It was upon the arrival of Jake Stratton-Kent’s Geosophia that I looked upon my piles of books and said, “Yea, I have too many books to read. It is time to put aside silly computer games and dive in to serious reading for a while.”
And that reading is quite immense. I’ve got a pile of books from Christmas and recent purchases piling up here, and that’s not counting books for print review or quick readings for the Secret Call of Cthulhu Project. That means some serious reading needs to get done.
Instead of adopting my usual tactic of trying to cycle through a stack of books, reading a chapter in each, I will be dipping into only two at a time. For now, the works in question are Gideon Bohak’s Ancient Jewish Magic and Huon of Bordeaux.
Bohak’s work will disappoint those who expect a compilation of primary source texts (as I know some will expect), but it does a superb job of what it sets out to do: to provide a jumping-off point for future scholarship on the beginnings of Jewish magic. It approaches key questions: What is Jewish magic? At what time did it begin? How do we differentiate magic practiced or utilized by Jewish populations from those of their neighbors? In doing so, Bohak provides an excellent summary of both the material and the issues surrounding it, describing a field in which only the merest hints of the possible material have yet to be covered and much work awaits being done. If you’re interested in Jewish magic and up for a modern scholarly work on the topic, Bohak’s work, so far, has been top-notch.
Huon of Bordeaux is a French chanson de geste from the thirteen century that describes the adventures of the knight Huon, who accidentally slays a son of Charlemagne and is banished to perform a quest in Babylon. On the way, he is warned not to take a short cut through a wood, where the fairy king Oberon waits. Oberon, despite a few references to the dangers of fairies, turns out to be a nice guy who wants to help Huon with his quest. This is the first appearance of Oberon in print, and I’ve been taking notes to inform our work with the Folger manuscript. I cannot recommend it to casual readers, as it relies on the common medieval Christian literature trope in which the plot is driven by one of the most virtuous individuals in the world deciding to spontaneously do something dumb for no clear reason. After he’s been told not to. After other characters have pointed out that he was told not to, and all the bad things that happened the last time he did it.
Anyway, my next two volumes after finishing these will be Geosophia and Tierney’s The Drums of Chaos. I’ll let you know how all of it goes.