Review: The Black Pullet (Black Letter Press Edition)

During Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, a French soldier sent to survey the pyramids fell victim to an ambush. An old man emerged from a secret door to rescue him, bringing him inside and initiating him into the secrets of occult philosophy. By making colorful talismans and magical rings, all manner of powers could be obtained – and a black chicken could find one buried treasure galore. The old man died after admonishing the soldier that only the most virtuous might obtain this art. The soldier returned to France, and apparently decided to publish the exalted art in cheap chapbooks for a popular audience.

The Red Dragon and Black Pullet from Black Letter PressSo goes La Poule Noir, or The Black Pullet, an early nineteenth-century book capitalizing on the European craze with Egyptian culture to legitimize its magic. We’ve seen various English translations of the book, with this one from Italy’s Black Letter Press being one of the most handsome.

I should state that this press also produced an edition of The Red Dragon, and I’d send you to that review for some important caveats regarding this work and its editor.

The book is a pleasant small work with cloth binding and bookmark. I usually don’t discuss the binding, as I feel that often distracts from the content. In this particular case, though, the design of black text on a dark purple background leads to a book that is more dull in appearance and, along with its size, could easy get lost on a bookshelf. Given the expertise displayed here, I think Black Letter won’t make this mistake again, though.

As for the text itself, it begins with an introduction by the editor Paul Summers Young, which is a nice mix of the scholarly and the entertaining – but I’ll get back to this in a moment.  The translation of the book follows, generally with each talisman and ring pair receiving its own illustration. Young also supplements this with additional material taken from the Black Pullet‘s sister text, Le Trésor du Vieillard des Pyramides, or The Treasure of the Old Man of the Pyramids, that expands and provides helpful instructions for using the talismans within, along with a reading/advertising list at the end of that text, followed by an extract from Le Comte de Gabalis. (Although advertised as such on the website, it does not include Le Chouette Noir, or The Black Screech-Owl.)

Overall, this edition is very much geared toward collectors who want a nicely-bound edition of the classic grimoire in an English translation (which I should add I do not feel qualified to judge). You won’t find any notes, or the French text, or a bibliography.  Young states that he assembled the book out of three different texts and gives general indications of what sort of work he’s done in the introduction, including that some sections have been truncated. On the other hand, he gives no indication of what editions were used to assemble it, which I think should be an expectation for any published grimoire going forward.

Don’t get me wrong on this last point – there is certainly a market for editions of books that are good quality reprints of classic books that are available in many cheaper editions. Yet I think that this book could reach beyond that to appeal to those who want better-quality content, and doing so would take little effort beyond what has already been expended here.


Published in: on January 28, 2020 at 12:30 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] with the Poule Noire, or the Black Pullet in previous posts, including recently posting a review of the Black Letter Press edition. (If you aren’t familiar with the original, I’d suggest reading the background there […]

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