41 thoughts on “KA: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr – John Crowley

    Pages 1 & 2

    Section of a painting by Edward Burra:

    Meanwhile the crows, if not a gestalt of fictions?
    “, they see themselves not as a mass but as many: each of them is one, one amid others, keeping a careful distance, never touching, each one able to see where all of them go.”

  2. PROLOGUE (page 3 to end)
    PART 1: Dar Oakley in the Coming of Ymr
    Chapter One
    Pages 13 – 24

    “Crows beside one another are, in their way, face-to-face.”

    The narrator, creating CrowDar as sub-narrator, mentions a single human life, his life, I presume with concomitant climate warming, can now witness more change in global life than in his own life within it! Very telling. He befriends a sick crow, our CrowDar or Dar Oakley, Dar for short in this review, who tells the Prologue narrator and thus us as well ….. well, I will not tell you Dar’s incident with the Falcon in the past or seeing a HumanitYmr or two and their sticks, resulting in other crows calling Dar ‘Sticks’ in ridicule. I sense you and I will need to acclimatise ourselves to this rarefied Dar narration that so far promises much to savour slowly over the years between other books.
    I think, by dint of my own bespoke circumstances, it also promises extra synchronicities as I am currently reading here the Sarah Crowe typescript or transcript presented within the novel The Red Tree, that this very morning mentioned the story ‘Sticks’ by Karl Edward Wagner, whose named-after award I somehow received in 1998.

    “What I wrote, and then went on writing was nothing like a transcription. Crow talk, Crow jokes,…”

  3. Pages 24 – 32

    “. The doors of those for whom the Crows had as yet no name (“

    How do they know “whom” is correct and not ‘what’? Tantalised by this told told story mixing unknowns like two-legs and a “thing of branches” with explicit Deer (that Deer Dar sees gutted by the two-legs) and, later, by “People”. Why People not Ymr? What’s the rationale of upper case use? Perhaps reading this book is like learning language as an infant does, the process of whom we have all forgotten or think we remember but misremember.

  4. Pages 32 – 53


    Why they do it and what they use, why one stick is right and another not, nesting and fate! call it what you will, and an intrinsic sense of getting into the minds of crows and their sense of seasons and instincts, of enmity or help, perhaps with no idea of future finality, and becoming “meat-drunk” on the results of our gory battle, and why some creatures allow certain things to happen upon their dead but not cannibalism. All inchoate mysteries.
    Crows and Power. Auto da fé. Auto of Fate as Faith.

    “Her eye was not on him. If she saw anything, it was a thing not present, not yet in existence — that thing that Crows, female ones, know before its coming to be: can know because, in them, it already has.”

    I sense this about this book. Although I am not a female reader.

    Pages 54 – 73

    “How, he wondered, could you know the names of things, and not know the things?”

    I know that language’s name is called language but if it slides easily from a People girl in a Fox Cap to a Crow whose name she gives him as the sub-eponymity of this book after he, the Crow, now called Dar Oakley, helps her find her home after being lost then it not the thing I think it is the name for. Disarming, touching talk between them, after earlier in this chapter, we learn, by various means, the concept of death and its difference between Crows and People. Then later Dar’s talk with a Raven is also disarming, but gruffier perhaps. You know, I somehow think this book is reading me, not the other way around. Finding words that later appear on these gruff paper pages with uneven side-cuts that I think I just read. Pages like I remember those old French books needed to be cut in the 1960s. That’s the way the language slides between us…

  6. Pages 73 – 80

    Poignant when Dar takes Fox Cap to see his prideful, long-collected but ultimately worthless ‘treasure’, but the most important discussion here is that of ‘realm’, what you are or where you go? I cannot do justice to it here. But, as an aside, during the 1990s there was a well-known American magazine called DEATHREALM to which I contributed a regular article from the UK, one called ‘Tentacles Across The Atlantic’….

  7. Pages 80 – 94

    “Dar Oakley did not know what regret might be; no Crow then had ever felt it.”

    Singer’s mother a wave on water? Who is Singer? Is he Crowley? Anyway, he is intrinsic to Dar’s helping Fox Cap escape from another People. All rarefied with being or going, being here/there or being himself, or becoming the story itself. A story that seems to evoke, for me, a new religion or form of fiction as religion that I hope my ongoing gestalt real-time reviewing will help to bolster. Something related to the Realmish, I suggest.

    [From one of my DEATHREALM ‘Tentacles Across The Atlantic’ articles in the 1990s shown here: “…part and parcel of a revolving realm with Death at its core: and, in this realm, all the flotsam and jetsam of life (and the richest life is one generated by the imagination as well as by the day-to-day interaction of our minds and bodies) spin round, some colliding only to ricochet off, others sticking together, some being swallowed whole or bit by bit…. Eventually, the various items are sucked into the core where they are minced up or refined into streams of sense (or apparent sense or, even, nonsense) which are then released from that realm into other revolving realms which create new collisions, fusions and spin-offs. This is using Death as a positive tool, as it surely is. Without Death, we’d be nothing.”]

    Pages 95 – 104

    “She had come away from the realm where he’d sought and found her, but in another way she hadn’t, and remained there still.”

    In an oblique way this Fox Cap originally as ‘she’ is now somehow onward transgender with a “fistlike face”, and in another oblique way I remain convinced Crowley is indeed the Singer, even now when the latter is dead, his human carcass opened up to be rifled and carried by eating similarly onward by crows who’d helped eat him. This work becomes stronger and stronger, yet diffuse, oblique, but its words are a murder swarm, too, carrying life, like a gestalt. A living gestalt of those they ate? The crows who carry meaning like words on a rough cut page? Who can tell yet which realm is which?

  9. Pages 104 – 117

    “There was, he thought, some strand of something that connected them, something they couldn’t see or feel, some tightening web.”

    I need to take this book in small bites at the moment, as it is so rich, so musical, so utterly Realmish, if I can continue to coin that word. With a soupçon of Biblical turns of phrase, I sense. Here, themes I have already adumbrated above continue, with increasing clawhold upon me. Plus in these pages tantalising glimpses of how Dar and Kits create chicks together amid the variable ambiguities around them. A whole new world that is rhythmically pungent and punchy.

  10. Pages 117 – 126

    “We’ll have to find the right path, and keep to it. We’ll go neither to the right hand nor the left. Unless the right way is wrong.”

    I shall keep to it, whatever. This book’s exponential entrancement of my reading mind assures that. Now follow, alongside me, the path of Fox Cap and Dar, not because they may find the eternal elixir of life beyond death’s realm or something more amorphous that we cannot yet predict them finding in some far-off barrow, not because the moon is also listening to this story, not because we now skirt with them the sea, but because these are words that seem to have their own soul separate from us all, separate even from the suitably named author himself. A name with the dark tones of others with the same name, but because it embodies Dar as its vantage point.

  11. Pages 126 – 150

    “There are five directions: North, South, East, West, and Here. Here is the one that measures all the rest. It’s where you are and where you may be next. That’s the way to go.”

    This seems to measure the book’s own journey. I felt as if I have just experienced something more religious than religion itself, something that only fiction can give you. A ‘very special thing’ beyond death itself (being sought here by Dar and Fox Cap), something that only previously John Cowper Powys has managed to fully conjure for me. The only way is for you to experience these pages for yourself, and a review cannot describe it other than to point the way. Suffice to say it evoked the root system of my own long-term Yieldingtree and, even if with just a glimpse, by means of the “…there came down through the waters a thing…” passage, Powys’ own crucial “Is it a Tench?” question.
    And the conundrum of mutual beheading….

    “There’s only one of anything. It’s only come upon again and again, and seems to be many.”


  12. PART 2

    Chapter One
    Pages 155 – 166

    “Maybe you can call it folie à deux: I came to believe he speaks, and because I believed it, he came to believe it too.”

    From the onset’s vantage point again, we see through eyes that see through the eyes of Dar by dint of slip-easy locks of language’s canals, I guess. We also sense instinctively how Dar lives amid this book’s concept of ‘excarnation’, now enabling us to comprehend ‘carcass-openers’ upon decoyed, later decayed, animal fodder. And now the religious Brothers and Crows in a new teetered-upon deathrealm… and this narrative becomes even more engaging.

  13. Pages 166 – 173

    “Words are greater than meanings, and can live without them.”

    A relatively short tranche of text read today, but one with even more meaning than some longer tranches. Dar’s relationship with one of the Brothers. The communication methods between them. The oratory with a saint’s reliquary of bones. The eventual pent up prayer with its own eventual wing,
    And I am tantalised by the word ‘fubun’. Previously in this book, I merely sense. I am getting too old to remember things….

    “All these words he knew, words kept in a realm of nothing else.”

    Pages 174 – 190

    “Everyone knows. In the night the Willow can pull up his roots and go walking like a man around and about; and might come up silently behind a traveler, take him in his long withies, and strangle him!”

    And everyone knows of a book where there is a wonderful vision of a golden ladder and exodus from Realmish death… well, they do now know! A Crow be my witness.
    The interaction, in a distant day before we know who we are now, of the between People with People dressed as Wolves and there were Brothers who fought against their ways, more like us today. And interaction of People with crows, crows who eat carcass-opened People, while People do not eat each other …. usually. Or perhaps then they do. Crow would know.
    Crows did not count Brothers among them, but crows had Biggers and Ones among them. But they do interact with People. This book be my witness.
    This is a book of Ymr and possibly TransPeople who WerePeople. Crow be my witness.
    Though we know not how clearly or crowly a Crow can know…

  15. Pages 190 – 209

    “He, Dar Oakley, was himself inside a story, which was also inside him, packed within him like another Crow, and he knew now why he had for so long felt crowded and empty.”

    This book is clearly inspiring, but how it is inspiring is unclear, but it is more than just fiction. I have long had views about fiction as religion or an aspirational preternatural gestalt that illuminates the human condition in all its paradoxes of existence. Imagination and awe as well as spirituality amid bodily survival, as we know not the numinous expect through fiction that is equally inspired itself as it is inspiring. Here we follow “odd undying” Dar as ‘discipulus’, addressed by the Brother as ‘Discipule’, that Brother whom Dar in turn follows into a vision of perhaps some of us will recognise as Hell, whereto the golden ladder appears again and so does Fox Cap in the guise of the Saint that the Brother seeks as part of a penance. There are revisited previous lives and experiences of Dar as a part of a moulded gestalt under our reading fingers.

    “He remembered how the dress of those here seemed not put on, but a part of them, like his own plumage.”

    I had cause to use these quotes earlier today in a concurrent review here:
    “And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.” John Donne
    “And death shall have no dominion.” Dylan Thomas
    “And with strange aeons even death may die.” HP Lovecraft


    Pages 210 – 224

    “The Brother had once told him: the sea is the water round about the land. Even so Dar Oakley had believed the land was large and the water was little. But it was the other way.”

    Crow follows the Brother’s penance pilgrimage to an island by travelling on the same ship, and meets different seabirds there he’d never seen before. I feel this book is an island of fiction-as-reality whereto I have followed Dar from a place that they in the book may feel is my own Dream Archipelago that happens to be what I call the British Isles. Dar, meanwhile, learns that the world has two icy ends, which may be a euphemism for just one end? A single Crow in Heaven may prevent it being Heaven at all. Thinking aloud.

  17. Pages 224 – 244

    Yes, yes, yes, they cried to him, yes, we go.
    He asked them, Is there really a big land to darkwise, far, far off? Not only sea islands?

    And with the most stirring tuition of Dar by the terns breathtakingly to ride the wind like them, even sleep on the wing, and amid the momentous building of a boat and the Saints’ ancient voyage from the island … to seek me out in the lair on my archipelago? No, perhaps, not! But, with each other’s synergy of flight, they did lead the boat onward past an island that appeared as a pareidoliac mermaid or even a real mermaid (cf my concurrent Drowning Girl review here) … yes, amid, all this, I saw a passage in the middle of page 228 that startled me but it told me something that I somehow knew already, even though I am not the one to whom Dar speaks directly, because he speaks directly to the ‘I’ in this passage, a passage I dare not quote for fear of spoiling it for you. I shall just leave you with the boat’s kitchen boy who himself may or may not have become a Saint… And so ends Part 2.

  18. PART 3

    Chapter One
    Pages 249 – 262

    “A being who could see nothing at all could see anything.”

    And that is how this book should be read. Knowing instinctively the instinct of those People and Crows in it, even if those two separate instincts are different means to the same ends. The way they understand each other. Or at least some of each of them. From feral to fine-tuned. With captives among People as replacements for those lost, but also captives as captive meat at least for crows and other birds. Some captives are readers of this book who understand it through their own bespoke instincts, some others who throw it aside early on through lack of finding themselves or their instincts of understanding in it! And the questioning of Names, and why a Nemonymous state does not prevail instead. A being who could see Nemo can see anybody at all. Also death as an instinct, too, one that can be transcended – by some Jungian collective unconscious? Hence, the Perpetuation of Dar. “that realm Ymr”
    (I took with a pinch of salt, by the way, that this excarnation of Dar married a Beaver!)

  19. Pages 263 – 294

    “You’ll live so long you’ll think your life’s forever, and you’ll call it forever, but it’s not. You’ll see.”

    This sporadically Swiftian book itself is a sort of Crow like Dar, with its rough-hewn edges of pages as channels for the reading fingers. It speaks to you as Dar hears his own story via People of different dimensions or sizes, some uglier than others, at one moment a story direct, then interspersed with stories indirect by storytellers or captives like One Ear, all making the gestalt as a single story that is truer than the separate stories that make up that gestalt. Stories or stones of transcendent eschatology. Kits or Kites of meaning. Utterly unique. Including one stone or story that is born from piss and then paradoxically kept in a scrotum? Crowley – and Swiftly, too, in a deceptive eking-out over time.

    “…and Death itself is dead.”

  20. A photo taken this morning (At-Swim-Two-Crows) –
    8FBEF855-30EA-4DA9-93B9-B4BE0A928A73Chapter Two
    Pages 295 – 311

    “Crow destinies had converged in the place where Death had for a moment conquered, and there became a nation, great, mighty, and numerous. In that nation Dar Oakley was honored, heard out, followed.”

    That quoted above, after our being reminded tellingly of the narrative conduit that is Debra’s widower, if I recall correctly. A conduit that is this book itself with its flights of narration by another, a sub-eponymous point-of-view as told to us, a member of some secret Ka-tet? One day to find a Dark Tower? Meanwhile, we follow now a stoical status quo that has more change than status, a potential mating, somehow a homely instinct in open skies, and a tale of fishing by two crows, one that the other once thought a kingfisher. The natural bringing of words like harvest. Barley, Gold, Honey. Gossip, Food, Nests. “Love.” (I used to drink something called Barley Gold.)

  21. Pages 311 – 331

    “And Dar Oakley took a stance —I’ve seen him do it —a stance that has the same uses, I think, as a shrug.”

    Meanwhile, we follow Dar — following him by means of transliteration through that ‘I’ above, who may be me, may be you, may be Debra’s widower — again and again into that Deathrealm whereby a number of years ago I described it as ‘spinning’ etc. (see my quote above earlier in this review). It is a sort of quest, with the help of the Snowy Owl, to visit Deathrealm itself to rescue his latest mating-squeeze called Na Cherry from her own death. This is transcendent and rhapsodic material …. and I sense, if this book is read properly or read by many readers, even if improperly, then Dar may become an archetype of life and death, even stronger than merely dubbing such existentialism as a new religion, one that promises actually to work. It is that significant. It is what I earlier gave the word Realmish, as inspired by this Crowley book.

    “Wherever we are is in Ka!”

  22. Chapter Three
    Pages 332 – 347

    “‘Well, I don’t know,’ Dar Oakley said. ‘You never know, about People. You can never come to the end of what they’ll do, or stop doing.’”

    Crow-wise, billwise, wingwise, whatever-wise, they certainly have their naïve eye on People throughout history, and during the Battle times, we share this view from on loft, a very striking image that either shames us into amending or encourages us to do worse as we see our nature is not amendable. Yet, through this book, and the links it creates between them and us, we learn more about Death, as their lofted view can actually focus down – through the facilitating existence now of this very man-made but Dar-wise book – focus down on a single Person, even knowing her name and, by some sort of poignant mutuality, learning more of the nature of People and their treatment of and contact with their dead. Meanwhile, ironically, Crows battlewise do exploit People by feasting on any unburied bodies.

    “A dozen new names were earned for feats of gluttony never known before.”

  23. Pages 347 – 364

    “Forever, heaven had been distant: the lands beyond death lay at the end of a long astral journey, a shining city, a far shore. Now when everywhere on earth had come closer to everywhere else, trains and steamships, and telegraph lines, heaven too had come nearer.”

    cropped-774eb08c-4682-479a-afe2-4efcf94ce7aa.jpegAnd now with the Internet, nearer still?
    We focus even closer – a blind woman, whom this Book of Dar created, seeing enough to transcend Death. There are so many convincing metaphors and tropes and other strikingly worded images between Heaven and Earth in these pages that even I can believe in the Deathrealm, and now see it for what it is – not Tentacles across the Atlantic all those years ago when I appeared regularly in the pages of that Deathrealm. But more a black-feathered Darstalt across the gulf between literature and truth? Across the battlefields of Civil, but truly uncivil, War. “Mental Sympathy.” Elizabeth Bowen’s ‘shoals’ of blitzed London’s Dead rising through the ruins. “The great commonwealth of the dead,…” “The beautiful uncut hair of graves.”

  24. Chapter Four
    Pages 365 – 384

    “It was Death’s own siren,”

    I should have spotted this use of ‘haws’ before now. “, the haws slid over them.” My own ‘hawls’ and ‘hawling’ like hitchcocking a line of crows on a telephone line? Or simply drawing meaning from a book or hypnotising a book rather than a book hypnotising a reader. That is hawling. Here in these amazing pages, we learn about crow decoys, crow hunters, scarecrows (‘false People’) sinisterly described … and vengeance, amid a relatively modern age’s new farming methods that prevent crows’ pickings, against a man that hypnotises and hunts the crows with his crow-carved whistle, a man ironically derived from the blind woman and there is also a crow traitor also ironically derived from a brood of young for whom Dar had acted as Servitor.
    Scenes that cut the hair within your own future coffin, and get to your dead or dying heart to liven it with rage on behalf of empathy with crows. “A dead Crow was a dead Crow.” Except when Dar dares.

  25. Pages 384 – 401

    “He seemed to have lived so long that he had come to the end of things possible to happen, and from now on what would happen was only what already had.”

    I know the feeling! But a book like this one and its reading experience do put the lie to that…
    Meanwhile, People are ‘planning’ people, a concept beyond Dar’s ability to describe? But through him and his interlocutor or interpreter in this book, we know exactly what planning means, by simply looking back at this book’s planned turnings and flights of expression as part and parcel of random instincts embodied in the crows, who now inveigle Machiavellian justice by plotting to destroy the insidious Doctor Hergesheimer (a villain who will long go down in literature’s planned history of great and memorable villains, he with his own inveigled crow juice!) And Dar’s eventual sexual mating between vastly varying ages with the girl crow he rescues or rehabilitates in that Machiavellian process. Possibly reprehensible, but Crows are not damned like People? Although some readers might think Crows already resemble denizens of Hell!
    But it was effectively a suicide bomb strapped to Dar that killed that Doctor H?

  26. PART 4

    Crow regeneration or excarnation? Just a Whovian thought. But that thought must not demean the apotheosised ending of this book, this Coda of three short chapters, a Coda that probably means that if you can manage to garner a gestalt from the type of instinctively chosen hyper-imaginative fictions that I have real-time reviewed since 2008, then you would reach this uniquely cathartic book KA as that gestalt’s potential core (and I do not say this lightly), although I will continue seeking other versions of that core into the years ahead, a means of never dying because I have in a sense already read and reviewed them… Already married a beaver, spoken to a coyote, seen the end days of People, seen that door or non-door, seen their cars streaming over bridges, the dark towers of dyingstopia or deathrealm. Of Ymr.
    ‘As the crow flies’, otherwise.
    Hawling out ‘the most precious thing’.

    “They had even — too late to stop — changed the earth and the seas: changed Time. People knew it and knew that it was their fault, even if they were among the ones who could do nothing about it.”

    “Just let it not be alone, in the dark.
    Well, it will be what it is.”

    “We’re made of stories now, brother. It’s why we never die even if we do.”

    “I have sometimes thought of or felt the presence of a reader…”


  27. “The hollows and stream beds were filled with the ghostly mist, and bitterly chill; the night paled slightly, diluted with grey; there was a distant clamour of crows.” – Joseph Hergesheimer

    “I was fortunate enough to witness a variety of birds this week, a crow that didn’t want to stay for more than two seconds, so I missed the opportunity there, I’ll get another shot at crow wings one of these days,…” – David Hergesheimer

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