Attention Ghouls Goblins and a Ghastly 3rd thing outside of the binary!
In celebration of the annual spooky season we here at CMN want to kick off the beginning of an ongoing article series;
"Roger Zelazny: Chaos Magician(?)"
For those unfamiliar Roger Zelazny (1937-1995) was a prolific writer of High Fantasy and Science Fiction, but arguably his greatest works were his attempts to bridge the gap between the two in ways that are inspiring to the craft in two great senses of the word.
In this series we will make the case that Zelazny, while not being a believer or practicing occultist, demonstrated a brilliant understanding of occult thought and a particularly Chaos Magick sensibility.
With our introduction out of the way check on the thing in the basement and settle in as we begin with the ever festive
"A Night in the Lonesome October"
SPOILER WARNING: While we'll attempt to leave as much brooding mystery as we can in this article, part of the appeal of this story is seeing the means and stakes by which "the game" is played being slowly revealed throughout the narrative. We highly recommend going in as blind as the eldritch horrors sequestered within the walls of CMN's Golgonooza compound. That said not spoiling at least some details will be impossible.
There is a game afoot. A game played since before recorded history. When a specific astrological event occurs within the month of October according to our modern calendars a call is answered by occult practicioners from all over the world to converge upon an ever changing point to become players.
Over centuries, changing with the times and customs, certain rules of etiquette have formed leading to a delicate interplay of espionage and subterfuge to identify other players and keeping the local populace and authorities unaware of the larger goings on. To aid in this each of our "players" employs an animal "companion" who handle the bulk of spying, bargaining, trading of information amongst one another. Here we find our main protagonist and narrator, Snuff, a watchdog in the employ of a man only identified as "Jack". One of multiple partnerships recently relocated to a sleepy Victorian English village in anticipation of "the Game".
Here we will detour to talk how magic is usually framed within fiction. Ordinarily if the magic system is defined we are to take it at face value of "magic is real, here are the rules by which is operates"
These are the ONLY rules by which is operates. There's much to be said of the benefits of a properly define magic mechanism in your fiction.
However, in "real" occultism we understand the plurality of traditions, the multitude of models to explain them, and the uncertainty that comes from conceding that magick works despite a unified understanding for how or why it does.
In this particular story there are various traditions and schools of magic acknowledged by the players and companions and none are framed as genuine vs fake. Our narrator operates from a worldview where magic of all sorts is a given. If a player curses an object or discusses a ward they've cast there's no questioning of its validity or its adherence to a certain paradigm. There are agreed upon and understood causes and effects, there are rules and procedures followed for the climatic ritual at the end of "the game" but even the outcome is viewed and interpreted differently by the participants.
Zelazny lays out his entire metaphysical understanding of the subject in a single quote from this book. When Snuff is asked by another animal companion (Cheeter) to undo a spell in exchange for a vital piece of information he responds with
"Cheeter, there are all kinds of magical systems," I said. "They're just shapes into which the power is poured. We can't know them all.”
Good dog Snuff, good dog.
Here Zelazny proclaims that magic exists within and without the "tech" used by practicioners to direct it. It is not something that exists objectively in the hangnail of a hangedman or the Icon painted by the iconoclast, but rather something ineffable that moves through the proper application of the proper forces. One could do worse than such an interpretation. We imagine it'd be welcomed with open arms by many occult groups, particularly by those contemptuous chaotes circling the carcass of "BELIEF" or chasing that great uncatchable roadrunner "TRUTH".
It makes one wonder. This was Zelaznys last book, released in 1993, well past the proliferation of Chaos Magick into the mainstream of occultism. We aren't suggesting that Zelazny must have read Liber Null for research. Perhaps he was tapped into the current through his writing, perhaps he looked at the diverse range of spooky woo woo and drew a conclusion that fit the needs of the narrative. Either way, the paradigm is established and could be seen as a final word on his view of occultism.
Second warning: Here's where we'll get into spoiling more important details as we cast our gaze upon the Cyclopean monolith of inscrutable horrors that we call Pop Culture.
Another facet of chaos magick oft discussed is the appropriation of popular fiction and heavy syncretism. While it's efficacy is debated, some find it a bit what the kids call "cringe", and some will hold it up as a great expression of a lack of "reality" in "reality". If Superman can be used as a solar deity just as well as Helios then the metaphysical realness or unrealness of both is left as an open ended question.
As A Night in the Lonesome October is first and foremost a fiction for entertainment we don't find that existential conundrum. Instead we are greeted with a cast and backdrop that would fit the bill if one were inclined to assemble a horror story pantheon.
A classical witch, a mad alchemist, a druid, necromantic undertakers establishing classic archetypes of occultist. Followed more strongly by a reimagining of a notable unsolved murderer, then the flood gates of universal horror open bringing forth Dracula, Frankenstein, and of course the Wolfman completing our trinity. Then as if to outshine the familiar mundane horrors of the Party Store discount bin, halfway through the Lonesome October the bottom drops out and we're flung along non-ecludian geometry as Lovecrafts Great Old Ones and Dream Cycle take front stage. Finally we round out the pairings of odd bedfellows with a decidedly non-supernatural character of great literary significance working the strangest case of his legendary career. A detective hot on the heels of our protagonists and antagonist alike, and standing at the threshold between the impossible and the improbable.
Not as earth shattering or demonstrative of occult philosophy, but definitely an approach to fiction that could be seen as convergent evolution with the crossover dynamics amid Chaote eclecticism.
As we near the coming of the Hallowest of weens we at CMN cannot recommend this book highly enough to give you a fun seasonal romp with a dash of insight. A bit of gristle to chew after you polish off your plate of tentacles.
If we've wet your appetite for more let us assure you this will be the least of what we have to offer as we delve deeper into the more challenging, thought provoking, and experimental workings of Roger Zelazny. Hopefully we've encouraged you to give a read yourself if this is your first encounter with the writer.
Soon to follow we'll be exploring Lord of Light, Creatures of Light and Darkness, Eye of Cat and more. We look forward to seeing you there.
Now, If you'll excuse us, we have to make our rounds, it appears the creature within the circle has begun cursing in Welsh. That's not even a romance language!