I love the genre of fiction. It is like taking a holiday. I love creating characters and breathing life into them … observing them develop and behave in my mind like independent entities. It’s very magical.
‘Revolt’ is a fantasy (albeit based on historic events and characters) about Crowley and his involvement in the breakup of the Golden Dawn.
You’ve written about Aleister Crowley and his teachings for several years, so it must be something of a “no-brainer” to make him the protagonist of your novel. Did your experience and history make it easy or hard to put yourself inside the head of this fictionalized Crowley?
It was curiously easy, and lots of fun.
Literary works featuring Crowley, or ficitonal characters based on Crowley, have been appearing since 1908. Crowley himself engaged in the practice for “Moonchild”. Do you feel this long literary history influenced you at all? Is there a sort of “fictional” Crowley egregore that feeds the many, many, “Crowleys” in various mediums?
I can’t say it influenced me at all. I wanted to follow a young Crowley, brilliant, naive, passionate … encountering for the first time the world of magick and the secret forces that would later shape him into an adept. This Crowley has never to my knowledge been explored in literature.
In addition to Crowley, your book features Bram Stoker, Moina and MacGregor Mathers, William Butler Yeats, and Maude Gonne, among others. Was it a challenge bringing all these larger-then-life figures together in one book, or did the real-life events on which the novel is loosely based help drive the drama and characterization?
Yes, the real-life events drove the plot, and I shamelessly used the dramatis personae as caricatures. It was great fun, and not at all hard. People point out that there is no evidence that Bram Stoker was a member of the Golden Dawn … I ask them to read the book to see how his presence is justified. Besides … It’s a fantasy people …. lighten up!
Now that the book has been out for over a month now, have you gotten much reaction from occultists, Thelemites, modern Golden Dawn members, and other interested magick-makers about the work? Has the response to these “fairytale caricatures,” as you put it, been largely positive?
So far the personal feedback and the few Amazon reviews have been positive. I’m sure I’ll eventually catch s–t from all directions.
In the book, one of your characters says that “this story can‘t be told as a history because truth cannot be revealed in history.” Do you believe that’s the case with the infamous Golden Dawn schism? Do you think that someday we’ll have more fictionalized retellings of famous incidents in Pagan and occult history? Sort of like Katherine Kurtz’s “Lammas Night” or even Gardner’s “High Magic’s Aid”?
The development of myth is a strange and inscrutable process. It isn’t people or institutions that drive the process, but the alchemy of human consciousness that chisels the elements of a myth upon the stone of our souls. No one at this point, I believe, can predict what the mythological Crowley will eventually become.
If someone wanted to research the real events that inspired your novel, where would they start? Are there any good books covering that period?
“Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley” by Richard Kaczynski is the most complete and brilliant biography of Crowley. Kaczynski takes great pains to put all the events of Crowley’s life within the context of the history and characters of his world.
Also, “The Battle of Blythe Road: A Golden Dawn Affair (Golden Dawn Studies No 14)” capably edited by Darcy Kuntz
What authors inspire you in your own writing? Are there any occult-themed works of fiction that you find yourself returning to again and again? What would you suggest to someone who loves “Aleister Crowley – Revolt of the Magicians” and wants to read more?
You know … It’s even hard for me to read Crowley’s fiction. It’s like trying to be detached and objective when reading the manuscript of a friend’s novel. You know the author too well … you spot the phoniness of it all … embarrassed by the transparent affectations of the ‘voice’. I feel the same way about Dion Fortune’s fiction … only she is, in my opinion, painfully and distractingly obvious in her attempt to be 19th century-ish.
Other than Crowley himself, the writers who inspire me the most are for the most part not occultists at all … Mark Twain, Jane Austen, the screenplays of Robert Benchley, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and (believe it or not) the lyrics of Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, and Dorothy Fields. Great wit is the voice of the gods. I worship wit. Wit is Ruach sizzling upon the altar of the Neshamah.
Now that you’ve written one novel, are you going to write more? If so, will they also be themed around the occult and magic(k)al history? What other works outside of novels do you have planned for the near future?
Who knows when I’ll feel called to write another novel. I’m currently working on two magical texts with a spring 2011 deadline. I’d talk about them but it’s a little early in the game.
I’d like to thank Lon Milo DuQuette for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer some of my questions. In addition to “Aleister Crowley – Revolt of the Magicians” he recently published “Low Magick: It’s All In Your Head … You Just Have No Idea How Big Your Head Is” a follow-up to his acclaimed autobiography, “My Life With The Spirits: The Adventures of a Modern Magician”.