"And there have always been individuals, or secret societies,” he went on, “who insisted they were the guardians of some ancient knowledge. From the Egyptian priesthood it was passed down to the mystery cults of Alexandria; from the Alexandrians to the Hebrew Kabala and the Gnostics; from the Gnostics to the Knights Templar and from the Kabala to the late-medieval mystics, Pico della Mirandola, Pater Trimethius, Cardano, Raimundus Lullus, Paracelsus and finally the Rosicrucians. The Rosicrucians are the last link in the chain … ” “And then?” ......So the ancient knowledge now exists as a paradox: our rational minds can’t fathom it.. What followed—occult science—was nothing but fraud and parody: Rational Man’s fancy dress frolic with the irrational. The eighteenth-century Freemasons, the spiritualists, the theosophists, St Germain and Cagliostro all claimed to be thousands of years old. Of course they were lying. On the other hand, lots of people falsely claim that they know the Prince of Wales, but does that make his existence a mere superstition? We just can’t grasp these things with our modern patterns of thought." From The Pendragon Legend
Last month in my observational of International Holocaust Menorial Day, held on January 27, I posted on Journey Into Moonlight by Antal Szerb. Considered by many Hungary's greatest writer, he was beaten to death in a forced labor camp. Literary purists might say so what to this it does not make his work better or worse and of course they are right but it is important to me to say this.
Journey Into Moonlight is an acknowledged master work. The Pendragon Legend has some very good conversations and interesting things are said by the characters, it is funny and you can see the great learning and keen wit of the author. It was Szerb's first novel and I am sure he had lot of fun writing this. The setting of the novel moves from London to Wales and back and forth.
The central character is a Hungarian researcher deeply into occult lore, who is also very many into the reading life. He meets the Earl of Pendragon who invites him to visit his ancestral castle in Wales where he has an extensive ancient library with lots of "forbidden lore" texts. Strange entities and persons have been seen in the vicinity of the Pendragon Castle, which has been in the Pendragon family for many generations and the Earl hopes the researcher can explain them.
Between the wars in England and on the continent occult theories and gurus became very popular. Szerb is having good natured fun with the English interest in this. Wales has a special meaning in English culture, maybe it suggests backwoods but I am not sure on this.
The book is fun to read, the unraveling of the mysteries fun. The novel is a bit stuck in time. For me the best part of the novel was in the observations of the Hungarian researcher about the history of the occult and about various literary works.
ANTAL SZERB (1901–1945) was born in Budapest into a middle-class family that had converted from Judaism to Catholicism. He studied German and English literature at the University of Budapest, receiving a PhD in 1924. Throughout the second half of the 1920s he lived in France, Italy, and England, where he worked on his first book, An Outline of English Literature (1929). In 1933 he was elected the president of the Hungarian Literary Academy and the next year published his History of Hungarian Literature, called by John Lukacs, “not only a classic but a sensitive and profound description of . . . the Magyar mind.” It was followed in 1941 by a three-volume History of World Literature. In addition to his critical writings, Szerb produced produced many works of translation, and published newspaper articles, essays, reviews, short stories, and novels, of which The Pendragon Legend (1934), Love in a Bottle, (1935), The Third Tower (written in 1936), Journey by Moonlight (1937), Oliver VII (1937), and The Queen’s Necklace (1943) have been translated into English. Having lost his university teaching position as a result of Hungary’s anti-Semitic laws, Szerb was sent to a labor camp, where it is believed he was beaten to death. He was survived by his wife, Klára Bálint, who died in 1992. From the publisher New York Review of Books