This is a big paperback, 300+ pages in the slightly odd 6″x9″ form, with a riotously appropriate and funny cover picture by Toren Atkinson. The cover blurbs make it clear that The Necronomicon Files debunks the published Necronomicons. Spoiler alert, maybe?
The co-authors of this book are an interesting team. Daniel Harms is listed as an anthropologist who studies magic in modern society and maintains “the official Cthulhu Mythos website” (I think they mean this FAQ). John Wisdom Gonce III (I don’t often envy people their names, but that is a nice one) is listed as a Neopagan and practicing occultist, etc. The sections on Lovecraft criticism are from Harms, as is the conclusion; Gonce wrote the considerable chapters on the occult background and the “Necronomicon controversy.”
This book is for the true, diehard Lovecraft fan, or the occultist with an interest in Lovecraft, and anyone else to whom the Necronomicon controversy is even a little bit important. Even as a study in memetics, or a cautionary tale, the controversy is fascinating. The authors themselves note that the risk in this book is to have too much occult content for the literary reader and too much litcrit for the occultist.
The Necronomicon Files opens with an account of how the idea of the Necronomicon developed in Lovecraft’s stories and in other stories of the Cthulhu Mythos, then delves into the magical background, the history of the controversy, and the occult usefulness or lack of it of the various pretenders. There is a summary of the search for “Simon” (author of the most widely-used Necronomicon); he has not been definitely identified yet. Most sources point at Peter Levenda as the most likely primary author, but the group effort portrayed by Gonce in chapter 7, as told by Nestor, is highly plausible as well.
This book is stupendously complete and very well-documented. The only people likely to have major issues with it are those who are deeply invested in the “reality” of one of the purported Necronomicons. I found the occult content very entertaining; it got fairly speculative in places (at least, I am wanting the concept of an egregore that protects the Simonomicon from detractors to be speculative), but it is grounded in experience and frequently quite educational.
A large part of this book is effectively the record of a long and sometimes bitter controversy spanning years, and this occasionally spills over into the writing. Gonce, in particular, indulges in occasional bits of editorializing that were probably better left on the newsgroups. It is possible and advisable for the reader, who is most likely uninvolved in the controversy, to pass these by. They are not numerous or egregious enough to spoil one’s enjoyment of the book.
The Necronomicon Files is a book to which its authors committed deeply. It is well-written and thoroughly documented. Anyone with a serious interest in its subject matter will benefit from reading it; others are warned that it is on the dense side for the casual reader.
The Necronomicon Files
The Truth Behind the Legend
John Wisdom Gonce III, Daniel Harms
Revised and Expanded Edition
August 15, 2003
[Complimentary review copy from Red Wheel/Weiser gratefully acknowledged, opinions my own, your mileage may vary, usw.]