THE ISLAND OF SOULS: BEING A SENSATIONAL FAIRY-TALE ...

THE ISLAND OF SOULS: BEING A SENSATIONAL FAIRY-TALE. London: Mills & Boon, Limited, [1910]. Octavo, pp. [1-6] [1] 2-433 [434: printer's imprint [435-440: ads] + 32-page publisher's catalogue "for Spring, 1910" inserted at rear, original olive-green cloth, front panel stamped in black and blind, spine panel stamped in gold, bottom edge untrimmed. First edition. "A fully developed Edwardian novel about high magic in contemporary England, and the struggle between forces of good and evil for the soul of a young girl. The motif of psychic vampirism is introduced most emphatically in the last third of the story but is present implicitly from the beginning. It’s made clear that the magician preys on others, extracting potency from the elements, from herbs, minerals, animals (via blood sacrifice), moonlight, ritual, discipline, from people both deliberately and habitually. Later on, he will extract vitality from certain individuals in a more focused and urgent manner -- ritualistically in some cases, surreptitiously in others. The grand irony is that the mage, in preparing himself to be a Vessel for 'the Force we serve,' doesn't see that it's a vessel whose ultimate purpose is to be drained, in turn, by that Force. Carol Chieveley is the teenage daughter of a rector who takes in male pupils, two of whom provide the poles of attraction for her, not only for themselves but for what they represent. Tam Charteris is a type of the fair-haired, athletic, red-blooded English boy, open, brave and proud of his lack of anything smacking of imagination or introspection. Aubrey Rymer is dark, sinuous, secretive, wealthy, his background faintly aristocratic in a foreign, Jewish vein. His manners are a bit too perfect, his self-discipline uncanny, his personality both cold and intense. He sets his sights on Carol not from love but from an appreciation of her beauty and vitality, like a trader appraising a rare antique, in the hope that she might join him one day as an equal in his dark quest. This is what he has been trained for all his life by his wealthy and austere father, whose exotic household, in an old castle, is skilled in occult arts and sworn to chastity and obedience -- enforced by the threat of imprisonment in a lonely tower room which possesses some invisible psychic terror that makes a stay there of even a few hours a soul-crushing agony. The life of the castle is as constrained by rule and ritual as any monastery. On the castle's grounds is a stagnant pond, in the middle of which lies the Island of Souls, a forbidding marshy wasteland that will be the setting later for several crucial scenes of horrid satanic rituals. ('... the flowers were made of carrion-flesh with writhing tentacles that sucked at flies. And as they sucked their colour darkened, and they grew more strong and terrible, sucking now at human shadows which drifted vaguely down the sodden paths. There were grey and fleshy leaves, covered with uncleanly blight, and on their undersides were white worms sucking strength from their corruption. There were trees whose roots were soaked in blood, whose doors opened and showed the forms of Larvae hiding in the heart of the tree...') The third influence in Carol's life (beyond her well-meaning but ineffectual father and aunt -- her mother, like Aubrey's, died in childbirth) is Mother Julian, an anchorite who lives in a cottage near the Rymer's castle, tending the holy healing waters of the Well of St. Tibbald. Her armor against black magic is her perfect charity, which, like a shiny mirror, turns the ill wishes of the Rymers back on themselves. The esoteric lore and imagery in the story have a depth that makes the average occult thriller feel like a municipal summer wading pool for kiddies. On this count, at least, she belongs in the same league as such experts on the subject as Bulwer-Lytton, Machen, Blackwood, Fortune and Brodie-Innes. The fantastic motifs she weaves into her story include scrying, hypnotism, telepathy, astral travel, magical objects and mind-altering drugs. The Rymers, father and son, utilize the whole range of ceremonial magic techniques: mineral, herbal, animalistic, astrological, verbal, physiological. These are no two-dimensional, mustache-twirling villains. They are scholarly, ascetic and dedicated. They compare themselves and their colleagues, in all sincerity, to those martyrs of the church who had suffered for their convictions. The literary force of their evil comes from a characterization that is more than three-dimensional rather than less. Urquhart builds them up for us like an old Renaissance master, with fine brush strokes and multiple layers of translucent color. The book's subtitle ('A Sensational Fairy-Tale') notwithstanding, this is definitely a novel rather than a romance. It is neither sensational nor sentimental. It neither shoves nor tugs at the reader’s feelings. It manipulates them much more subtly and intricately. Urquhart brings the techniques of psychological realism, stylistic precision, and elaboration of background detail (especially in landscape, architecture and manners) to the subject of magic, which is at the thematic front and center of this story. Structurally, the story can be read as a bildungsroman of its young heroine, tracing her painful maturation over the course of a decade from a callow, naive girl of fifteen into a real woman. The national crucible of war (in South Africa) does its part in the formation of her soul. But her own personal crucible has been shaped by the forces of magic (and evil) embodied in Aubrey Rymer, and the forces of religion (and good) embodied in Mother Julian. It's true that the last third of the story drags a little, that Mother Julian is not fully integrated into the action of the story, that the climax is not as explosive as one might have wished (as if the author were emulating the charity of the anchorite, not wishing to gloat over the downfall or chastisement of any of her characters). THE ISLAND OF SOULS is flawed; nevertheless it should be recognized as a substantial contribution to the genre. It is more interesting, by an order of magnitude, than other legendary rarities of this period such as Arthur Ransome's THE ELIXIR OF LIFE (1915) or L. T. Meade's THE DESIRE OF MEN (1899). It deserves to be better known." - Robert Eldridge. Bleiler (1978). p. 197. Not in Reginald (1979; 1992). Cloth rubbed at spine ends, corner tips, and along outer joints, cloth a bit soiled and scuffed, inner hinges mended, a good reading copy of a scarce book. (#153257).

Price: $1,500.00

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Printing identification statement for this book:
"Published 1910" on copyright page.