Stages of Evil: Occultism in Western Theater and Drama

Article excerpt

Robert Lima. Stages of Evil: Occultism in Western Theater and Drama. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2005. 344 pages. $55.00 cloth.

Ordinarily, when a reviewer complains about a book being the book it is and not a different book on a different subject, the book's author can rightfully cry "foul." Sometimes, though, when an author makes excessive claims that the subject matter of his book cannot support, or when he merely mentions in passing a topic that ought to he central rather than peripheral to his book, such complaints are justified. In Stages of Evil, a case in point occurs in the chapter dealing with the vampire theme in live-stage drama. Briefly surveying occurrences of the same theme in other media, Lima poses the rhetorical question, "And what can be said of the extravagant and quirky film version of the Dracula story by Francis Ford Coppola or of the long-running television series Buffy the Vampire Sfayerï" (p. 179) In fact, a great deal can be said of both these screen renderings of the vampire theme; Lima would have been better off writing more about them and less about the relatively few and meager live-stage renderings of the same theme. That the first chapter of his book deals with the medieval topos oi the Mouth of Hell makes the omission especially regrettable, given that the serial adventures of Buffy revolve around the supposed existence of a Helimouth in present-day California. Disappointingly, Buffy receives not a single mention in the "Mouth of Hell" chapter alongside the stage dramas with which Lima is concerned; one wonders if he knows anything more about the Buffy series than its name alone.

The larger problem is that Lima has restricted his diachronic survey of occultism to the occurrence of this theme in theatrical works alone. In surveying the development of a literary theme over time and in various European countries, surely it would make more sense to disregard media boundaries. Playwrights, novelists, poets, and screenwriters disregard such boundaries themselves, influencing and borrowing from one another promiscuously; Lima's arbitrary restriction results, paradoxically, in a book concerned with (inter alia) the depiction of Satanic evil in Renaissance England and including a discussion of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus and Mephistopheles, yet completely excluding Milton's Paradise Lost and Comus. But wouldn't Milton's conception of the latter work as a masque, even if he never intended it for actual performance, permit at least Comus to fit within Lima's restrictions? Lima never actually gives much attention to the performance aspects of the theatrical texts that he analyzes. His approach to them is essentially no different than if they were narrative works - therefore, why not include narrative works (and film and television) as well? …