The Portrait of Mr. A. C.
THERE’S no denying that Aleister Crowley has rather a poor reputation, which means that, if he turns up in a piece of Holmesian fiction, he’s far more likely to be cast as the villain than as one of the good guys. The dastardly Lord Blackwood, for example, in the first of the R. D. J. movies, was acknowledged to be based on Crowley. In modern books, too, he’s often the villain: one thinks of The Case of the Philosopher’s Ring, by Randall Collins, or The Breath of God, by Guy Adams, which came out simultaneously with my own book. So it might seem strange to cast Crowley as a heroic comrade-in-arms of Sherlock Holmes.
Nevertheless, that’s what I did in A Case of Witchcraft; and most reviewers seem to have enjoyed it. The new Amazon review from Chip Auman, for example, which is headed “Excellent Read—New Partner for Holmes,” reads in full: “Two things stand out in this novel: (1) an interesting new sidekick for Holmes and (2) an excellent lesson in the historical roots of the pagan ‘religion’ now known as ‘Witchcraft.’
The author Portia Costa agrees that “the young Aleister Crowley makes a frisky alternative sidekick”; while for Fiona Wright “it is the relationship between the two men [Holmes and Crowley] that forms the heart of” the book. On the whole, people have been saying that they like the Crowley character and find him believable.
However, some have taken a different view. No one, thankfully, has matched the hostility of “Sebastian Moran,” who speaks of “a cardboard cut-out named Crowley who never developed any real personality”; yet even a few more sympathetic reviewers have had reservations about the character. Mike Rush, on Amazon U.K., for example, says: “somehow I doubt that the real Crowley would have been such a willing follower of Holmes’s lead,” while Jennifer Uzzell’s review states as a “fact” that “Crowley is not always entirely believable”; and, in a private communication, Ms. Uzzell has explained that she would have expected him to be more arrogant, cynical, and self-centred.
Well, the thing is, this story is set in 1899, when Crowley was still a young man. When one reads his autobiographical “Confessions”, one discovers that he had as a boy a great devotion to his father; and that, as a young man, he was capable of transferring that devotion to other older men whom he respected as experts in their field—I’m thinking particularly of the mountaineer Oscar Eckenstein and the wizard MacGregor Mathers, who were both men of Holmes’s generation, born in the 1850’s, and thus old enough to be Crowley’s father.
Therefore it strikes me as entirely in keeping with Crowley’s known character that he would be a faithful and obedient assistant to Holmes in the circumstances of this story. The action lasts less than a week from start to finish; I’m sure that Crowley could have managed to be good for that length of time. Whatever his peculiarities, he was an English gentleman, after all; and, for the biggest part of the story, being good mainly involved spooning with Lizzie and smoking loads of dope. He didn’t have a hard job to do, except at the very end: and then he was able to rise to the occasion magnificently.
Is that realistic? There’s no doubt that the historical Crowley was brave and impulsive at this age, as his daring climbing exploits show, so I find it easy to imagine him doing the kind of thing that he does in my final chapter. Remember, he knew that it would cause many desirable young women to think fondly of him, which is a powerful motivating factor for a young man.
The older Crowley—i.e. the Crowley that most of us know about—is another matter. After he became the Prophet of Thelema one never hears of him being devoted and obedient to an older man again; after that Crowley was the father-figure, who expected people to be devoted to him, as tends to be the case with gurus. I can imagine that more ponderous fellow reckoning his holy Prophet’s life as of more value than that of the threatened woman. In any case, he’d have been so out of shape as to have had no chance of saving her even if he’d tried! So the Prophet of Thelema would not have done it, I agree; but I feel sure that the young Crowley of my novel’s date would have. He had the physique, he had the foolhardiness, and he was full of testosterone.
I based the character chiefly on what Crowley says about his younger self in the “Confessions.” Naturally, this is Crowley seen through a sympathetic eye; but a sympathetic eye is not necessarily wrong. Indeed, in Crowley’s case, one feels that he is on the whole very truthful in his account of himself. The only things in that book that I don’t believe are most of the supernatural phenomena, which I think that he has written up imaginatively and sometimes invented altogether. The demons that he saw in his flat strike me as a drug-induced hallucination, for example, while that strange light which he and Rose observed in the Great Pyramid seems like a complete fabrication. But I do believe what he says about himself as a young man in the 80’s and the 90’s: and that’s what the character in my book was made to be like. So to me it’s as true as it could be.
What do my readers think? Is my portrait of Mr. A. C. an accurate one?