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Monk's Magic, by Alexander De Comeau (1931)


MERVYN Wall's The Unfortunate Fursey (1946) is a classic fantasy novel about an inept monk thrust out of his monastery to wander in the world of temptation. It has a far lesser-known precursor in Monk's Magic, with a similar set-up, and an equally devilish humor.

Here Brother Dismas works on behalf of his Abbot, stealthily studying the black arts (he has been absolved in advance for his sins), trying to discover the elixir of life. After many failures, Dismas ventures out into the world to find those previous and successful fellow-seekers who must surely still live. Dismas gathers a band of characters including the boy Gabriel and the barrel-like man Thomas Brackenridge. The three set off to Germany in search of one particular philosopher, Lucius Germanicus, whose cryptic formula Dismas had tried unsuccessfully. Dismas grows up during his failed quest, deals with a robber baron, and comes to love the girl Radegond (who had pretended to be the boy Gabriel). When he returns to the Abbot, Dismas summons the Prince of Darkness (whom he now suspects may also be God), and receives some excellent secular advice about life. The tale is Rabelaisian in the best sense, witty and well-written.

Alexander de Comeau (1894-1930) worked in the British Consular Service in the Canal Zone in the 1920s. His one other novel, Fires of Isis (1926), is not fantasy. Monk's Magic appeared posthumously, following the author's suicide after the death of his wife.

—Douglas A. Anderson

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