Thursday, July 19, 2012

Reading Mark Teppo's "Lightbreaker"

Mark Teppo's novel, Lightbreaker: The First Book of the Codex of Souls (Night Shade Books 2009), is an occult thriller and a novel of ideas in the same vein as Colin Wilson's The Philosopher's Stone (Jeremy P. Tarcher 1989).  And although its cover--sexy, athletic man, accompanied by equally sexy young woman--is similar to the covers of most modern urban fantasies dominating the shelves of the science fiction/fantasy section these days, the novel does not fit comfortably within that ilk. Rather, it could be re-shelved with the metaphysical fiction, if the bookstore actually had such a category.

Michael Markham, the protagonist, is not anything like Harry Dresden, Felix Castor, or Atticus O’Sullivan; instead, he is like the first figure of the Tarot--the Fool, who appears anywhere in the pack where a difficult transition is imminent. And like the Fool, Markham is on a journey, a journey up the Tree of Life. However, when the novel begins, woefully, I might add, en medias res, Markham journeys in the opposite direction, following not the progression set forth in the Tree of Life of the Kabbalah but in the opposite direction, along the path of the qlipothic tree, the steps that stand in opposition of the sephiroth.

His journey, fueled by anger, darkness and revenge, has led him to Seattle, the place where the odyssey began. So, when the novel opens, the reader suspects, but doesn't really know, that much has happened in Markham's past. However, this past  fuels or excites the current action. Imagine, this back-story, this weighty narrative, contained in the Fool's sack, slung over the Fool's shoulder as an extremely heavy load; its sheer weigh a tangible presence that informs through its hidden-ness that there is much more here than meets the eye.

Teppo divides the book into five "works;" each work different in tone than the other. The novel opens with a realistic, and quite exciting, chase through the woods of an island near Seattle. A disembodied soul has commandeered the body of a deer that springs in front of Markham's car. "The light leaking from the animal was a spiritual overflow, a profusion of energy not meant to be contained in the deer's simple meat sack. The possession of an other. A human spirit." (Lightbreaker, p. 3). Here is the first trope of the novel: souls can be separated from the physical body. Etheric travel in the form of the subtle body is possible. The subtle body, an ethereal creation, is another trope, which I suspect in this novel relies upon Aleister Crowley's version of the concept. Crowley names it the Body of Light: One passes through the veil of the exterior world (which, as in Yoga, but in another sense, becomes "unreal" by comparison as one passes beyond) one creates a subtle body (instrument is a better term) called the body of Light; this one develops and controls; it gains new powers as one progresses, usually by means of what is called "initiation:" finally, one carries on almost one's whole life in this Body of Light, and achieves in its own way the mastery of the Universe.

The deer's appearance, although unsought and surprising, contains elements of synchronicity: Markham is on the island, returning basically to the scene of a crime or injury that occurred many years before; and connected to his return is the spirit, who carries a magical scent that emanated from the same woman, who wounded Markham during a magical ritual gone wrong. The past informs the present and Markham's presence on the island at this time is certainly fated, maybe even woven into the fabric by one of the Watchers.

The Watchers, members of a secret society, an offshoot of the Knights Templar, play an integral role in the novel. Called Watchers, and sometimes "travelers," they are magi or magicians, who not only observe but also strive to keep the occult hidden.The members of La Société Lumineuse were Witnessses, True Seeing observers whose focus was the preservation of magickal knowledge.(Lightbreaker p. 33) Ultimately, it becomes clear that Markham is fated to be in Seattle at this time and place: symbolized by the the Tarot card, the Tower, an imminent transition is in the offing for the fool .

By the Fifth Work the action has become apocalyptic, bombastic, and confusing. So many occult threads run through the novel at this point that the meaning becomes muddied and one doesn't know which tradition to use to distill meaning. Taking a hint from the narrator's allusions to arcane knowledge, I chose Crowley's take on Magick and interpret the novel as a spiritual re-boot: at the beginning, Markam journeys toward darkness and evil, but, by the finale he undergoes a physical and mental reconstruction and is reborn a follower of the light.

In one way the novel could be read as a metaphorical dramatization of the alchemical coniunctio, whereby a spiritual marriage has occurred leading toward the archetype of the Self. In other words, the conuinctio is the combination of soul-spirit-body with the unus mundus. The unus mundus is the potential world of the first day of creation when nothing existed in actu, that is in Two or multiplicity, but only of One. It is an entrance into unity, where one experiences everything as one. In other words, Markham's conuinctio is the beginning of his consciousness: the end of the beginning.

Lightbreaker is disguised as a modern urban fantasy, utilizing the usual tropes; however, it is really a metaphysical novel that dramatizes the Fool's journey toward enlightenment and as such it could be seen as as psychological Bildungsroman. Its appeal arises partially from its occult underpinnings and Teppo's extensive knowledge of the occult.

It is also served by some very good writing. I was particularly taken with an early fight scene on a ferry. I have spent some time, traveling between Vancouver and Victoria, and I felt those scenes keenly realized.

Lightbreaker is not a romp like a Dresden novel; instead, it demands attention. This is not to say that there are not elements of adventure; there are. But if you want to really understand its psychological underpinnings and design, it's going to require a concentrated reading. Although I suppose you could bask in the pyrotechnics and disregard the undertow of arcane themes, because they, too, abound.

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