MNC Book Report: The Queen’s Conjurer, Benjamin Woolley

Note to self: do not take hiatus of several weeks in the midst of reading a book for research. You will forget most of what you read in the first half.

This book, as some of you might guess, is a biography of Doctor John Dee. I also need to pick up Dee’s diaries, probably, and give those a read-through (especially the parts around my time period), but first I figured I needed an orienting framework, a simple biography that would give me the context of the things noted down in those diaries.

If that’s what you’re after, this book seems pretty good. It has the virtue of acknowledging not just Dee’s mysticism, but also his scientific work and the political context in which he was operating. (That latter aspect in particular cemented my dissatisfaction with Lisa Goldstein’s novel The Alchemist’s Door, which I very much wanted to like but didn’t.) I suspect that balance might be a legacy of Dame Frances Yates, whose work I’ll be taking a look at — hopefully — if I have the time. From the overview given toward the end of this book, it sounds like a lot of biographies of Dee more or less write him off as a deluded crackpot, which does not serve my purposes at all.

Oh yes, I have a purpose in reading this. (Are you surprised?) I will admit that Dee is likely to show up in Midnight Never Come. For those of you — i.e. mrissa — who grimace at the thought, I promise to try and put him in right, up to and including reading Yates if I have the time. (I solemnly swear to depict John Dee as a Christian Cabalist, not as some kind of cracked-out mother-goddess-worshipping Elizabethan neo-pagan. Mris, who the hell did that to him?) The difficult part will be grokking Christian Cabalism well enough to try and depict it, and balancing that out with the ever-unanswered question of what the hell was going on with Edward Kelley. I can think of all kinds of interesting possibilities; I just don’t know which one will serve my purposes best.

Now, let’s see if I can finish off one of the other three or four books I’m halfway done with.

0 Responses to “MNC Book Report: The Queen’s Conjurer, Benjamin Woolley”

  1. sartorias

    Dee has become a cliche because a bunch of people have done that to him. Frances Yates can really set him into perspective. (And there is also Philip Melancthon, who was in contact with Dee–in fact, they all wrote to one another…)

    • Marie Brennan

      I think the only historical fiction (except The Alchemist’s Door) that I’ve seen Dee in is the Lymond Chronicles; apparently I’ve managed to miss all the atrocities committed upon him by other authors.

      This is probably a good thing.

      On the other hand, now I feel extra pressure to research him and make sure my depiction is free of common flaws.

      • mrissa

        Well, I don’t care whether you’re dodging common or uncommon idiocies about him as long as you dodge them! 🙂

      • sartorias

        If you just skip the neo-pagan determinist who happens-to-know-everything, or the total-crackpot one, you’ll do fine. (I’ve stopped reading a bunch of Elizabethan era books because I’ve gotten tired of their one-dimensional Dee, or their emo-boy Marlowe.)

        • Marie Brennan

          <takes notes> Okay, I think I can avoid those. (Seriously, neo-pagan? What the hell? Who is smoking that crack, and where are they getting it?)

          I still don’t know if Marlowe will be showing up in the story or not. I have a good sixty thousand words to go, so he’s got time. If he does appear, I’ll try not to make him emo. (Is snarky okay? I think he might be snarky.)

          • sartorias

            I suspect he’d be very snarky indeed. But a languishing slashboy (while perfectly fine in another story) just doesn’t convince me re Kit Marlowe. Though I haven’t seen many in the past few years. I wonder if these stories, and a few novels, were one of those zeitgeist things of the late eighties and early nineties? Like rock-bands-against-the-bad-Sidky, there seemed to be a lot of them, but no one ever seemed to get the paradigm right, they were all (imo) nineties people in Elizabethan clothing. (Sans codpieces, judging from the lack of mention.)

          • Marie Brennan

            I haven’t yet mentioned codpieces, I think. Unless something comes up in the story that makes it appropriate to reference them, they’re one of those bits of Elizabethan fashion I’d rather just gloss over. (My fae have mostly refused to wear large ruffs, on the grounds that they can choose which mortal fashions they want to copy, and which they do not.)

            I do not see Kit as a languishing anything. A smart-ass, short-tempered slashboy, perhaps, but in my head he has too much energy to languish.

            The challenge of making my characters not be modern people in Elizabethan clothing, though, is one I continually struggle with.

          • sartorias

            A smart-ass, short-tempered slash-boy? Yep, I see that. Totally.

            But . . . you mean you don’t have your guys reaching into their codpieces to retrieve a snack stashed there earlier? *g*

          • Marie Brennan

            <lol> Not so far. But like I said, there’s sixty thousand words to go; the novel is still young.

  2. moonandserpent

    “Mris, who the hell did that to him?”

    I’ve yet to encounter this, but I hear horror stories.

    Srsly… what are examples of the goddess hugging neo-pagan Dee?

    Me? I just wanna write Dee/Kelly slash. Not emo slash, but Dangerous Leasions with the realm’s greatest spy vs/with a skilled almost Constantine-ish con-man slash.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’m dubious about granting Dee the title of “realm’s greatest spy,” but for the purposes of RPS, I suppose such liberties are to be expected.

      • moonandserpent

        I’m dubious of calling Kelly a “Constantine-ish con man”, too. But hey, one does what one does to get hot sodomy thriller action. At least no one would hug a tree or worship a goddess.

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