Tag Archives: Frazer

Thoughts on “The Magician’s Land” by Lev Grossman

This is the final book of Grossman’s trilogy, and he manages to maintain the power and intensity of the previous books. While part of me wishes the saga would continue, this really is the right place to stop.

I took a couple pages of notes while reading, so I could ramble on about this, but since brevity is the soul of wit, I’ll keep this post short and focused. I’ll focus on how the book corresponds to the biblical books of Genesis and Revelation.

So there are two big themes in this book: the creation of a world, and the destruction of a world. These are also the themes that are the focuses of Genesis and Revelation, respectively. In addition, Grossman also weaves in the symbolism of the death and rebirth of a god, which connects the two central themes and hearkens to Frazer’s work, The Golden Bough.

Quentin comes into possession of an ancient spell, and it takes him a while to decipher it. But once he does, he realizes it is a spell to create a small world, essentially speaking a world into being. This is the magick of God in Genesis, but on a smaller scale. Yet even though this is on a smaller scale, Quentin is taking a step toward becoming godlike through his ability to create.

This was a spell that created something. It was a spell for making a land.

He actually laughed out loud when he thought of it. It was too funny—too insane. But now that he saw it he couldn’t un-see it. He could follow it like a story that wound crookedly through the various sections and paragraphs and subclauses of the spell like a thread of DNA. This thing was intended to make a little world.

(p. 249)

Contrasting Quentin’s creation of a new world, we see the apocalyptic end to another world, with imagery and direct references to Revelation.

The chaos itself was momentarily, unfairly beautiful. The thrashing sun, the spinning, looping moon. Fillory half light and half shadow, dotted with flashes of fire, lava and flame and magical strikes from magical beings. Ignorant armies clashing by night.

It’s like Revelation, she thought. It’s Revelation, and I’m the Scarlet Woman.

(p. 339)

But the deeper mysticism here is that dying worlds can be reborn, but this cosmic rebirth requires the ultimate sacrifice: the death of a god. This is the mythology that Frazer explores in his masterwork, and Grossman makes reference to this mythology as the world of Fillory is about to die.

It was the oldest story there was, the deepest of all the deeper magicks. Fillory didn’t have to die, it could be renewed and live again, but there was a price, and the price was holy blood. It was the same in all mythologies: for a dying land to be reborn, its god must die for it. There was power in that divine paradox, the death of an immortal, enough power to restart the stopped heart of a world.

(pp. 377 – 378)

And with the death of the old god, the world is renewed, ushering in the new age.

“… Things are different now. It’s a new age.”

(p. 394)

These books have definitely earned their place in the upper echelon of the fantasy genre. I suspect that I may read them again someday, hence they now have a prominent spot on my bookshelf. In the meantime, I’ll indulge myself by watching the TV adaptation of the trilogy.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading cool stuff!



Filed under Literature

“The Call of Cthulhu” by H. P. Lovecraft

CallCthulhuMy favorite type of horror story is one that is symbolic of the darker aspects of the subconscious mind and The Call of Cthulhu definitely falls into that category. But the story is more than just a symbolic representation of the subconscious, it is also a study on parallel dimensions and realities which draws on occult philosophies and incorporates modern artistic ideas. The tale is nothing short of a masterpiece.

In the opening lines, Lovecraft asserts that there is more to reality than we can perceive and that we exist in a state of ignorance, unaware of what lies beyond our limited scope of perception.

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.

References are then made to several theosophical and occult texts, particularly W. Scott-Elliot’s Atlantis and the Lost Lemuris, Frazer’s The Golden Bough, and Murray’s Witch-Cult in Western Europe. Although it is not specifically referenced in the story, I would also add that Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine is implied, since references are made to parallel planes and cycles of aeons that figure prominently in Blavatsky’s book.

In this story, the mythical beings and the realms they inhabit represent our subconscious minds. This is the part of our collective psyche that often finds its “subconscious expression in dreams” and visions. Because this area of our consciousness is so alien to us, it can only be expressed artistically, and even then, it is only a symbolic approximation of that realm.

They and their subconscious residuum had influenced his art profoundly, and he shewed me a morbid statue whose contours almost made me shake with the potency of its black suggestion.

In describing the city of R’lyeh where Cthulhu dwells, Lovecraft draws upon cubist and surrealist art to represent the realm, which is appropriate since those artistic schools sought to represent the subconscious and the dream state through visual representation.

Without knowing what futurism is like, Johansen achieved something very close to it when he spoke of the city; for instead of describing any definite structure or building, he dwells only on broad impressions of vast angles and stone surfaces—surfaces too great to belong to any thing right or proper for this earth, and impious with horrible images and hieroglyphs. I mention this talk of angles because it is something Wilcox had told me of his awful dreams. He had said that the geometry of the dream-place he saw was abnormal, non-Euclidean, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours.

The realm of Cthulhu is thrust up out of the ocean as the result of an earthquake. The earthquake is symbolic of a mental shift or upheaval, and the island which surfaces is our subconscious mind rising out of the dark sea of the collective unconscious.  In addition to the surreal architecture, there is an abundance of ooze representative of primordial consciousness. This is a motif that Lovecraft used in an earlier story, Dagon (click here to read my review of that story).

… a coast-line of mingled mud, ooze, and weedy Cyclopean masonry which can be nothing less than the tangible substance of earth’s supreme terror—the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh, that was built in the measureless aeons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults and sending out at last, after cycles incalculable, the thoughts that spread fear to the dreams of the sensitive and called imperiously to the faithful to come on a pilgrimage of liberation and restoration.

We all exist in what we assume to be reality, but there is an infinity around us which we do not perceive. One would like to take comfort in the thought that the unseen universes that surround us are beautiful and benevolent, but that would be quite naive. We must at least accept the following possibility: “Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men. A time will come—but I must not and cannot think!”

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

“The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot


April is the cruellest month, which is why I have so often found myself reading “The Waste Land” in April. I’ve lost track of how many times I have read Eliot’s poetic masterpiece, but I never tire of it. It is, in my opinion, one of the greatest poems ever written.

One could certainly write a dissertation about this poem, but if I did, I doubt many people would spend the time reading it. So for this post, I will focus on the theme of death and rebirth.

In the notes to the poem, it is stated that Eliot was influenced heavily by Frazer’s The Golden Bough. While I have not read it in its entirety, I read enough to understand the concepts of rebirth that are explored in that work.

Eliot prefaces the poem with a quote from Petronius’ Satyricon, which Wikipedia translates as follows:

I saw with my own eyes the Sybil of Cumae hanging in a jar, and when the boys said to her, Sibyl, what do you want? she replied I want to die.

So immediately, one gets the impression that the cycle of rebirth is not a blessing, but a curse. Eternal life is equated with eternal suffering. This sets the tone for the poem’s famous opening lines:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

Spring begins the cycle of life and death again. Flowers push up through the soil and bloom, only to wither and die again. There is also the impression that death, symbolized by winter, is desirable. It is associated with warmth, rest, and the bliss that comes with forgetfulness.

Next I’d like to look at line 30: I will show you fear in a handful of dust. This is the destiny that we all face. We will all turn to dust and once again become one with the dead land. But that will not be the end. We will return and face the same sad fate over and over again.

Near the end of the poem, the theme comes up again:

He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying

These lines are really interesting. The “He” is someone separate from the “We.” My guess is that He represents any one of the figures associated with the rebirth mythology: Christ, Osiris, Adonis, etc. So the god is dead, and we now follow in our own deaths. But like the god, we will be resurrected and and face another cycle in a world that is becoming more and more fragmented and chaotic. So we are like the Sybil, unable to find the true solace of death.

This poem is very deep and intense, and it is challenging to read, but that should not discourage anyone from reading it. No poem better captures the fragmented nature of modern society. Even if you have read it before (and if you are reading my blog, changes are you have), I encourage you to read it again. For those who need, click here to read it online.


Filed under Literature