Based on Peter Ackroyd's Hawksmoor, how would one answer the following questions: What is the protagonist Nicholas Dyer's Satanism? Who was William Blake?  What did he represent? In what ways...

Based on Peter Ackroyd's Hawksmoor, how would one answer the following questions:

  1. What is the protagonist Nicholas Dyer's Satanism?
  2. Who was William Blake?  What did he represent? In what ways did William Blake influence Ackroyd's Hawksmoor, and what was his relation with the protagonist Dyer?
  3. What is the convergence between the past and the present throughout the book?
  4. What corruption can be seen throughout the novel?
  5. Who was Christopher Wren? What was his relationship with Dyer? 
  6. What murders took place in both the past and the present?
  7. In what ways are Dyer and Wren in opposition to each other, and what happened to Dyer's third victim? 
  8. What are the palimpsests in Hawksmoor? And of London?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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As we are limited in both space and online access to the text, below are a few ideas to help get you started.

In Peter Ackroyd's Hawksmoor, the protagonist Nicholas Dyer is described as having fallen in with a cult that has reversed Christian doctrine. Christian doctrine asserts that the Book of Genesis attributes Satan as having tempted Eve to eat from the forbidden tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Literally, Genesis, Chapter 3, describes a snake as having tempted Eve and further characterizes the snake as having been the most clever of animals God created; however, commonly, Christian theologians have interpreted the snake as actually being Satan, not a real snake. In contrast, the cult Dyer has joined asserts that the snake who tempted Eve was actually Christ, not Satan; therefore, the cult further asserts that only Satan is worthy of being worshiped, not Christ, which is certainly a form of Satanism.

William Blake was recognized as a prolific poet, one of the finest painters England has produced, and even a printmaker. He was also known to be deeply religious but to also reject the Church of England and "all forms of organized religion" (Poem Hunter, "Biography of William Blake"). In fact, William Blake actually broke away from all Christian churches by developing his own mythology. There are those who have argued that Blake new a great deal about Gnostic doctrine and that his own mythology heavily aligned with Gnostic doctrine ("The Religious Affiliation of Poet William Blake"; "William Blake's Mythology"). In his mythology, Blake created a cruel god named Urizen who can be paralleled with the Gnostic god called the Demiurge ("William Blake's Mythology").

One thing Gnostics teach is that there are multiple divine beings; one is the supreme God, and another is a lesser creator-God who created the universe but in a very erroneous manner. This god is called the Demiurge and is responsible for creating the world in its terrible state of suffering and death we know it to exist in today; the Demiurge is considered to be a false god and trickster because he strives to be like the true supreme God (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Gnosticism"). The Demiurge is also called by several other names, including Ahriman, El, Yaldabaoth, Yahweh, Saklas, Samael, and even Satan ("Gnosticism: The Demiurge"). Hence, Gnosticism, just like the satanic cult in Hawksmoor, reverses the role of Satan attributed by Christian theology. Gnosticism sees the biblical God and Satan as being one and the same--they are both the same trickster and false god; therefore, Gnosticism would believe it can be said it was truly the biblical god Yahweh who tricked Eve in the garden, not just Satan. However, the satanic cult in Hawksmoor does diverge a bit from Gnostic doctrine because the cult believes that Satan is worthy of being worshiped. Therefore, unlike Gnosticism, the cult philosophizes that Satan is the supreme God, while Yahweh and his son Jesus Christ are both the false Demiurge.

Nonetheless, we can certainly see the Gnostic influence on both the cult and on William Blake's mythology. Hence, if it can be said that William Blake influenced Ackroyd's Hawksmoor, the influence can be attributed to Blake's non-traditional religious beliefs, beliefs that can be seen as related to Gnostic beliefs. 

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