Monday, February 15, 2010

Candlemas Reading

The Work of Phil Rickman
The Man In the Moss
The Chalice
A Wine of Angels
A Crown of Lights

I’m always looking for some really good ‘occult’ fiction, or ‘spiritual adventure’ books. The best books of this sort combine realistic settings and characters with at least moderately realistic depictions of the occult, or magical practices, or the nature of the spirit worlds. Of course in a novel the magic tends to get amped up for effect, but seeing the forms depicted well is a bonus for me. A little ritual (or more), a nice sense of dread mingled with wonder, and as a bonus some nice writing on personal psychological and character issues make the sort of book I’m looking for.
I’ve been reading the work of Phil Rickman for years, and it’s consistently rewarding. His settings in modern Celtic Britain carry perfect authenticity, and his ear for both dialogue and dialect is excellent. He makes use a number of modern Pagan and New Age ideas, often depicting practitioners and normal folks newly involved in ancient mysteries. He seldom lets Pagan stereotypes, good or ill, stand unchallenged. Sure there may be quiet continuations of long-time folk societies in little villages, and yes, they may be both kind and, at need ruthless. These are, more or less, horror novels, though they are also whodunits and regional studies. The author is widely knowledgable (or does great research…). He brings us into the worlds of music production, sleaze TV, archeology and Celtic folklore and, pretty often, Welsh border politics.
The first three books mentioned above are part of Rickman’s early work, now sometimes hard to find, though cheap. My favorite is really Man in the Moss – a very cool exploration of the British Celts of the Pennines and NW England. His later novels have all focused around one ‘detective’ - Rev. Merrily Watkins, Anglican priest, occasional psychic and reluctant exorcist for the diocese. These supernatural mystery novels are set in Herefordshire, UK, near the Welsh Border, and the multi-novel development of her character is a fine achievement. Once again, bits of authentic lore are set to turn rancid in dark corners of a rural backwater, and our heroine must deal with the nasty things that are generated.
I just finished A Crown of Lights. It has one of the most telling and well-done depictions of the Wiccan/Pagan scene (albeit from 2001ish) I’ve ever read. The ordinary folks, the artists, the Pagan politicos are all nicely drawn, not without sympathy, but not prettied up either. They do fare better than the crazy preacher… or most of them do.
Looking at Rickman’s site, I find that I am behind on his output by some years. I mean to catch up, and will certainly be having a look at his forthcoming book on the Welsh Wizard, Dr. John Dee!
If you’re looking for something spooky to read that will actually make you feel smarter when you’re done, give Phil Rickman a try.

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