“What Big Ears You Have!” “All The Better To Hear With, My Child.”
Paul Christensen’s The Heretic Emperor
The Heretic Emperor
Charleston: CreateSpace, 2015
“To penetrate the mystery that was Maximillian Scarlotti, we have been forced to draw testimony from a wide disharmony of sources. After absorbing these discrepit portrayals, the reader will be better positioned to understand how disaster unfolded. Those who have ears, let them hear.”
Let me repeat that last line: “Those who have ears, let them hear.” This statement doesn’t pertain to the plot of The Heretic Emperor, per se, it pertains to the message within The Heretic Emperor. And it is an impressive message. An important message. A message worth repeating over and over again until everyone with ears knows its sound. It’s the same message heard in The Hungry Wolves of Van Diemen’s Land (Christensen’s first novel): inspiring “the Wandervogel-like movement called the Wolves of Joy, springing up around the world. . . . Their spontaneous acts are not attacks on the present system; instead they are building a new one in its very ruins.”
Paul Christensen’s latest novel, The Heretic Emperor, is not exactly a sequel to The Hungry Wolves of Van Diemen’s Land, and yet at the same time The Heretic Emperor is a most fitting sequel to The Hungry Wolves of Van Diemen’s Land. Grasp that and The Heretic Emperor rapidly becomes so much more than the individual novel it could be taken for. It is one of those rarest of novels—a novel that can be read and re-read again and again, with each reading bringing more clarity as more and more nuances come to light—some so subtle it takes a few passes before you realize that there must be something here . . . and when you look, there is.
The book itself is made up of 13 sections (symbolic? assuredly so.): a prologue, an afterword, and 11 testimonials that chart the course of one Maximillian Scarlotti from boyhood onwards. Only one testimonial is from Scarlotti himself, the other ten are bookended, front and back, by an “Elmer J. Cohen (former) Special Advisor to the (former) Universal Curia” who compiled—and therefore, one may assume, controlled, as his race is wont to do—all of the information that makes up the novel. (Or did he?)
The first testimonial is the testimonial of Scarlotti—written when he was still young and at Sterns, a school for elite scholars located in Kenya. Inspired by dreams in which he attacks a tall German warrior:
Then I somehow know that later the same year this tall warrior will already be gone to his long home—cut down where Hannibal once decimated the armies of Rome many centuries ago. For some reason, this strikes me as profoundly significant. . . . It was this dream that first encouraged me to explore outside the confines of Sterns, making a solo voyage into the African darkness that is darker yet by day. There has been nothing technically impeding me from doing so, for at Sterns, a blind eye is traditionally turned to students who feel the urge to sneak out on surreptitious weekend missions, taking only a handgun for protection, in order to observe what the school authorities call ‘unredeemed humanity’—Homo sapiens bereft of the blessings of the World State.
Scarlotti leaves the school grounds for the first time. Among squalid scenes typical of life in the “garbage strewn streets” of an African market town, Scarlotti “noticed something damnedly strange: a white man was staring at me. An old white man with a long beard, who clearly had nothing to do with Sterns. Indeed, his steely blue-grey eyes were like nothing I had seen on this planet before . . .” Thus we meet “Mistah Kurtz”— nods to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (or perhaps it is Coppola’s Apocalypse Now?) abound here, but Christensen’s Kurtz is most emphatically not a madman of darkness. Indeed, his persona is one of illumination, of initiation, of Uruz. It is his role to
. . . ‘set you on the right track. To free you from the grip of evil. I know all about that institution you’re embroiled at.’ Rapidly, with hypnotic voice, he began to expound his doctrine of esoteric ethnopluralism, talking of fractals, of hundred armed swastikas and thousand-branched candelabras.
For those fluent in esoteric European philosophies (such as Serrano’s), the first glimpses of even deeper levels of this novel emerge here, as the Morning Star of the Order dawns, as the Ella/Ell component of Scarlotti’s destiny is impelled inward by a girl named Tegg (an interesting name [the word tegg means a two year old sheep; Scarlotti has known her for two years] revealing the presence of more levels within levels), and he begins to understand who and what he is.
The voice of testimony two is markedly different from Scarlotti’s. Written by one Karina Sedlakova, the newly appointed Czech Personal Assistant to the newly appointed Executive Commissioner of the Praesidium (Scarlotti), this second testimony chronicles Scarlotti’s rise to North American Executive Commissoner. Recording events through the eyes of a devotee, Sedlakova’s words concerning Scarlotti are tremulous and worshipful: “My first impressions of my boss were that a new sun had risen in the sky, wearing a subtle and slender mask of gold, and had descended to bless and protect me. I had always waited for this.” Even when his actions are puzzling to her, she maintains her position of unquestioning worship:
He engaged in plenty of frivolities outside of work however—and indeed was expected to. Several times he asked me to accompany him to those decadent parties where the elite unwound.
‘Please help to keep me sane’ he said. ‘You’re level headed and I need that in this nest of vipers.’
But who can soothe the sun?
Sedlakova’s self-reflecting testimonial style and second hand account of events serve to further the plot—telling the reader how Scarlotti rose from old world leadership to new; it also offers up points of extreme importance to those interested in the deeper levels of the novel, couched in play and myth (I will not ruin the reader’s pleasure by naming these here—when you see them, heed them).
Recalling the fervent unyielding devotion Savitri Devi gave to another holy Son of the Sun, Sedlakova ends her testimony thusly: “Let me stare untrembling into the face of the unconquered sun.”
Coming in the form of a personal letter, written by Major General John C. Frampton (“Scarlotti’s liaison to the Pentagon”), is the third testimonial—a short crisp section that serves up the phrase “Scarlotti will save us or damn us, or both” not once but two times (astute readers will find that this number is all over the novel: this is book number two in the ‘set’, second hand reports serve as text itself, Cohen’s writings are included twice, Scarlotti is married two times . . . Of course, since the notion of two faiths comprises the notion of heretic, it is quite quite fitting).
The Major General’s words reflect (and I use that particular word purposefully) both events and private opinions that drive the plot of the book. He wrestles with the nature of
Scarlotti’s swearing in ceremony [which] was a real eye opener. I don’t mean the public austere ceremony—there was also a lavish private do, up here in Manhattan, and I tell you I couldn’t have dreamt this thing up. Scarlotti actually prostrated himself before the current head of Curia, donning a yarmulke before ‘singing’ a two minute piece of gangsta rap (which presumably they made him memorize in advance) about pimping someone’s sister out for KFC and crack. He was toasting shalom and shaking his rump like a goddamn baboon, can you imagine? I don’t know how that would gel with his public opposition to the knock out game—is it actually some weird initiation rite, or do the Curia bastards just have a really sick sense of humor?
He reports on a different Scarlotti he encounters, as an army man, when first Scarlotti hoodwinks the Curia to gain control of the US military: “Scarlotti assured us they would leave us alone, as long as they thought he was using the military for their bizarre project of ‘stamping out extreme Islam’” upon which
He announced his intention to ban women from serving in the armed forces proper. . . . While I don’t know of any man in the forces who would be opposed to this in their hearts of hearts, many let their token protests resound in the media for fear of not doing so. And then came the protest from the far left. Yes, the anti-imperialist, anti-military-industrial left are currently having conniptions because the fairer sex may be removed from frontline combat ops, proving officially that the world is now beyond being ‘beyond satire’ and has in fact become a neverending satire in itself. But of what, I don’t know.
Private journals are extracted for the fourth and fifth testimonies.
The first is set in the Ukraine. (Christensen’s technique of taking subjects of immediate contemporary cultural/ political interest and weaving them into his work is spectacular. Each item brings a sense of absolute ‘now’ to those who read the book while these events are news, while at the same time each item is set in such a way as to create a detailed historically aware background for the novel to exist in later, ensuring it all makes great sense to those who read it for the first time several generations from now. As they will.) It is written by Olena Petrenko, a volunteer in the ‘International Brigade’ who discovers in the North American Potentiate for the Curia a myth come to life:
But king in my mind are legends of my own land—those of the mighty Bogatyr, so nameless and dread, whose Arrow brought war and suffering. He commanded his sons to throw this Arrow into the depths of the Black Sea, for they lacked the strength to wield it themselves, and that is why its waters are always restless. And just lately, it seems, the Bogatyr has returned. . . . The Bogatyr (for so I now think of him) was visiting Kiev with his Praetorians, the elite bodyguard he had created. . . . he was here to negotiate. He doesn’t wish for open war, yet refuses to guarantee or confirm the new Ukrainian constitution until his authority in this land is recognised.
Recalling Savtri Devi, (just as Sedlakova did two sections ago ), Petrenko becomes completely devoted to her Bogatyr “I feel sure he is sent as an Avatar from our gods . . . perhaps the Avatar of the entire Slavic folk, though he isn’t Slav himself. . . . for me the lightning is shaping a different world entirely.”
One of my favorite ‘slices of realism’ takes place in this section, (because it is taken from a real life journal, as opposed to a letter or an official testimonial), taking the form of an exchange that many of us know too well from our own daily lives dealing with our own family members:
Then, these constant fights with my mother on her raising of Natalya, my sister’s little girl. Mother is determined to surround the infant with the worst of Western trash, and with newfound strength I berate her:
‘What is the purpose of these dolls?’
‘To play with, of course’
‘Do they look Ukrainian, with their plastic eyes and muddy features blended from every race on earth?’
‘Please don’t tell me you’re a racist as well as unpatriotic!’
Like the setting of the Ukraine in the first, the setting of Harlan Coad’s journal is immediately familiar to the contemporary reader—it is Aberdeen, Washington, USA, the birthplace of Kurt Cobain. And, like Olena’s, Harlan’s journal records both Scarlotti-related events that move the novel further onwards as well as more personal writings that furnish deeper understanding:
Grandma: ‘What is the Dreamers and Poets?’
Me: ‘It’s part of Scar-Lo’s* International Brigade’
Mom: [Snorting sound.]
Grandma: ‘And what is the International Brigade?’
Me: ‘It has generous wages, but tough training and discipline. The Dreamers and Poets is for artists, though, and it’s more lenient. Scar-Lo is trying to get them to join in the fight against globalism or something. I think he’s hoping to attract the Wolves of Joy . . .’
. . .
Mom: ‘Harlan! What’s gotten into you?’
Me: ‘The Curia have gotten out of hand. They’re pushing everyone around.’
Mom: ‘Maybe that’s because they’re trying to stamp out racism, sexism, transphobia . . .’
Me: ‘They’re just words, Mom.’
. . .
Mom: ‘Harlan!’ [Nearly choking on her GMO salad.]
Christensen captures the Zeitgeist of the contemporary Pacific Northwest, which is rather amazing when you consider that Christensen is not from around here (although this reviewer is):
Forget Mom’s fascist paranoia about Scar-Lo. I met my first real Nazi today. Not a German one, though. He was from a group called North West Front, founded by a guy called Covington sometime last century. This Nazi called himself a ‘white nationalist’, but they’re the ones the media call Nazis, right?
You couldn’t make that observation more realistic if you downloaded it on YouTube.
A Dr. Adrian Savage weighs in with his testimony next. It is a real testimony, meaning it is not a letter, or a carefully extracted journal, or even a hyper-sentimental devotionally soaked testimonial—it is a report rendered “in plain language.”
Of course I understand your distrust of headshrinkers and their jargon. There are more psychiatrists than ever in the military at this point. Many of the ‘mental health community’ found themselves out of work after Scarface’s* selective editing of the forces, but under Presidential rule they have been reinstated and reinforced.
Savage is “assigned to Boffo as part of my research fellowship, sponsored by the (sic) The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Institute for Psychiatric Medicine.” As it turns out
He seemed eager to welcome me, shaking hands vigorously when I told him who I was.
‘I fucking hate sand niggers’ he grinned (those were his exact first words to me), ‘but I love homosexuals. If you’re gay, then you’re alright with me.’
‘I’m not . . . gay . . . actually.’
‘Oh. Are you some other kind of LGBTTQIAAPCINDNQQINBTSAO?’ (He had actually memorized this now outmoded and faintly non-PC acronym, pronouncing it clearly and distinctly for my benefit.’
Savage’s testimonial spans what he knows of Boffo’s career in the Middle East, culminating in two revealing facts—one: Boffo “has just been awarded a Medal of Honor . . . not for his high number of kills, but rather for his aborted attempt on Scarface’s life” and two: “I’m no longer a registered psychiatrist. They stripped me of that privilege right after I grabbed a gun from the staff sergeant . . .” leaving the reader with a lingering ‘hmm’ resulting from that most dastardly of all fictional characters—the unreliable narrator. (Or is he unreliable? Hmm.)
Seguing directly from Dr. Savage’s account, extracts from Syrian poet Mohammed Al-Zaharbi’s journal recount further Middle Eastern testimony of Scarlotti’s reign—Scarlotti, whom Mohammed refers to as al-Akbar—touching on everything from ISIS to rapist Somalians to the Samson Option in his journal. Unlike Savage, Al-Zaharbi is no plain speaker.
For years, had I not turned out the most exquisite poems on life, philosophy and eternity, and with no recognition? Now, with one idle satirical verse about the creature called ‘Boffo’, I am suddenly admitted to the highest circles of war-ravaged Damascus, with old Colonel al-Ahmar proclaiming me a ‘national treasure.’
For this poem Scarlotti/al-Akbar awards Mohammed “a large copper medal engraved with semi-mythical figures from the past: T. E. Lawrence, Yukio Mishima, and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey,” revealing yet another level worthy of further study for every future Wolf of Joy.
And, speaking of levels, it is this particular testimony which manages to underline (and also deny, in a way) all that I have written regarding finding hidden layers beneath this novel:
I dreamt that an Islamic extremist faction had nuked the Great Pyramid . . . and when the nuclear device went off, a secret chamber was revealed in the rubble. I woke before I could see what was in it – but I knew it was something immensely important.
. . . I turn the news off and my dream is true. It was a premonition, and I am devastated. The Islamists have actually destroyed that which could never be destroyed. What good is al-Akbar’s bomb (even if he wasn’t bluffing about it)? He can’t bomb them back. The nature of warfare has changed. But, oh, of all things I have dreamt that might have turned out true, a secret chamber has been revealed beneath the rubble! . . . but there was nothing in the chamber – nothing.
How trying for the arcane symbolist. And yet, do we really believe that there is nothing to be found in a hidden chamber laying underneath a great World structure? Do we? How about the fact of the hidden chamber itself, isn’t that something . . . ?
The testimony of Adam Bray, number 8 if you have been counting, is another journal extraction. This one is written later in Scarlotti’s arc, documenting how much the world (as we readers of the early 21st century know it) has changed with Scarlotti’s actions:
‘What was happening in the North West itself, however, was unknown at that point. There was much talk about how incongruous it seemed, a cosmopolitan Nietzschean aristocrat being made president (apparently by popular mandate) of a democratic republic run by hardcore Nazi monoculturalists. My parents’ generation, tuned to Rush Limbaugh, could never have foreseen it . . .
All speculation about whether or not our particular Antichrist was a ‘white nationalist’ (he had never claimed to be anything of the kind) was soon answered, however, by the interception of a presidential Broadcast, wherein the Antichrist now gave an actual commitment to the ideals of white nationalism, placing himself about as far out on the Curia’s whackjob-scale as it was possible to go. The Curia gleefully disseminated the broadcast to all the world, hoping to drum up further hatred against their adversary.
But a funny thing happened—now that the Antichrist had declared himself an actual white nationalist, over thirty non-white countries rushed to pledge allegiance to him, abandoning the Curia! Apparently he was now seen as having more integrity by virtue of openly working for his own people. To put it mildly, this was something the Curia had failed to predict . . .
Christensen’s ability to put his finger on the pulse of everything that is wrong with liberal humanity is a force to be reckoned with. This eighth testimonial is almost amusing, were it not cut so close to the bone of truth.
The [symbolic? How could it not be?] ninth entry is that of Edmund J. Spitzler, father of a Wolf of Joy. I think that this testimony is one of the most markedly important pieces in the (if I may call it so) Wolf of Joy codex, a manifest that is not explicitly written (yet), but one that those who understand—understand—and will be/ are undertaking. It is this reviewer’s educated guess that very soon The Wolves of Joy—who strike me as being real-world National Anarchists, at least in spirit—will no longer be merely fiction, if they are merely so now.
She’s a strange creature, like all Wolves.
I glanced around the kitchen, but it conveyed little of her lifestyle and beliefs. It might have been that of a psychedelic carpenter, or paramilitary gardening guru, in fact, it was the kitchen of a Wolf of Joy.
‘And do you regard the new regime as less hypocritical and corrupt than the old one, my darling daughter?’
‘Then why haven’t the Wolves disbanded?’
‘There’s no membership list, so nothing to disband. You’re a Wolf by your deeds, and those alone.’
‘Ah . . . that’s right. Deeds and death, your watchword. From Wagner, I believe,’ Many of the Wolves had nearly abandoned their mission the year before the war, the same year Stella became one of them. That was the year the globalist upper-middle classes began having ‘Wolves of Joy’ theme-parties, where they would celebrate their own hypocrisy by reenacting pranks from a book called The Hungry Wolves of Van Diemen’s Land’
‘Why didn’t you abandon your mission?’
‘We realized that if we care what small people think, then we’re no bigger ourselves, of course.’
Those who have ears, let them hear.
Two extremely brief testimonies follow—they are both direct testimonials. To avoid ruining the end of the novel, which would be inexcusable, a salient passage from each must suffice. One from Maxine Leopoldina Scarlotti: “They say father has actually begun to persecute the Wolves. . . . At the same time, father passes laws against ‘anti-semitism’. . . . How dark and tangled everything has become! Surely it never started out like this . . .”
And one from a Wallace Tarr: “I awoke at dawn to see His Imperial Majesty* standing still and staring up at the sky, like a prophet of old, searching for a silent warning. Then he turned and loped swiftly like a wolf to his campaign tent.”
A terse afterword by Elmer J. Cohen closes the novel, letting us know a quite a bit regarding the state (and fate) of the world, as of the compiling of the testimonies by the Curia:
Consequently, we Weltverbesserer would now be wise to shift our attention to the planet Venus herself, and when we gain the upper hand once more, to form, from existing warheads, a vast nuclear armada to tear her baleful presence from the shivering skies.
Read this novel all the way through, once. Enjoy the plot, fall in love with Scarlotti or detest him, delight in the contemporary immediacy of events and places interspaced throughout, and savor the intellectual frisson of stumbling upon sub-textual elements. It is an interesting, well written novel. It is one of the rare “follow up” books that can stand alone—and stand very well– on its own merits. Now, go on to the next title on your list. I am glad that we agree that Christensen writes a good novel and that we look forward to many more of his, for the world of books needs novelists of his stripe. For many readers, this will be enough.
But for other readers, ah . . . you other readers. Read on if you will:
For the more esoteric minded folk, I recommend that you read this book, put it down for a day or two while you think about it, and then re-read it, and as you read it this second time (there’s that number two again), go beyond it, as far as you can go—plumb the depths of everything you can regarding the symbols, the signs, the hints, the allusions . . . from the Kshatriyas to the death of Gandalf the Grey . . . for they are placed there for those who will find them, study them, and then understand their reason for being included in the second book about the Wolves of Joy. This reviewer firmly believes that this book was meant for you—those of you who will “penetrate the mystery that was Maximillian Scarlotti . . . from a wide disharmony of sources” and understand what it is, this book called “The Heretic Emperor.”
Now we have two handbooks from which to draw.
* If this were a school paper, I’d mention each of Scarlotti’s nicknames and tell how they are de-evolving…but this is a review, so I’ll leave it.
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