- Reviewed by
"Magic" in literature has many implications, from Prospero's art to Keats's "charm'd magic casements," from the satirical sylphs of Pope's "Rape of the Lock" to symbolic uses in Charles Williams. Stoddard Martin, however, is interested in a more limited scope in his Orthodox Heresy: The Rise of "Magic" as Religion and Its Relation to Literature. His book might apty have been entitled "A Reader's Guide to Occultism from the Nineteenth to the Twentieth Century."
After a brisk one-chapter survey of occultism from Apuleius's Golden Ass through the rise of Freemasonry, Martin devotes a chapter each to various figures "since the French Revolution": Elipas Lévi, Madame Blavatsky, MacGregor Mathers and the Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley ("the great beast"), and L. Ron Hubbard, with a concluding meditation on what it all means.
The volume is likely to be most useful to those who are not yet experts in the area. He never spends more than a chapter on any single magician; and these were people whose systems, if they are of any interest at all, require a good deal of work to comprehend. One would like to learn more about such figures as G. R. S. Mead or A. E. Waite, who edited a whole library of occultism by himself. Also, Martin overstates his own contribution to the study of literature's relation to magic. In fact, most of his efforts are devoted to the magicians themselves, not to the literature influenced by them; one would want to turn to more specialized studies for information about Yeats and magic, for example—to Richard Ellmann's pioneering work, to George M. Harper's Yeats's Golden Dawn, or to Frank Kinahan's Yeats, Folklore and Occultism.
Martin's contribution is to the general theory of this relationship rather than to detailed study. He struggles to find patterns in the diffuse, disparate, and chaotic magicians with whom he deals. His key argument is that in the moral collapse of the modern wasteland, some men and women turn to the magical and the occult in a quest for meaning. This is fair enough, although rather general. Occasionally Martin embraces a Jungian model in which magic is a sort of apprenticeship, its stages really the levels in the development of the spirit; he sees in Blavatsky's Theosophy "a reasonable and somewhat appealing programme for ethical maturation" that, unhappily, "wings off into purest speculation."
Martin's volume has some minor but irritating flaws. The comprehensive endnotes indicate that the author, who certainly overstates his "vast ignorance," has done his homework; they partly atone for the absence of a bibliography. The good index does allow one to trace down the first full reference, eventually; but why couldn't the publisher have supplied running headers such as "Notes to Pages 000-000" to aid the reader in finding the correct note 82, since they are renumbered in each chapter? The book has the usual measure of failures in proofreading: dieties, bellweather (a good day for chimes?), at least one omitted line of text, and so forth. Although the style is generally vigorous and attractive, it occasionally slips into infelicities such as "our trusty tome" or "routinise." [End Page 317]