John Crowley, Aegypt (1987)

History has always fascinated me. And I don’t mean an occasional Discovery Channel documentary. Serious stuff, during university days going a bit into the theory of history. Just a few courses, I was a sociology student, but still. And as a guy with such strange tastes I loved Aegypt. I’ve also read it’s a favourite of lit majors with affinity for ambitious genre books. And it’s included in Harold Bloom’s Western Canon (appendicies )!

I mean, it’s not a book for everybody. And I’m not judgemental here, it’s just that nothing much happens, there is no great conflict, and the very genre-ness of the thing is questionable. Maybe that changes in later volumes of the tetralogy, here we have some clues, guesses, but all the actual magic/religion is in quotes from fictional novels…

Hmm, it’s part of Fantasy Masterworks series that Gollancz publishes 😉

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Stories inside, each one nested within all the others; as though all the stories we had ever been inside of lay still nested inside of us, back to the beginning, whenever that is or was. Stories are what the history not made of time is made of.

Pierce Moffett, a historian, moves away from his post-68 NY life to a quiet town in New England. Rosie Mucho divorces her unfaithful and pretentious husband. Brent Spofford breeds sheep. Fellowes Kraft, deceased years earlier, wrote numerous historical novels (rather obscure).

Oh, they are all connected, in many ways, and probably become more so in the following novels, but there is no big drama. Not in a form you find in fantasy thrillers, action action action and a bit of sex and a cliffhanger to make you buy the next one.

Only here we have a mystery of cosmic proportions (sloowly unfolding) and a cliffhanger that make a nerd like me quite interested. I’ve ordered volume 2 while writing this post.

Because it’s also, through Moffett’s research and Kraft’s writing, a novel about John Dee, William Shakespeare and Giordano Bruno. And early science, strangely indistinguishable from magic. Crowley exploits the fact that the creators of science (including giants like Newton) held many strange (to us) beliefs, often taken from religion or esoteric traditions. He goes one step further and asks – what if their crazy theories where right, at least at some point in the past? And a major shift in early modernity was not only a change of perception, but a change of laws of history. And physics. Magic was possible, than science took over, but maybe there are some remnants, and maybe they will grow stronger and the victory of science was not ultimate.

Did the world have a plot? Did it, after all? He had not ever believed himself to have one, no not even in those days when he had lived within stories; but did the world?

Or maybe it’s the perception, after all:

Time doesn’t return, turn full circle, and bring back what is past; what turns full circle is the notion that time will turn full circle, and bring back the past.

Mind you, these questions are not really answered in this volume.

I expected something a bit like Foucault’s Pendulum, but with magic actually being there and influencing the history. So far we’re not there, but:

secret societies, Freemasons, illuminati haven’t had real power in history. Can’t you see, he’d said, the truth is so much more interesting: secret societies have not had power in history, but the notion that secret societies have had power in history has had power in history.

And yet. And yet.

And yet… ?

He knew how the old religion had come to an end; he knew what strangers had come to supplant their pieties. When all the old gods had run to hide their heads, when the women wept that Pan was dead. When the Christ whose colors Giordano wore, whose soldier he was, had banished them all, all but Himself and His Father and the emanation of the two of them that made three: a tangle of triplex Godhead too jealous to allow any mysteries but the mystery of itself.
(…)
But if by their own free will they had gone away, then, one day, they might return; they might be induced to return. They would return!

It’s a riddle, it’s brilliant. It’s an exercise in erudition, slow and hard. I liked it a lot.

Score: 8,5/10

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2 thoughts on “John Crowley, Aegypt (1987)

  1. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book – I’ll surely read it one day, hopefully sooner than later. There are just so many good books… I’m beginning to fear that it’s impossible to read them all 😉

    Like

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