Considering John Crowley: Endless Things

Endless Things was published in 2007, and is officially the final part of Ægypt. It appeared twenty years after the story first began to see print, and thirty years after the themes and concepts came to John Crowley, in and around the year during which most of the work takes place. Crowley acknowledges in its pages that with this publishing, Ægypt is as close to complete as he can make it.
I have never known quite what to make of this book, and still don’t. From first seeing it, from the cover which, unlike the ornate art of its predecessors, consisted of a photograph of ancient books on groaning shelves, and the words beneath the title ‘A Part of Ægypt‘ – a part, not the final part – this book has never seemed to fit, never seemed to be truly part of the series I had then been reading for twenty years.
Nor does it provide an ending. The Solitudes, Love and Sleep and Dæmonomania progressed in multiform fashion, interweaving a number of stories, divided between, but not exclusively linked to a quartet of characters: Pierce Moffatt, Rosie Rasmussen, Dr John Dee, Giordano Bruno. It is as if all those stories stop, completed insofar as they have any resolution, at the end of the third book. What goes on does not feel part of the same story, its links principally being Pierce alone. But Endless Things – whose title echoes no prior work – is the final book to a different tetraology, the first three books of which I have not read.
Even the very mood of the book feels different, the tones, tempos and atmospheres of the first three dissipated, and the prose here is simpler, plainer, shorter. The best way I can think to describe the effect is to compare it to the James Bond series, continued by multiple authors after Ian Fleming. No matter how skilled they are, how authoritatively they ape Fleming’s mannerisms and modes, you can tell, on a single page’s reading, that they are not Fleming, and this is not true.
As I’ve said, the book is now almost exclusively about Pierce. Dr Dee is dead. So too is Bruno, burned at the stake but herein resurrected temporarily in an absurd and disbelief-shattering fashion by Pierce in an attempt to extend Fellowes Kraft’s unfinished book. Rosie Rasmussen flits in and out but, other than her marriage to Spofford, is now no more than the Director of the high-functioning, indeed flourishing Rasmussen Foundation. Rose has disappeared, and so has Mike Mucho, dismissed without trace, leaving no real legacy for their periods in the story.
The first book covers Pierce’s trip to Europe on the Rasmussen Foundation grant. He tries to follow Kraft’s long ago footsteps, but the journey is hopeless and helpless. Pierce is falling in upon himself, his book abandoned, but in execution and concept, his ‘quest’ for the Foundation unpursuable, Pierce himself rapidly developing into the most hapless, inutile human being imaginable, a state in which he remains until the end.
This section is interrupted with faint indications of a future, Pierce in a monastery, the reader meant to anticipate his future in a return to the Church and a complete withdrawal from the world, although the withdrawal is only temporary, a paid-for retreat to try to make Kraft’s book publishable, for Pierce’s destiny is to marry and adopt and adapt.
There’s an account of Kraft’s own journeys, and then that extension of Bruno’s career: foreshadowed elsewhere in references to donkeys, he escapes his execution by projecting himself into a donkey, a talking donkey at that, a move so horrendously stupid that on first reading I nearly threw the book across the room in disgust. But, as with so many little moves in the final stages on Dæmonomania, this is officially rejected, never happened (leaving me wondering why bother including this whole interlude at all).
Pierce returns to Blackbury Jambs and the Faraway Hills for the last time, not to stay but to merely give a broken account of his complete failure to do anything, before he vanishes, seemingly doomed by his own inadequacies. But, in need of a car, he ends up bumping into Roo, properly Kelly Corvino (even more properly Roseann Kelly Corvino, another example of the influence of the Rose, though this revelation is not made until the final few pages of the book).
Roo, whose nickname is a homonym link to the Crow family perpetuated in her surname, comes out of left field, in every way. She has no connection to the community of people with whom Pierce has been involved in Blackbury Jambs (save only for having slept with Spofford once, another piece of information not disclosed until very nearly the end). She’s loud and abrasive, she and Pierce argue frequently, she has no artistic, esoteric or hermetic interests, and she takes Pierce out, away and forward from everything that has gone before, removing him from all semblance of what we have been following as ‘the story’ since the opening pages of The Solitudes.
It is as if Aragorn, after the Battle of Helm’s Deep, walks away from it all, marries, settles down and becomes an accountant, and Tolkien chooses to follow him rather than go on with the rest of The Lord of The Rings, which peters out except for a couple of letters from Frodo, many years later.
Because, once Roo comes into the story, not only is Blackbury Jambs left behind but so too is the year (1977) in which this story is happening get left behind. The book extends through Pierce’s future over the next decade: marriage, Pierce’s return to teaching, Roo’s training as a nurse, their adoption of two girls from another country.
Behind the scenes, the Foundation flourishes, grows ever more corporate. Rosie hires Pierce to re-read Kraft’s last, unfinished book, which is what sends him into that misleading retreat in the Monastery: eventually, Pierce concludes that the book is finished, he just hadn’t read it properly all the previous times.
We move ever onward. Still a child, Sam sings a wordless song at her mother’s wedding, that we are told is the final end to the changing age that has been taking place throughout this story. The 1989 revolutions, the collapse of the Berlin Wall are fortuitous evidence, unhappened when The Solitudes was written/published, of the new age arrived, when there is no longer more than one history of the world. Ægypt stands revealed as Egypt.
To be honest, I find much of the final third of the book dull to read. It has disconnected itself so thoroughly from the other elements of this story that my interest attenuates and dwindles, waiting only for the pages that constitute Crowley’s ending, leaving an ending that I will not get to read, an ending to everything in The Solitudes, Love and Sleep and Dæmonomania, because that ending will not be written.
Mine is, I am aware, a minority opinion. I have never read anyone else who has criticised Endless Things in this way. Indeed, I have never read critical reaction to it in itself, other than as a part of the whole, seen entire and praised as such. But it’s a tremendous disappointment, a terrible flatness, knowing as I re-read the other three that there is nothing but suspension to come for me. Ægypt is essentially endless.


2 thoughts on “Considering John Crowley: Endless Things

  1. Martin — I have just come across this, having read your other posts about the series long ago. I am sorry to have left you so disappointed in the outcomes of the series deployed in the course of this book (which really IS the ending you are looking for, and very consciously constructed to be so.) I have to say that you are not alone in your assessment of its iirelevance, inconclusiveness and depressing affect, so in that sense and for those readers I failed. (I should say that none of the few reviews the book got or responses I’ve heard were as angry about Bruno’s meatamorphises as you were.) I hesitate to explicate in this public space, but if you’d care to hear explcatiuon (you might not) you might email me at the attached address.

    1. John, thank you for stopping by to comment, and given how critical I was above, in so gracious a manner. I will certainly take you up on your very kind offer.

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