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From: "Alice Turner" <akt@attglobal.net>
Subject: (urth) Little, Big
Date: Wed, 26 Apr 2000 21:20:10 

Like Grandfather Trout, I must rise to the fly.

The Rat wrote (and I have snipped a good deal; I was going to snip all and start from scratch, but I can't):

> But if so, then the novel is nothing but a clever plot, working through a
> range of fantasy genres with a charming writing style, and winding up with
> a "explanation of what has been going on" that is kind of neat and
> interesting and all, but rather pointless. Not like real literature at all.
> And not like Crowley's other works.

None of JC's works is much like the others (except for the AEgypt series, which is, after all, a series). There is a certain thematic relationship between ENGINE SUMMER and LB, but it's not all that apparent.

> Yet, if I look at it again, it looks at another level like a horror tale.
> I was left horrified, anyway. Thinking back, we have a bunch of kooks who
> are enthralled by theosophical nonsense, who want to live in unreality.
> Then in a later generation we have a bunch of drug-abusers (Mouse, Daily
> Alice, Sophie), who seem to be led further into this labyrinth. The last
> generation seems to have lost all moorings. In the final act, the main
> characters are losing their memories, and it all becomes a kind of
> drug-dream. They become completely two-dimensional, cards in a special
> tarot deck. Read this way, it is very much a cautionary tale, and along the
> same lines as *Great Work of Time.* 

GWoT is mantis's subject, and I leave it to him. The "bunch of kooks" is that, of course, but they are also spell-bound and part fairy. (I hope you studied the geneological chart; it's of some importance.)  Smokey does not believe in fairies, but he lives amongst them and is even more spell-bound than they, for he cannot leave the pentacle to which he has been sentenced, though he does not know this, and neither (really) do we till the end, though the clues are at least as clear as those in most detective novels. He is Tam Lin, if you will.

Don't be so priggish about drugs. George smokes weed and hash, fairly harmless substances not unknown, I'll warrant, to many members of this list. LB is nothing if not a book of the Sixties, and a comment on that time (also ES is a MUCH druggier book). Sophie is not drugged but under a spell; her sleep has been stolen by the changeling child, Lilac, so that she is in a near-coma much of the time without being able to sleep soundly. And Alice is not a drug user at all (oh, she may have inhaled once or twice, but who hasn't?). They are not losing their memories through drugs, they are being gathered in by the fairies and half-fairies for a purpose that you may well disapprove of but is certainly clearly presented. How you can call it a cautionary tale, I don't understand. Caution against what? The end of the world? Some of the books it borrows from, and I think especially of Charles Kingsley's -Water Babies-, were indeed cautionary tales, but this one is not, IMO.

> It appears that the characters have progressively opened themselves up to
> manipulation by forces that have no real love for humanity at all, a point
> made here and there. The Christian-Humanist, or at least Christian-Gnostic
> elements found in Crowley's earlier works, are left behind as these
> generations move farther and farther into fantasy and futility, and lose
> their humanity.

JC did not invent the heartless fairy, he has just used the old idea in a provocative and original way. The fairies are manipulating the Drinkwater clan (including dozens and dozens of cousins) to keep themselves alive. The half-fairy sisters use Smokey to father their children. I think that Alice really does love him (so does Sophie in a distracted, off-hand, sisterly way), but the fairy side of her entraps and uses him. Your mistake, I think, is to think of JC as a Christian. A Gnostic he certainly is, no doubt about it (when you get to the AEgypt novels it is no longer subtext), but, though he was raised a Catholic, I doubt that he is a Christian now, at least as you interpret it. 

> Even this: They keep thinking that the "world within is larger than the
> world without." This is presented as something that might well be true. But
> in fact, the world within is NOT larger, but far smaller. These people's
> lives are shrinking down, and so is their world. It only appears large to
> them.

This is difficult to answer. In one sense, you are right. The world is winding to an end, and only the chosen will be saved (a very Gnostic notion). The fairies (Pharisees) have chosen. Smokey solves the great riddle of the orrery, which makes the universe tick, but he does it too late. I really dislike the Eigenblick subplot, just like Robert Ludlam. But look: Sylvie really is Titania. Fred really is a dryad. Smokey really is a saint, and he believes he has led a good and happy life. I believe it too. We may have made a mess of one world, but another will survive.These are joyous things as well as nostalgic and melancholic. I am suprised that you did not pick up Smokey's saint-like nature (this being your absolutely favorite approach). When Smokey accepts Alice's childhood in his Gladstone bag, he, in a sense, takes on the whole burden of humanity. He lays it down just before he dies--like Moses, he cannot reach the promised land. But, though this is sad, it is also quite won!
derful, as sacrifice is often seen to be wonderful.

> It all seemed quite horrible to me. I might think, "Well, you're just
> reading this as a Christian humanist," but in the light of Crowley's
> earlier works, it appears to me that such a reaction is what he designed.
> De-humanization seems to be a large theme with him, and no something he
> thinks is a good idea in anything else he has written. (Though I've not yet
> read any of the AEgypt quartet -- I'd rather wait until it's all done.)
> Thus, while this is not a Crowley discussion list, I thought it might be
> good to bring it up here, since Wolfe evidently thinks highly of Crowley's
> work and alludes to it. Anyone want to point me to a good analysis of this
> book? Anyone want to agree, disagree, or show me what I've missed? The
> novel seems extremely trivial to me, unless it is really a cleverly
> disguised horror tale.

I do not think it is a trivial book, and I believe the majority of critics agree with me. Although, I admit, I haven't read any of them! Still, I do know there was a *lot* written about this book, and it shouldn't be hard to find. You also, I think, quite miss the lattitude given by the American Gothic tradition, which very much includes Faulkner, and virtually always includes a sense of generational decrepitude. As in most big, baggy, original works (and I'm glad they're still being written), there are many gestures to the past. In this one, it is the Victorian fairy tradition (very much including the illustrations of Rackham and Dulac, as well as the many books alluded to), theosophy and "spiritism," as you say (and you are surely aware of the conections among these) as well as Hudson River Gothic.

Mantis and I have written (seperately) a series of articles, great and small, about JC. The only one on LB was by me, in the NYRSF, and it was a small one, even cutish, with a cute little sidebar. It was NOT a critical appraisal of the book (which we would like to have, actually, and a discussion here might lead up to). Anyone who wants it/them, however, please e-mail me, and I'll send it as an attachment pronto. (Let me know if you have a Mac or are still in Word 3, etc. etc.; I have a translation device).

If you want to take this further, we should probably take it to e-mail, unless the list votes to keep it here. I know that mantis would join an e-mail discussion, though, and maybe others would too.


*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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