The Secrets of Doctor Taverner – by Dion Fortune
Weiser, 1936, 2011, 222p, 9781578633371.
“It’s like Sherlock Holmes, if he were a ceremonial magickian and psychologist instead of a detective.” That sounds like a stretch, but it was really the best way I could describe The Secrets of Doctor Taverner when people asked. Dion Fortune, most famous for her works Psychic Self Defence (review), The Mystical Qabalah, and Esoteric Marriage (review), also wrote fiction. Perhaps we should say “fiction” if we trust her, because she says the stories aren’t made up “they are … all founded on fact, and there is not a single incident herein contained which is pure imagination.” (xiv) Supposedly The Secrets of Doctor Taverner, which is a collection of short stories of occult mysteries and adventures, were based on Fortune’s time working with Dr. Moriarty (his real name apparently) in a very special hospital, where more than just the body was taken care of.
This book contains the twelve short stories of Dr. Taverner and his assistant Dr. Rhodes, the narrator and stand in for Fortune herself. Originally they were published as instalments in the newspaper. The stories follow the two doctors as they track down and handle cases involving werewolves, angry ghosts, astral death hounds, faeries in human bodies, a lodge of Black Brothers, and a lot more.
Some stories were straight forward, someone is being cursed, find out who, but others like The Soul That Would Not Be Born, A Daughter of Pan, and Recalled all struck me as detailed, complex and insightful stories. They touched upon deeper mysteries of past lives, karma, and the debt we owe to others, as well as the ebb and flow of life and rebirth itself.
To be honest I was impressed in how she managed to work real occult concepts and theories into these tales, how well they worked together. It’s the type of book that you could give to anyone to read, but as an occultist there are sections that would have you nodding your head, or pausing to ponder how to apply a new idea or concept in your practice. As mentioned some stories are straight forward, others are more complex, and you can read through them all getting caught up in the variety and insight and fun of the world she has recalled for us. I cannot say how much I trust the notion that the stories are true, as many of them seem too immaterial or far-fetched, but on the other hand I have seen my share of messed things in my time as an occultist, so who is to say what truth lies in the origin of her tales.
Fortune is a good author, a product of her time, but a good author none the less. The stories are of a good pace, and often give you a very clear sense of the people and places involved. Perhaps by modern standards some of her writing would be lacking, but I’d say for the most part she does well standing the test of time. So if you want some fun fiction or “fiction” to go through, check out The Secrets of Doctor Taverner and enjoy the magickal adventures in the British countryside.