Idol Chatter

For fantasy fans who have yet to discover newcomer Jonathan Stroud’s “The Bartimaeus Trilogy,” get ready to indulge. Stroud’s writing is superb, his characters–and his demons–are funny and variant, and now the final installment in this three-book saga about the trials and tribulations of magicians, commoners, and several species of demons in Britain is out and available.

Fantasy geeks like myself generally appreciate the way that fantasy literature plays with, and often reinterprets, religious traditions, institutions, rituals, and divinities, as well as the idea of religious experience itself. Stroud’s third installment in particular, “Ptolemy’s Gate,” has its own interesting leap into the realm of mysticism, exploring the ideal of a mystical “Reality” or “Oneness.” This is represented by what Bartimaeus calls “The Other Place”–the place where all demons go when magicians relieve them of their duties on earth, a place where “there are no divisions” and where life is “not about doing. It’s about being.” In a rare act of fellowship between human to djinn (spirit), Kitty Jones, a pivotal character in the story, travels to this “Other Place,” and she finds herself trying to describe an experience that mystics across traditions claim is rather beyond words. She echoes their sentiment:

She found herself in–well, in did not seem quite appropriate: she found herself part of a ceaseless swirl of movement, neither ending nor beginning, in which nothing was fixed or static. It was an infinite ocean of lights, colors, and textures, perpetually forming, racing, and dissolving in upon themselves, though the effect was neither as thick or solid as liquid nor as traceless as a gas; if anything it was a combination of the two, in which fleeting wisps of substance endlessly parted and converged.”

There is much to recommend this trilogy. In addition to its religious undertones, don’t forget to read every last footnote in Bartimaeus’s chapters, since they provide some of the best humor throughout the entire series.

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