History: I've known about Katherine Kurtz as an author since my college days: not only was I attracted to her writing for her "Deryni" novels, but also to her own backstory. Before she turned to professional writing, she was a member of the early Society for Creative Anachronism, eventually becoming its first Seneschal (the equivalent of being the national chairman of the organization) as well as being awarded the title of Duchess (meaning that she had been Queen of the Kingdom of the West twice.) She also published a fanzine called "Deryni Archives: The Magazine" which contained a wealth of supplementary information and stories that helped affirm my fascination for the Deryni.
Since then, she has developed into a popular and prolific fantasy writer, known primarily for her "Deryni" novels and her contemporary fantasy "Adept" series in collaboration with Deborah Turner Harris. She edited a collection of Deryni stories and other short story collections, also wrote numerous short stories and stand-alone novels, one of which is "Lammas Night".
Description: "Lammas Night" is a story about the occult battles that went on behind the scenes of the physical battles of World War II. It it s story about the Matter of Britain and the concept of the divine nature of kings. It it a story about reincarnation and a friendship and bond of duty that stretched across the centuries. It is a story about the intertwined destiny of two men and how it and they changed the direction of the war.
It is the story of Colonel Sir John Graham, officially an officer in a section of MI.6 of British Intelligence involving occult matters as related to psychological operations ("'psy-ops"); unofficially, he is a member of a coven of the Old Faith who battle the black magic of Nazi occultism. It is the story of Prince William, Duke of Clarence, the (fictional) "fifth-wheel" of the British monarchy in reality as well as in nature: the fifth son, his royal status now offers him little to do for the war effort except support the troops and rally the citizens. It is the story of how both men share a professional relationship that went beyond that to the personal: now, with the War making their professional relationship impossible, their personal relationship strengthens in response.
Throughout the War, occultists such as Dion Fortune (who wrote about it after the war) and many others all performed rituals to defend the nation and the land. With the Prince's assistance, a number of occultists and leaders of occult organizations are convinced to coordinate a mass working on the upcoming Lammas night. On that night, occult groups and individuals across the nation, in their own respective ways, gather to perform their various rituals according to their chosen paths, all with the same intent: place a barrier about the British Isles such that Hitler and his forces cannot invade. But Sir John and his coven have a more difficult role: at the same time, a black magic ritual will be performed, deep in the heart of Nazi Germany. At its center, the man known as the Red Eagle, the master of all black magic organizations supporting the Nazi regime. A strike against him, anchored by a double-agent deep within the organization, would be a severe blow to the Nazis, if they can pull it off.
And even after all that, after all the rituals and effort, there is only a sense of anticipation, not fulfillment: one last thing, one last sacrifice must be made to complete the process. Through a variety of occult practices including hypnotic past-life regression, John discovers a legacy of aiding the royal sacrifice, whether it be the king himself or a sacrificial substitute, as well as being the sacrifice. Now that time has come again, the time when royal blood must be spilled in defense of the land: in order to divert Hitler's assault on and expected invasion of Britain, Prince William is the one called to be the sacrifice and Sir John's hand is called to make the sacrifice. Prince William accepts his duty, and with a ceremonial guard of members of the Old Faith, he meets his death indirectly by Sir John's hand. But the sacrifice has not been in vain: the very next day, Hitler suddenly abandons his plan to invade England and turns his attention to the East and Russia.
Commentary:: Trancework and hypnosis is a valued tool here, not only for its mundane uses but for its occult uses, as well. Sir John uses self-hypnosis to get some much-needed sleep when his worries might otherwise deny him that escape: likewise, he uses it to help one of his agents sleep though wounded, albeit in Prince William's full view. (The ensuing conversation about hypnosis and other 'magical' topics led too close to Sir John's true activities for his comfort, at the same time reminding him of just how shrewd Prince William was.) However, such trancework is also not without its surprises. At one point, in order that Prince William does not psychically interfere with a magickal working, Sir John gives him a sleeping pill. Though he uses a drug for the process, he also casually uses the same touch trigger that members of the coven have learned for inductions. Having seen (as described above) the trigger in operation, Prince William obligingly goes into a deep hypnotic trance. So deep, in fact, as Sir John discovers, that the level of trust he bestows upon Sir John frankly embarrasses his friend.
This novel is partly dedicated to Margaret Murray who published the book "The Divine King in Britain" (1954) and whose earlier writings about the sacrificial role of previous individuals in such books as "The Witch-Cult in Western Europe" (1921) and "The God of Witches" (1933) is a great part of the background of this novel. It was her contention that figures like Thomas Becket were expiational sacrifices in place of the reigning monarch, some even at the direct command of the monarch. Her claims were popularized but any academic criticism was largely ignored.
This novel is also partly dedicated to Dion Fortune (neé Violet Mary Firth.) According to sources, including her own writings, Dion Fortune participated and even organized elements of what was called "The Magical Battle of Britain" that is the factual background for this fictional novel. She is also one of the few occult figures of that time period explicitly identified in the book One of the people credited in the acknowledgments page is Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, the head of the Servants of Light organization, itself an off-shoot of the Society of Inner Light founded by Dion Fortune. Dolores loaned Katherine her mother's diary and papers from the WW II era, as Dolores' mother was also a member of an occult group at that time.
Recommendation: Highly recommended. the characters are complex and interesting, even the minor characters, and the story in involving. The story fits in with real history, to the point that it is hard to tell what was real and what was fictional. Plus, as I explain below, she knows her stuff when it comes to hypnosis.
- Katherine is an Erickonian-trained hypnotist. The scenes involving hypnosis, especially the inductions, are very accurate.
- "Lammas Night" was originally a stand-alone novel, but the "Adept" series revealed that the mother of the lead character Sir Adam Sinclair, Phillipa Sinclair, knew the leader of Sir John's coven and worked with him during the War on occult matters. (It has been rumored that the next "Adept" novel would involve this relationship.) Adam himself would also encounter a much older Sir John on more than one occasion.
- According to a talk Katherine gave at Confusion in 1987, some parts of the novel were based on actual events during WWII. According to her, she was able to interview a number of individuals who were involved with the events described: many of these people had never spoken of their actions and only through a great deal of effort and a number of references and referrals was she able even to contact them. In fact, she was led around the English countryside, going from one person to the next without really knowing exactly her entire schedule, under a promise of secrecy and discretion she has maintained to this day. (Although they have been repealed by this time, the repressive 18th Century anti-witchcraft laws were still in effect during that era.) Knowing the reputation for English weather, she also made one request of the people she was visiting: clear skies and good weather, and for the 14 days she traveled, that was what she found. Of course, she had to stay an additional day past her schedule and, of course, it poured.
- Katherine is the first person ever to hypnotize me: I attended EarthCon in Cleveland in 1984, where she was a guest. On Sunday she presented a panel on hypnosis and did a brief induction demonstration with the audience. Of course, I participated.