Considering John Crowley: Ægypt – Love and Sleep

I’ve referred to the Ægypt Cycle as comparable to The Lord of the Rings and The Book of the New Sun, but there’s a significant difference to either of these works. Both LOTR and TBOTNS are composed of separate books, in which there is a sense of an ending, if only a temporary one, at the end of each volume. The more so with TBOTNS, where Gene Wolfe leaves gaps between the ending of each volume and where the next starts.
That isn’t so with Ægypt: More so than any other series I’ve read, despite the great difference in time and place between the concluding scenes of The Solitudes and where John Crowley picks up in Love and Sleep – published in 1994 – there is a sense of continuation, of complete continuity, as if the transition from one book to another is merely the turning of a single page, and not a wait of seven years to see the story continue.
This effect is partially created by the absence of any conventional ending to The Solitudes, any event or an anticipation of a coming event that represents a new phase, but in large part it is Crowley’s prose-style, serene, complex, abstract, but individual, involving, drawing you into a frame of mind in which the many pages are all of one, entire, composition.
Love and Sleep’s title echoes the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Poliphilo’s Strife of Love in a Dream). It is Summer, and it comprises the three Astrological Houses Genitor, Nati and Valetudo.
The book begins in the past, Pierce Moffatt’s past, living with his Uncle Sam and his cousins in rural Kansas in the early 1950s. The family is Catholic, devoutly so, at least among the children, who absorb the lessons of the nuns to such an effect that, when they discover and take in a half-wild girl, Bobby Shaftoe, as in the nursery rhyme, whose grandfather follows an obscure, obsessive Protestant sect, Pierce and his fellow members of a Hermetic gang do their desperate best to save Bobby from the eternal damnation that is sure to be coming her way, she not being Catholic.
This story, including the underlying element of a primitive werewolfism – of soul if not body – on the part of Bobby’s grandfather and guardian, Floyd, runs for the vast majority of Genitor, emerging, in somewhat surprising fashion, in Florida, where Pierce is visiting his mother Winnie, a visit that, chronologically, does not come until the end of this volume, when Pierce had undergone a racking experience.
Genitor = Parents. Nati = Children. Valetudo = Health.
Nati also bathes itself in the past, but this is the further doings of Doctor John Dee and Giordano Bruno – their paths crossing but once and then separating forever. Pierce continues to read Fellows Kraft’s unpublished novel, assessing its value for publication, searching on Boney Rasmussen’s behalf for a secret that may be only a joke, or may be, as Boney devoutly desires, the true secret of eternal life.
But Boney suffers a heart attack, from which he will soon die, trying to bind to his destiny both Pierce – a trip to Europe, to follow in Kraft’s footsteps and learn that secret hinted at in Prague – and Rosie Rasmussen, succeeding to him as Director of the Foundation. By the book’s end, one will accept and one will temporise, strongly minded to refuse an imposition.
There are other currents in the often unseen present. Rosie’s daughter, Sam, experiences brain seizures that might herald a diagnosis of epilepsy. Her still not yet ex-husband Mike Mucho, at the Clinic, The Woodlands, falls under the spell of the charismatic Christian preacher/healer, Ray Honeybeare, and begins urging Rosie towards the continued support of an institute which, in the half-hidden background, is eschewing treatment for faith-healing.
Mike’s no longer seeing Rose Ryder. Pierce steps in there, instituting a relationship, or perhaps only an affair that is based upon a manipulative dominance, displayed in a form of magic that Pierce attempts to conjure from and for his book, though in the end, in Valetudo, Rose’s interests begin to topple sharply towards the Honeybeare sect, and Pierce finds that in trying to impose a dominance on Rose, he has fallen into her spell, of a love that, when it is most needed by him, is no longer requited.
In the middle of Love and Sleep, in an obsession with dangerous undertones, Pierce conjured for himself a son, an imaginary twelve-year-old boy, Robbie, product of an old liaison, come to visit with Dad for the summer. Disturbingly, the relationship is overtly sexual on its first night, at a point where Crowley is still teasing his readership with the question of how unreal Robbie might be, but the magic invested in Robbie is undone and dispersed by the magic imposed on Rose.
Valetudo begins with Boney Rasmussen’s funeral, and the offers to assist/direct Pierce and Rosie’s futures. Slowly, their decisions, their conflicts, begin to define themselves. There is a tangent, a part of Kraft’s book, about the nightfolk, those called upon to do battles, Wolves against witches. A boy goes out on his first hunt, only to be trapped, smashed, in a wolf-trap. Floyd Shaftoe is turned onto his face by a young woman who does not need to be named for us, preventing his soul from returning.
Pierce, in Florida, distraught and devastated by love and incapability, decides to go to Europe. Summer ends, the Fall beckons. Years await us before the third book appears, but when it does, it will appear only as the turning of another page.


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