PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
Cover design: Marie Lane
Brisk, workmanlike and lucid, this is a survey of 'adventurous souls' whose output was the reverse: 'often crazy, sometimes hilarious and, on occasion, clearly insane'. Lachman's gallery of occultists ranges from the hypnotist Mesmer (1734-1815), whose salon had 'an orgy-like atmosphere', through Goethe and Balzac (who achieved enlightenment by drinking an estimated 50,000 cups of coffee), to Algernon Blackwood, an early TV celebrity who wrote the original Starlight Express, and Aleister Crowley - aka the Great Beast 666.
Lachman's highly enjoyable survey makes lots of good points and all the right connections.
From the Enlightenment to Modernism, ideas of the occult have shadowed literary culture, and Lachman's generous primer introduces the main exponents of diverse traditions alongside their more respectable contemporaries. The material on characters like Le Comte de St Germain and PD Ouspensky is much more interesting than the sketches of Goethe and Balzac: sometimes it feels as if the author is contorting the classics to fit his gothic paradigm. Nonetheless, there are sufficient curiosities to offset the occasional overstatement.
Lachman comes into his own in his description of Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud's flirtation with black magic.
It may seem odd to us now, but the occult was seen as the legitimate pursuit of seekers after truth.After all, it is the pursuit of the unknown, and man has always been a keen seeker there. Gary Lachman, in this collection, gives us potted biographies of the most influential thinkers in the field and examples of their writings. It makes for a fascinating read.
It's a sure thing that anyone with a taste for literary esoterica and magical history will learn something from A Dark Muse. It's a cavernous grotto full of dark glittering jewels, but one haunted by the shades of so many intriguing characters that keeping to the true path is difficult, and you lose your way forever.
Verdict - Fine encyclopaedia of occult lives and thought. 9/10
His essay on the Occult is continually lightened up with bizarre stories of Occult prentices.