Psalms of the Magistrate by Damian Murphy
As with all fiction, his expositions contained a grain of truth. They seemed to function as a mirror in which the facts were distorted only by the necessities of the muse. The author served as poet, oracle, and hagiographer . . .
This quote, describing one of the characters in Psalms of the Magistrate, might just as well be used to describe Murphy's mystical auctorial foray. As usual, with Murphy's work, there are multiple meanings and multiple entry points for readers, "a diversity of operations," as they say. "Weird" fiction? It could be. Or it might be a revelation of esotericism, or an obfuscation of the same, or, perhaps, both at once. Possibly mere fantasy? Yes, possibly, but those who know better . . . well, they know better. Horror? Not at all, though the awe and reverence that some horror hints at can be found here. Kitsch? Taste is on the tongue of the taster.
Whatever your entry point, there are some aspects of this work (and of Murphy's work overall) that will strike the reader. Most immediately, the characterization. I should love to encounter nothing but Murphy's characters in my travels. Not only from this book, but from any of his works, most especially Abyssinia and The Acephalic Imperial). I'd be careful, however, to hold on to my wallet and watch what I say. I would want to remain, in a word, elusive. Their oddities are endearing and I should like to be surrounded by such . . . interesting people.
Next, the discerning reader (and/or writer) will soon realize that Murphy's playfulness is apparent in the way he structures the interplay between characters, via their editing of each others' writings. Very clever, this device of nested texts and one character editing another character's words. This leads to unanswered and unanswerable questions. But where does Thomas (the protagonist) come up with the edits that he applies? What inspires him to change Mittel's (the "catalyst" character, I will call him) words from harsh pronouncements to amorous excitations? It is possible that these manipulations are mere whimsy, but there seems to be something more intentional happening there. At the very least, Thomas uses Mittel's words as a combination that he can manipulate until the sacred safe is cracked, so to speak.
The sacred is exactly what is at stake here. Thomas, whether unwittingly or with great precision (or, more likely , both) is determined to find his way not only through Lucifer's gate, but through the Noctiferian portal. Thomas's Working, which opens him to both the presence and the perception of the Magistrate (and the Magistrate's perception through him) is, simply put, magical, both in its substance and its execution. One cannot read this and not feel edified and desirous of participation in such a Working, but Murphy's symbolic Working will not work, directly, for a reader. The reader must subvert it, if it is to have any efficacy. And how to do so? Discover yourself. Discipline yourself enough to embrace a bit of chaos.
Finally, there is the artifact itself. One might look at the description of this book and thing "64 pages - that's too short!"
Economists might balk at the price vs page count of, well, any of Mount Abraxas' editions. No, it's not too short. It is in the goldilocks zone - just right. The artifact, with its scarlet pages, sublime cover, and, of course, silk ribbon, is as gaudy as it needs to be, while as classically clean as it ought to be. Don't fool yourself, fool. This is well worth the price, whatever the sacrifice, Mammon be damned.
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