(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Pierce Moffett, a history professor in his mid-thirties, is caught between two worlds: He is too old to feel comfortable with the psychedelic mysticism of his students and too young to adapt to the stodgy mindset of his departmental colleagues. In a self-defeating act of rebellion, he neglects his classes and recklessly pursues a beautiful, cocaine-dealing gypsy. When she deserts him, a chastened and penniless Moffett retires to the Faraway Hills--a fantasy version of the Berkshires--to devote himself to independent research.

Following up on a question posed by one of his own professors--why do people believe that gypsies can tell fortunes?--Moffett becomes obsessed with “Egyptian” traditions in the Renaissance, especially with the scholar-magicians Giordano Bruno and John Dee, contemporaries of William Shakespeare who accepted the historical reality of the Egyptian sage Hermes Trismegistus. Since Moffett is well aware that Hermes’ writings were actually composed by anonymous neo-Platonists in the first century A.D., he begins to refer to the legendary Egypt as “Aegypt,” to distinguish it from the historical Egypt. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that the legendary is more real than the merely factual.

Moffett learns that Fellowes Kraft, one of Bruno’s biographers, once lived in the Faraway Hills. He breaks into Kraft’s abandoned home and immediately discovers an unfinished manuscript among the deceased scholar’s papers. The first page of the manuscript turns out to be identical to the first page of the book the reader holds.

Crowley, author of the best-selling fantasy novel, LITTLE, BIG, delights in incredible coincidences, philosophical puzzles, and metafictional games. Unfortunately, readers unfamiliar with his acknowledged sources--Robert Graves, D.P. Walker, and especially Frances Yates--will have trouble grasping the basic premises of this book. On the other hand, those who have read the sources may find that AEGYPT pales in comparison.

A fundamental problem is that New Age philosophy is already old hat. Crowley admits as much by setting the story in the mid-1970’s, but the novel would better have been published then. Much of AEGYPT’s quirky appeal (and it is, in spite of everything, appealing) derives from the nostalgia it evokes, not for a lost Egypt, but for the lost world of our own recent past.