Tonight I finished reading Lev Grossman’s latest novel The Magician King. Oddly I liked it better than the first novel of the set The Magicians, which just felt like nihilistic jaded assholes in Narnia. In this latest installment I felt that there was actually character growth, and it left me with a perverse hope for more. I had hoped for a devastating ending, and while the ending did sting, I wouldn’t call it devastating.
Anyhow, being of a magic mindset I figured I would poke around Kindle and see what I could find. I went wandering down the usual roads of Thelema and ceremonial magic from the Golden Dawn. But then it occurred to me that many of these titles are probably in the public domain and I could possibly find them in Google Books. So I started poking around there as well.
It’s clear that there is no catalog going on with Google Books. Much like the archives in Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind it’s a rather chaotic mess. Sure you can attempt an author search using “inauthor:” as a prefix, but that doesn’t take into consideration variants in names etc. Just searching for a name without the “inauthor:” limiter will turn up hundreds of hits across a multitude of things, many of which are simply references.
I started poking through the Crowley books. It was kind of a bust. Then I figured Eliphas Levi would be something worth giving a go. I found a lot of his stuff in the original French, which was kind of cool. But again, version control revealed that much of what it was were titles that I already had in translation on my bookshelf. So I poked around A.E. Waite. Again, a total hodge podge. So I tried Arthur Edward Waite to see what that brought up. Interestingly, it brought up volume 47 of Library Journal from January 1922.
Isadore Gilbert Mudge (what a name right there!), Reference Librarian of Columbia University, compiled a bibliography of Some Reference Books of 1921. It’s pretty scattershot, but covers the bases of different subject areas. On page 9 in the Sociology reference books she says in a hilariously offhanded manner:
“A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry” by Arthur Edward Waite, should perhaps be mentioned as a recent publication in its field.
I love the “perhaps.” Lovely dig there Isadore!
Sadly, even though the 1921 New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry may in fact be in the public domain it is not exactly in the free section of Google Books. There are more recent editions available, but given that freemasonry is only tangential to the kinds of stuff I actually like to read about, I’m not going to buy it. Even as an eBook. If it were available for free I might poke around through it, but just to see what was in there.
The thing that killed me about this moment was the accidental convergence between my personal reading and my professional literature. It didn’t occur to me that someone reviewing reference books in 1921 would be citing authors from the Golden Dawn, but maybe it should have. I have never just, of an evening, decided to go browsing through historical archives of Library Journal to get caught up on occult lore. Google Books just kind of threw it up in my lap. I guess that’s the bonus of fuzzier retrieval systems. Sometimes you find something worthwhile in your piles of crap.