The Idolatry of King Solomon, Salomon Koninck, 1644.
"Then with that faint light in its eyes
A while I bid it linger near
And nurse in wavering memories
The bitter-sweet of days that were."
(The House of Wolflings, William Morris)
Perhaps one of the most recurrent figures in the narratives produced by the mankind is the king, the crowned figure; it appears frequently in legends, fairy tales, myths, sagas, chronicles, novels and poems of the most varied types, even in the most popular representations of contemporary literature and cinema. Sometimes, this regal figure manifests itself as a powerful overlord; in others, as a warrior; it can also be represented as a God or as a dim little figure in the background. There is dignity in its presence, sometimes hope (as in the notions of the order return, cherished in Arthurian myths and Portuguese Sebastianism utopias), but also melancholy, a vague resonance of the power and wealth that these beings have in the realms of reality. But sometimes there is madness, and horror, and tyranny, and death, as in Shakespearean tragedies, or in films about the loneliness of power – after all, the political leaders of totalitarian regimes mimic something of the cursed flame of crowned heads – by Alexander Sokurov, as Moloch (1999), Taurus (2001) and The Sun (2005). But, despite all this variety, the way this idea of king resurfaces in Ben Tweddell's vigorous and dynamic novelette, A Crown of Dusk And Sorrow sounds incredibly fresh, an extraordinarily beautiful book (more on that later) by Mount Abraxas from Bucharest.
Tweddell's novelette, animated by the royal ferocity that is in its essence, seems to encompass a range of potential notions and concepts with a depth that is at the same time minimalist and complex, demonstrating an extreme mastery in the art of the novelette, which is the art of synthesis. Set in a terrible time of promises and disgrace – the 1930s –, in this strange English countryside that was the delight of Arthur Machen, we follow Daniel Turner's discoveries around a book in his library, a gem studied with a "friend" who suddenly appears in his life, Jacob Bartholomew. They search for revealing passages about a strange and mystical figure from the 18th century. But that search soon jumps from books to trails in the darkest forests imaginable. At this point, the plot, which provides this visionary and poetic contemplation of the nature's empire – following somehow Machen and Blackwood – got several twists and turns, in addition to sinuous transformations. There are bibliographical investigations and premonitory dreams, social celebrations shaken by dark presences and the glimpse of amazing, venerable shadows. The crown of the title appears in these glimpses, but the plot never loses its intensity, the strength of its grip.
Ben Tweddell is an author who, since his first novel released by Mount Abraxas, The Dance of Abraxas, demonstrates an obsession with leitmotifs related to persecution/flight (which eventually become interchangeable roles) and accommodation/transformation (processes that occur through visionary interactions and breathtaking transfigurations). Thus, his personal approach to the royal theme is traversed by a phantasmagoria of persecution, almost a revision of the myth of "wild hunt" in new transcendent terms – the solitude of power becomes palpable, and the ruin is much more effective than any metaphor. For he is an author who cultivates a literature as dark as it is ecstatic, as brutal as it is entrancing.
The Mount Abraxas edition, by the "Isolationnist Publisher" from Bucharest, is a masterpiece in more ways than one. The flow of text on the page, following the old maxim of William Morris (for a book with a truly good reading, the margin space and the text area should be in a balance as perfect as possible) creates an effect that we can only call cinematographic, and that we have already detected and highlighted in other books by the same publisher. It is the most perfect demonstration of the differences between digital and printed books, and the superiority of the latter. On the other hand, John Caple's paintings, on the cover and inside of the book, are superb, translating with particular intensity the understanding that lighting, of any kind, results not only in an essential discovery, but in the death of a human part in any person as a force generating a gradual departure from the society of the living, in search of the endless domains of Nature. His images are charged with an esoteric symbolism not distant from that of De Chirico’s one: isolated hieratic figures, contemplating the dark desolation of nature around that expands through tentative structures vaguely similar to branches and boughs.
Mount Abraxas is a publisher known for the short run of its incredible books. This will have the same fate and could turn into something like the fragment of a nightmare, or an amazing but vague vision in the breadth of the human mind. Do not miss the opportunity if, in the decades to come, you find a copy of this gem in a small book dealer, lost inside some unknown city...
More information on the book: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Dan Ghetu.