The Secrets of Dr. Taverner by Dion Fortune – A Visionary Fiction Alliance Book Review by Theresa Crater

In The Secrets of Dr. Taverner, Dion Fortune’s short story collection featuring the magical adept and psychiatrist by the same name, we met many interesting characters in the throes of mental crisis that have a spiritual cause, or the families of seekers who want to throw their relative who is not behaving according to social norms into an asylum so they can take control of their money.

It makes for delightful reading. I can attest to that. I was going to thumb through the book to refresh my memory because I am quite busy these days with my own writing and teaching, but from the first story, I couldn’t stop reading. Fortune explains in her preface that the character of Dr. Taverner is based on the real-life Dr. Moriarty, with whom she studied analysis and most likely magic. She says, “To ‘Dr. Taverner’ I owe the greatest debt of my life; without ‘Dr. Taverner’ there would have been no ‘Dion Fortune,’ and to him I offer the tribute of these pages.”

The nursing home depicted, where all manner of magical events occur, was a real place. I’m sure out there in the magical world there are people who could tell us stories about this man and the place. Sometimes one has to suffer a certain amount of smugness to extract such stories (not always), but it’s always well worth it. Fortune also claims all the stories are based on some actual case she herself saw. She says she didn’t exaggerate the events, rather the opposite. She had to tone them down for print.

The stories are narrated by a Dr. Rhodes, a practical and down-to-earth sort of fellow, who has just come out of WWI: “I have come out of the Army with my nerves shattered. I want some quiet place till I can pull myself together.” I’m not sure how much quiet he experiences after all. In many ways he serves as a window for less ethereal minds into the world of Dr. Taverner.

In another way, he serves as the Seeker, and Dr. Taverner (and a couple of patients) as his Initiator. In the end, Dr. Rhodes comes over to “our side.” The cases involve vampirism, which is not Dracula in this case, but a man back from war who has picked up a spirit that yearns for the vitality gained from blood. Other cases involve people who are more fae than human and who have such difficulty adjusting to the norms of everyday life, they have been sent away. In Dr. Taverner’s nursing home, they are allowed out of doors to mix with the faeries and elementals, which effects a cure. In one case, two people with such tendencies meet and marry. They live out of doors in a tent, traveling from wild place to wild place. I wonder if now England has enough wild places left for them. Other cases involve astral transference. A dying man falls in love with a drug addict’s wife, and well, I won’t spoil the story. Black magic is sniffed out and stopped in many stories. One man uses scent to hypnotize his relatives, another seduces women with his extraordinary magnetism, and there are more. Dr. Taverner, with his trusty sidekick Rhodes, puts all right in the end.

As a side note, I was struck with how similar these stories are to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. Sherlock is by no stretch of the imagination a mystic or magician. He is a genius intellectually. But Dr. Watson reads very much like Dr. Rhodes. Both series use the sidekick as the narrator. Perhaps the ethereal heights of intellect or spirituality would not make for a good storyteller. We are happy to put our feet up and stay in our comfortable armchair to observe the virtuosos among us. We can dream of going there, but not stretch ourselves overly much. It remains a pleasure. Yet the stories tweak at our spirits. They suggest things imagined or even half remembered. They suggest ways to grow spiritually. They are Visionary Fiction. They awaken their readers.

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