The Diary of a Drug Fiend
5 1/2 x 8 1/2
September 1, 2010
Review by Freeman Presson, 24 August 2010.
This new imprint of Aleister Crowley’s 1922 novel is a well-bound paperback with a new “period” cover a little reminiscent of “Reefer Madness.” The new art is not as over the top as one of the original covers.
One could consider this book almost an appendix to Crowley’s “autohagiography” Confessions. In telling the story of the fall and redemption of Sir Peter Pendragon and his wife Lou, Crowley creates an extended “tract” for Thelema and his vision for the Abbey. The entire Diary is divided into three parts: Paradiso, Inferno, and Purgatorio. The reference to the Divine Comedy is obviously intentional, as is his revision of the order of the books. Whereas Dante modelled the ascent from original sin to redemption, Crowley takes his characters from the joy of new thrills and new vistas, into the Hell of addiction, and out via the discovery of the true Will.
The description of both the heights of intoxication and the abyss of addiction and withdrawal is keen and absorbing. Crowley has taken his distance from what has to be mostly firsthand experience by (mostly) separating his character from Pendragon: he appears as “Basil King Lamus,” and Cefalu, the site of the Abbey of Thelema, thus has to appear as Telepylos (distant harbor). King Lamos of the Lystragonians appears in the Odyssey as a giant cannibal who attacks Odysseus’s fleet and kills most of his men. I get that one of “K.L.”‘s roles is to devour the false ego to assist in the birth of the True Man, but it feels very much as if this is a multi-layered reference, and that I have only dragged my ass across the first bridge in the process of understanding it.
There are other little puzzle pieces, such as the acerbic descriptions of the crowd around Lou when Sir Peter first meets her (page 13). A reader familiar with the occult milieu of the time could sort out which one is Florence Farr, G. B. Shaw, and so on.
It is very telling to compare the precise, orderly, and successful Abbey of the book to the reality, and sobering to realize that it was only a matter of about a year between publication of the book and the expulsion of Crowley and the Thelemites from Sicily by the competing “precise order” of Fascism.
On the whole, this is a more important book than I had been given to believe; those interested in either the history of Western occultism or the direction of Crowley’s thought would do well to obtain this edition.
(Thanks to Red Wheel Weiser for the complimentary pre-publication copy).