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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Book Review: The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer, O. M., 1890.

No my name isn’t Mr. Peabody and no you haven’t stumbled into a way-back machine Sherman. I thought I would do something different again this week and examine a book that has essentially been the invisible basis for much that is horror, much that is fantastic and yes, much that is sleaze.

It is a book that is the modern cornerstone for capturing and studying ideas and motives. It is a book that has made a significant impact on both H. P Lovecraft and Alastair Crowley.

So I thought today we would get a little scholarly; not that what we have been doing here is hasn’t been intelligent. But much speculative fiction as well as modern fiction owes a nod to ‘The Golden Bough’.

Earnest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Roger Zelazny to name a few have all acknowledged this work in their writing.

First published in 1890 by Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer ‘The Golden Bough’ is the first real cross cultural study of religion and ritual. The title refers to the admission offering into Hades from Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’.

Yes the book is clinical without literary flourishes but the importance of this study is immense and has largely and sadly gone under the radar of late. Here is a collection of magic and belief; of ideas similar from culture to culture; a veritable buffet table of the fantastic.

For a writer, it is invaluable bringing you what need to frame or create a scene. For a reader, it is an amazing work delving into the human condition. It is the basis of all culture and that fact in itself should make it an interesting read.

Be careful though what edition you read. Because this has always been a controversial work, sections have been omitted by publishers to satisfy religious complaints. My suggestion is the 1994 Oxford University Press edition as it restores the discussion on Christianity that had been edited heavily in 1922.

Buy this book.

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