The Demon LoverThe Demon Lover by Dion Fortune
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Publisher Weiser Books’ description: The Demon Lover was first published in 1927, the same year as H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu. Dion Fortune was among a generation of occult horror writers that formed popular culture’s obsession with secret societies, vampires, demons, ritual magic, and dark powers lurking in the shadows. What sets Fortune apart from so many of her contemporaries is her deep knowledge of the inner workings of magical orders, rites, and practices, and her own freethinking on occult subjects, demonstrated in the classic Psychic Self-Defense and The Mystical Qabalah.

Warning: Plot Spoilers Ahead!

I am on a Dion Fortune binge. I discovered her through the books of Phil Rickman, an author whose books I read voraciously because I love his mix of the quotidian with the elusively terrifying.


Dion Fortune was a ceremonial magician and an Adept in Western mysticism. She genuinely believed all of the things she wrote about in her novels, or so I have read. Her biographer, Gareth Knight, says that she exaggerated some elements for effect, whilst downplaying others assuming they would seem unbelievable to readers who had no experience of the otherworldly. Her novels describe and explain not only her theology but also the magic rituals that can be undertaken in order to harness the powers of the universe and bring about change in oneself and the world at large.


Fortune was no black-magician though. All of her esoteric practices were intended to help bring peace and further the spiritual evolution of humankind. Perhaps her biggest claim in that direction is that she and her priests believed themselves to have magicked the Nazis away from Britain during World War II and bewitched Germany towards peace. They were adherents of what is called the Right-Hand Path, the path of light.


Having said that about those with good intentions, this book (with its truly terrible cover and stupid title) is about a man named Lucas who takes a wrong turn during his soul’s evolution, wanders away from the Light and pursues the Left-Hand Path of darkness, whereby he commits himself to Evil in all its manifestations. The female protagonist is a naive, tender-hearted, and not terribly bright young woman named Veronica, whom Lucas draws into his orbit.


First published in 1927, The Demon Lover was Fortune’s first novel, and it’s less polished than her later books. It is not well-paced, bogging down in some parts, and the characters are rather flat; yet it did hold my attention, mainly because I kept wondering what the spiritual leaders of the fraternity would do next and how they would morally justify their choices. This quote explains, for me, the crux of the problem:

Let it be realized, in judging the action of these men, that they had a grave trust to fulfil in safeguarding the knowledge placed in their keeping, and that no one values human life more cheaply than the occultist, for he holds the belief in eternal life as a fact of his own personal experience, not as a theory, based, at best, upon the evidence of sacred writings. Some one had learnt their secrets, and that person, must, at all costs, be effectually silenced, only thus could their trust be held to have been fulfilled.

I don’t trust anyone who values life, any life, cheaply. That goes against my nature and my own spiritual beliefs, and the obvious fact of that statement appears again and again throughout the novel. It reminds me of the Inquisition, in which priests were willing to sacrifice the body in order to save the soul (or so they believed). Whatever high moral ground one claims to stand on while making such proclamations, it’s clearly and plainly evil to me. To illustrate my point: Several children, a sweet old dog, a kind-hearted man, and half a town are destroyed because of one idiotic and selfish man (Lucas) whose own soul is salvaged in the end, for reasons which I found unworthy and unjustifiable.


Furthermore, at the book’s conclusion, our girl Veronica has been harnessed, for yet another lifetime, to the needy and clinging soul of Lucas, despite the fact that he tends to lead her to danger every single time. We are meant to believe that this is the right thing to have done because the two souls supposedly need one another: she needs his intellect, and he needs her compassion. I didn’t buy this at all. Veronica was no genius but certainly had enough ethical and emotional intelligence to live well and right. Lucas lacked these. He might have been smart in some ways but was clearly an idiot in many others. So, binding them together in irrevocable dependency was right for whom? Surely not for Veronica, who feels a sense of dread and repulsion at what she’s agreed to, even as she agrees to it. One wonders if she will ever be free of Lucas.


I won’t give away the whole story-line, but I will say in no uncertain terms that (as in Fortune’s other books) the supposed good guys have highly questionable ethics and I found myself arguing with them throughout the book. I would not trust my soul, or even my bank account, to such as these.


I am still giving The Demon Lover three stars, though, because I genuinely enjoy Fortune’s way with words and her stories, overall, as genre fiction. Where the novels fall short for me is that they are meant to be taken seriously as spiritual texts. It is not that I am utterly opposed to Fortune’s beliefs and practices, even though my own spiritual leanings differ significantly; but the assumed righteousness of her occult leaders using whomever they will to whatever ends they deem necessary, in a cold and ruthless manner, sickens me.


A warning: the plot gets really seriously absurd and quite gruesome in the final few chapters. (It is maybe not gruesome by today’s standards, but I am a lightweight in that regard.)


If you want to read more of my thoughts on Fortune, please refer to my more extensive review of her book The Sea Priestess. I just received Dion Fortune & the Inner Light in the post, and will review that once I’ve read it.