When reading Stephen King's books was a fad I refrained from participation. After the fad passed and while King was still cranking out the novels on his word processor I decided to check him out. Now wait a minute. Don't be misled! I am not reviewing a book by Stephen King. A review of one of his books would not fit within the format or purpose of The Newaeon Newsletter. Besides, I would not know where to begin. Even my least favourite King book I thoroughly enjoyed. However, this review does begin with one of his books - Danse Macabre. In this book which describes horror and science fiction novels and films and how they have influenced all of us, King included, the author gives us a suggested reading list. Some of the books in this list I have since read, trusting in the judgment of Stephen King, and for the most part I have enjoyed these books. Yet there is always an exception and for me that was Fritz Leiber's
Well, Steve, aside from the Peter Straub vs. the Hymenaeus [Caliphate] pseudo-o.t.o. matter regarding Ghost Story, I think I see another reason why you shy away from anyone associated with the teachings of Aleister Crowley - teachings, I must add, that are twisted out of shape and perverted by people opposed to Crowley, Magick, et al, as well as by those who falsely claim to be Thelemites but who only warp the Thelemic teachings to serve their own petty, personal desires.
Our Lady of Darkness generally disappointed me. Oh, it had its moments, but it never really got me going, as most of King's books do. It never had me on the edge of my seat, nor did I care about the protagonist nor the infamous Thibaut de Castries. As for the Lady of Darkness ... well ... but for the climactic manifestation, I did not care a rat's ass for her. It was all rather disappointing.
Okay, so why am I reviewing a fantasy book in a publication devoted to Thelema and Aleister Crowley? Is it because de Castries is loosely modelled after A.C., and no doubt others all rolled up into this one vague character - while at least one description of the villian's mistress was derived from Dion Fortune's alter ego in The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic? Nope. Here is the reason, quoting from pages 82 and 107 of Our Lady of Darkness:
"Though he recalled how at the beginning of the century the black magician Aleister Crowley had spent a summer painting in huge red capitals on the Hudson Palisades DO WHAT THOU WILT IS THE ONLY COMMANDMENT and EVERY MAN AND WOMAN IS A STAR to shock and instruct New Yorkers on riverboats."
"In England at that time there was the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. ... in 1898 Aleister Crowley managed to join the Gilded Dayspringers", neat, eh? "and almost broke up the society by his demands for Satanistic rituals, black magic, and other real tough stuff."
Let us be organized:
(1) A.C. was not a "black magician" as such an individual is one who turns away from the true Path to serve his ego while Crowley went beyond the Abyss, annihilated ego, for the sake of his True Self and the accomplishment of his True Will.
(2) Twice in one sentence the author misquoted Liber AL vel Legis. "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law" is the first sentence as it should be, and besides, he had only painted "Do what thou wilt" on both banks of the river. And of course we all know that "Do what thou wilt" does not mean "do as you please", but rather it means to discover your Will, your purpose for existing, and accomplish that purpose. The other sentence should be "Every man and every woman is a star", i.e. a self-luminous, unique individual, with a specific orbit to follow in the universe of being.
(3) Maybe A.C. did wish to, in part, shock people. I will not argue that because there was enough mischievous imp in him for that. However, even when he did the impish thing it was with the intent of not only having fun, but also of attempting to awaken people from their sleep of ignorance, their lazy, superficially thinking mental sleep.
(4) A.C. was not the cause of the Golden Dawn's break up; that was happening before he even entered the order and it was caused, in part, by S. L. MacGregor Mather's megalomaniac ambitions as well as the conflict between the inflated egos that made up the body of the fraternity - poets, actresses, clergymen, and so forth. The G.D. was in the decline by the time Crowley entered the order.
(5) A.C. did not demand "Satanistic (!!!???) rituals, black magic, and other real tough stuff" of the G.D.. Crowley was disappointed with the elementary nature of some of the order's "secrets" and he was quite right in pointing out that the rituals were too verbose, but he did not demand any form of Satanic rituals nor "other real tough stuff", whatever that is supposed to mean, and the closest thing that A.C. attempted that could be called "black magic" was work with the Goetia, which is simply magic, admittedly of a low order, but neither "black" nor "white" in its essential nature, and his intent did not colour it "black".
Obviously Fritz Leiber does not do what any writer should do - careful personal research. Apparently Mr. Leiber relied only on the most superficial, vindictive, secondhand rubbish about Aleister Crowley upon which to base his opinion. He should have also studied the authors and researchers who have written more rationally and objectively about Crowley, and more importantly, Mr. Leiber should have gone directly to the source itself and carefully studied the mass of writings left by Aleister Crowley. Instead he carelessly added to the mass of misinformation and irresponsible sensationalistic garbage that is so easily written and so easy to find between the covers of so many books today.
It seems to have become a tradition to slander Aleister Crowley, especially now that he is no longer alive to respond to libelous statements, and it is a tradition that only an ignorant fool or a dishonourable man would follow. Fritz Leiber, shame on you. Go stand in a corner. And Steve, my man, you should know better than to judge others upon circumstantial evidence and thirdhand information only. It is supposed to be that a man is innocent until proven guilty, but in this society, more often than not, especially where our geniuses are concerned, it seems to be that a man is guilty until proven innocent - and who really cares to hear the evidence in the man's favour once the snap judgment is formulated!
Our Lady of Darkness? One hundred and fifty-seven pages is a lot of reading for a semi-decent climax that leaves one feeling rather cheated. My advice is that if the book interests you, glance through the end in the bookstore but save your money and instead of that pick up a Stephen King book. Or better still, either Crowley's Moonchild or Diary of a Drug Fiend.
And Steve, I'm still waiting for an answer to my letters. They are pretty interesting and I would like to know the answers to the questions I asked. All this fame hasn't gone to your head now, has it? Or are you afraid of reliving the fate of the editor in "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet"? Well ... no need to worry about that.
[TNN.V.4.5, September 1986 E.V.]