The Last Resort of Aleister Crowley
by A Gentleman of Hastings with Frater Amor Fati and the English Heretic
|Publisher:||Accumulator Press (May 1, 2012)|
Reviewed by Maria V. Montgomery
The bulk of this book, that written by 'A Gentleman of Hastings,' is a wonderfully rich account of the last years of Aleister Crowley when he resided at Netherwood. All is well documented, the comings and goings of his closest friends and associates such as Louis Wilkinson and Frieda Harris, as well as new acquaintances who were often surprised at the degree to which their experience of Crowley belied his sinister renown. And like that revelation, this book does much to clarify the last years of the Beast as well as to debunk the various myths surrounding his death.
The portrait drawn of Crowley in his last years is one of a man, physically fragile yet mentally sharp, well aware of his approaching death, and spending every effort to continue his work. By any standard, let alone that of someone with chronic bronchitis and heroin addiction, he was industriously engaged with his work, such as his correspondence with Germer and Curwin, and his continued work on the publication of Olla and The Book of Thoth, as well as playing chess daily and keeping up with a steady stream of visitors. The author also discusses at length his relationship with his biographer with John Symonds, probable visits by Dion Fortune, Kenneth Grant working as his secretary and Gerald Gardner getting his charter from the OTO.
The idea that Crowley somehow died alone and penniless in some boarding house is completely specious when reading this book. Netherwood was a comfortable house by all accounts. The only thing dingy about it might have been Crowley's own room which was described as quite cluttered, in disarray and so perfumed by Abramelin oil and his various tobaccos that it occasionally put some people off. Nor was he penniless when he died as he had £500 set aside for the publication of The Book of Thoth. In the postwar period of rationing in the UK, he had more than his share of sugar (he had quite the sweet tooth, we are told), brandy and tobacco, all furnished by his followers. So rather than being in the abject poverty that he is sometimes described as having been in, his situation was one of above average comfort.
The reports of him being either perplexed or hating himself at the moment of his death are also roundly discounted. The day he died was a happy one, spent with Deirdre MacAlpine and his son Ataturk. His death was peaceful and solitary, punctuated not by any misgivings on his part but a gust a wind through his curtains and the sound of a thunderclap.
If the book were just these three chapters on the end of his life it would have been a slender yet still satisfying volume. But the book is overly embellished by the ancillary essays that do little to improve or shed light on the text. Of these, the foreword by David Tibet is the best, as it is a brief and personal account how he became acquainted with the Prophet and Thelema.
Besides the foreword, we have the three main authors, whose names are revealed by Amazon to be Antony Clayton, Gary Lachman and Andy Sharp. It does not take much to guess who wrote which section. Andy Sharp, as The English Heretic, writes an afterword focused on Kenneth Grant and how Crowley's stay at Netherwood fits into the Typhonian schemata. His essay seems largely tacked on, and possibly superfluous to those not involved in Grant's works.
Inserted somewhere towards the beginning is an essay, "The Mark of The Beast" by Frater Amor Fati, who is at once recognizable as Gary Lachman, if only by his sheer antipathy to Aleister Crowley, and as such, his essay sticks out like a sore thumb. It breaks the whole tone of the book to have him step in and sermonize on how thoroughly unpleasant he finds Crowley and was really, for me, an unnecessary distraction.
We can all read of his distaste in his book Turn Off Your Mind, and its presence here is redundant. It is certain that few people approaching this book will be unacquainted with Crowley's life so to be schooled on his obsessions, his need to shock or his profligate spending is a big yawn. Perhaps his is just ironically playing at being the Devil's Advocate. We can be thankful that the bulk of the book, by Antony Clayton, is a delight; well-written and filled with hitherto unknown details and tidbits about the last years of Crowley's life and presented in a way that neither sensationalizes nor excuses the excesses and idiosyncrasies of the Prophet of the new aeon. It is a must read for anyone interested in this period of Crowley's life.