Two reviews: Eliade and Beagle

First up, Mircea Eliade’s Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions: Essays in Comparative Religions. I’ll be honest, I was a bit disappointed in this book. I shouldn’t have been, because he himself pointed out in the introduction that the book was a collection of unfinished essays and a conference paper or two. Consequently, the lack of detail and real working with the ideas or concepts wasn’t there that I was hoping for. Basically it just touched on some ideas and then moved on really quickly. The level of connections just weren’t there.

I’ll be honest, I’m starting to see that specific lack in A LOT of academic myth writing lately. There’s a very heavy dependence on repeating things ad nauseum to make a point rather than actually leading the reader through the logic. Can’t say I’m a fan, and it seems that the 50s/60s are the worst of it, though there are A LOT of problem sin the late 80s and 90s too.

Anyway, moving on to Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. This book deserves to be a classic. I liked the style shifts on occasion throughout and there wasn’t too much time wasted jabbering about internal thoughts/feelings/etc. The plot moved at a good clip, and I really liked the ending. It wasn’t a traditional “happy ending” but it worked very well for the rest of the story. The Additional “Coda” was really great and helped wrap up the story even better. I’d suggest picking up the eBook version.

Two books to review

First, the The Abacus and the Cross. My one criticism of this book was that it was written at such a low level. It read very much like a newspaper story. The style was straightforward and simplistic. I realize the rhetorical choice made there, especially since it was a book for a wide audience, but the lack of any deeper inquiry to what this pope represented and the politics at the time hampered my enjoyment. It was very very surface level stuff. It was a good intro book, perhaps, but did little to give any in-depth knowledge.

Probably a difficulty of the subject matter, having only letters that were saved as well as legends from a couple centuries later. Very little of the book properly focused on his time as pope, and I think an additional focus on that time period (as much as his earlier life) would have been apropos.

Moving on to the opposite o’ pope-i-ness:

Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages was exactly the type of book I like to sink my teeth into. I was very concerned it was going to be like the Women in Old Norse Society (a recitation of instances, inferences, and connections that were a bit too loose) but it was a very engaging read for me.

I learned more about the construction and theology of the church from about 800-1400 than I have in any of my other reading, which was very odd since the focus was on the historical concept of the devil. It was full of information, philosophical discussion, and interesting tidbits and vignettes about the major players in the development of the theology and refutation of the case of evil in the Christian worldview.

I don’t recommend it if you aren’t interested in theological debate, as this book is pretty full of it. It isn’t just a story telling book like the The Abacus and the Cross, it actually gets right down in the muck and starts flinging ideas back and forth.

In retrospect, reading both these books at the same time really helped achieve a sort of balance.

I’d recommend with no qualms Lucifer: the Devil in the Middle Ages, but only read The Abacus and the Cross if you’ve got something deeper you’re reading at the same time.