Bess of Hardwick in spotlight of new play: about time! Perhaps best known as the woman who kept Mary Queen of Scots under house arrest, she became the second richest woman in Elizabethan England through both strategic marriages and shrewd business dealings. Definitely worthy of her own play. Her stately Hardwick Hall still stands.
How Renaissance Painting Smoldered with a Little Known Hallucinogen: Not THAT unknown. Short version: some artists were heavily influenced by ergot poisoning, either by their own experiences or from observing others in the throes of “St. Anthony’s Fire”. I’m unsure what to make of this – on the one hand artists must get their inspiration from somewhere, on the other it suggests lack of creativity if they were just depicting their hallucinations to the last detail. Full disclosure: I love Bosch’s work and prefer to think he was just that inventive. Thoughts?
Sometime back I asked if y’all had any interest in a link dump of esoteric/occult/paranormal-oriented publishers and bookstores. The response was a resounding “yes”, so I’ve scoured my bookmarks for you!
I’ve not shopped with all of of these, so I can’t vouch for quality of customer service or wares in all cases. Additionally, given the controversial and strange subject matter I can’t vouch for the credibility of all content either. Use your critical thinking.
And as ever, feel free to include your own favorites in the comments!
Teitan Press: publisher of scholarly works primarily focused on Aliester Crowley and Frederick Hockley.
Nephilim Press: “a trade publication that specializes in the rare and unique subject areas of the occult and arcane, that many major publishing companies consider too controversial to print”. Apparent focus on grimoires contemporary and historic.
Feral House: “innovative and celebrated non-fiction books since 1989”. A very mixed bag; the front page alone features a Muhammed Ali coloring book, a canning and fermenting guide, and a history of the Process Church of the Final Judgment. These plus their categories of “realpolitik”, “kulture”, “crime”, “sex”, and “death” suggests an eye-opening browsing experience if nothing else.
Steamshovel Press: zine founded by veteran conspiracy theorist Kenn Thomas in 1992, they boast “All conspiracy. No theory”. Go here for a plate of UFOs and JFK with sides of lesser-known rabbit holes.
Darklore: “journal of exceptional observations, hidden history, the paranormal and esoteric science”. Based on the URL I think they’re associated with the Daily Grail website. Hat tip GeeCee.
Paraview Press “publishes unique and original books by well-known authors and researchers in the paranormal, spiritual, UFO, and conspiracy-theory field”. I’m mostly familiar with them for publishing much of Nick Redfern’s prodigious output.
Rubedo Press “publishes works of scholarship, philosophy, æsthetics, and esotericism, as well as critical translations of source texts previously unavailable in English”. For what it’s worth, “For explicitly scholarly projects, Rubedo Press offers a strict double-blind peer-review process, drawing on an international panel of interdisciplinary authorities.”
Correspondences: “online journal for the academic study of Western esotericism”; comes out once a year.
Atlantis Bookshop: self-proclaimed “London’s oldest independent occult bookshop”, they have a limited online presence but have long been London’s esoteric hub, hosting Gerald Gardner‘s coven among others.
Crystal Blue: this shop has been in Atlanta since I was a little quasi-goth wandering around Little Five Points. Crystals, books, and more.
Hledající knihy: online esoteric bookseller out of Prague. Most offerings in Czech; I include for completion’s sake.
Magonia Review of Books: formerly a magazine and now an extensive book review site, I’ve found it a valuable resource to find the wheat in this chaff-heavy field. Based out of England, they host regular Magonians In the Pub meetups so check them out if you’re in the neighborhood.
Esoteric Book Conference: Seattle-based conference, the latest information is from last year. No word yet on 2017 though given that it goes back to 2009, I’m hopeful.
Haven’t we all said “that book should TOTALLY be made into a movie” at one point or another?
Yep, me too. What’s strange is that I seldom say it about a historical fiction novel. Stranger still(?), I don’t actually watch that much historical fiction.
Of these three historical fiction novels that need to be adapted for TV I’ve not read a one of them. A damn pity because they sound great: Sparta vs. Rome, WWII crime, Tudor conspiracy. When I do watch histfic it’s usually either written for the screen (The VVitch, Bomb Girls, The Americans) or adapted from a book I’ve not read (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the White Princess, Outlander [well, I read part of this but never finished]).
And I’m admittedly terrible about keeping up with TV series. I start many but seldom finish due to time and attention constraints.
That, and I have a kind of reservation about converting books to movies. Two different mediums require two very different approaches to the same story, which is where the desire to be accurate to the original collides with the need to make a textual story visually compelling. Sometimes it’s just best to leave it alone. So when pressed to come up with books that I think would make great viewing I have to strain.
Because you can’t write about John Dee for very long without addressing the Voynich Manuscript, the “book nobody can read”.
In an early draft of the novel I had Edward Kelley stumble across this strange tome in Mortlake’s library, but I ended up cutting that scene because Dee likely never owned it. Bursting further myths, he didn’t create it either – it’s carbon dated to the early 15th century, well over a hundred years before Dee’s time. Nonetheless as a mathematician and steganographer he certainly would have found it interesting. Hell, I find it interesting and I’m just an ordinary schlub.
The manuscript got its popular name from Wilfred Voynich, the bookseller who purchased it in 1912. Before that it passed through many hands and it’s origin is unclear. It currently resides in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale, and is available for viewing by appointment only (though they did loan it for an exhibit in DC, see below).
As such, speculation on what the text might be and by extension what the book is about runs rampant. CipherMysteries.com provides a rundown of the most popular theories, which include everything from blatant hoaxing to alien tech. Certainly it seems to have elements of astrology, herbals, and possibly alchemical recipe books (all those pipes), but doesn’t resemble any of these exclusively.
I was fortunate enough to see the real deal when it was on display in the Folger Library’s Decoding the Renaissance exhibit. Somehow I thought the fuel for so much speculation would be bigger – it’s about the size of a modern hardcover novel. The vellum shows few erasures, so someone understood the strange text well enough to write it with few mistakes. The colors are still vivid even after ~600 years, but the illustrations seem hasty and awkward, particularly the human figures.
My own take is… I don’t know what to think. I’m no cryptographer so I’m not competent to judge the plausibility of the various theories (though I’m pretty sure aliens didn’t write it). If it’s a hoax it’s a good one to fascinate so many for so long. If it’s a code I have to wonder what the author(s) were hiding. In any case, someone went to a lot of time and trouble to create it. Again, the real story is about people and their motives and perceptions.
Bafflin’ Island: The Mystery of Frobisher’s Ore – English privateer Martin Frobisher commanded three mining voyages to what is now Canada in the 1570s. His personal assayers found such persuasive evidence of gold that his ships hauled tons of ore back to England only to discover it was worthless. Were Frobisher’s assayers incompetent or frauds?
I’m getting critiques back about the first 50 pages of my second draft. Responses are mostly positive: definitely still needs work but it’s evidently it’s a compelling read.
Most of my critique partners aren’t historical fiction enthusiasts so I find their input valuable re: possible cross-genre appeal. One even said that though she’s not a history buff she’d read my book for the alchemy and magic alone.
I never thought I read historical fiction as a child, at least in the “pure” Dorothy Dunnett/Philippa Gregory/Margaret George mold. I preferred “real history” (I cringe at my childhood snobbiness). But after this discussion it occurred to me: I was reading histfic all along. I just found it in other genres.
Take Anne Rice. I was a teenage goth so of course I read and reread her Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches series. Rice typically falls on the horror/fantasy but Lestat and co. survive through pre-revolutionary France and antebellum New Orleans; the Mayfair family moves from England through to the Caribbean and thence to the New World over five centuries.
Octavia Butler’s Kindred also stuck with me. Time travel puts this sobering read squarely in the sci-fi box but Butler’s nuanced depiction of slavery in the American south suggests painstaking research of the type associated with the best historical fiction.
Kage Baker’s Company series goes everywhen: Tudor England (Baker taught Elizabethan English as a second language and it shows) to 17th century Spanish California to the 19th century old west and elsewhere…with time-traveling, historical-artifact-saving cyborgs.
The sci fi and fantasy genres jumped on serialized fiction awhile back, but with Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia and SerialBox’s Whitehall it seems historical fiction is finally getting in on the act. Looking forward to both and seeing if this presentation format proves popular.
Hadn’t heard of Carlo Gesualdo until news about a one-man play about his life popped up in my Google alerts. Pity it’s not local – Gesualdo’s messy story of musical genius, vicious murder, and alleged sorcery is fantastic storytelling fuel!
Haven’t got much news this week. Rewrites continue with the odd bit of research, and I spent much of the past weekend on the fencing strip.
So I thought I’d share a few of the books I’ve been reading (and wanting to read):
The Witch Who Came in From the Cold – I find the episodic format of SerialBox’s offerings positively addictive, and this series has two things I love: Cold War spycraft and magic.
A Day of Fire and A Year of Ravens are both collaborative novels by the Historical Fiction Author’s Co-op and both take historical events where we know the outcome (Pompeii is destroyed, Boudicca is defeated) and still create so much tension that you can’t put them down. They do this with characters so skillfully drawn that you care passionately about their fates.
David Bowie Is – I’ve never been a diehard fan but I was always impressed by Bowie’s ability to re-invent himself over and over and over again. This catalog accompanied a V&A touring exhibit of his infinitely varied career. My main interest is, of course, the costumes.