What the hell is the Necronomicon? A figment of H.P. Lovecraft's imagination? A demon-awakening tool foolishly deployed in the Evil Dead movies? A manifestation of Aleister Crowley's magical powers? Or simply a good old-fashioned hoax?
For purposes of this review, Necronomicon (Ibis, 220 pages, $125) is none of the above. Assume, if you will, that it's a tome based on Sumerian mythology, filled with line drawings and incantations. It's bound in ominous black with silver lettering and a built-in ribbon bookmark all the better to keep important verses ("The Exorcism of the Crown of Anu," perhaps) at your fingertips. It's edited by the single-named "Simon," who has been on the Necronomicon beat since 1977. According to Wikipedia, Simon's interpretation has sold nearly 1 million copies. According to his author bio, his best-selling whereabouts "have been unknown since 1984" until this 2008 re-release, anyway.
The Necronomicon is a fearsome-looking addition to any bookshelf. It'll definitely enhance any library lacking in new age creepiness. But, uh, one more time: what is it exactly? Fortunately, Simon doesn't leave you dangling. This edition comes complete with a new preface (helpfully explaining the significance of a deluxe 31st anniversary volume, lest you think someone dropped the ball during an even-numbered year), as well as earlier prefaces and an introduction that discusses Lovecraft, Crowley, and occult history. There's also a pronunciation guide (since when uttering the incantations, "a mistake may prove fatal"); and a solemn page-and-a-half warning that dicking around with the Necronomicon can have serious consequences. There's no mention of having to cut off one's hand and strap on a chainsaw in its place, but readers who are also movie buffs will nod knowingly.
OK, then the good stuff (purportedly ancient curses, rituals, spells, etc.) begins, kicking off with "The Testimony of the Mad Arab" and continuing into chapters like "The Incantations of the Gates" and "The Conjuration of the Fire God." Names dropped include Pazuzu, of Exorcist fame. Not everything's gloomy though; instructions on how to "win the love of a woman" and "restore potency" are included, along with poetry that could pass for death-metal lyrics: "I will cause the Dead to rise and devour the living!" Cookie Monster that!
All right. I'm pretty close to mocking the Ancient Ones here. If you happen to see me coming down the street (you'll know it's me just listen for the "fearful howlings of a hundred wolves"), you might want to scrape together the dough for your own Necronomicon, just for protection purposes. The price tag on Simon's brand-new version suggests to me that demons might really be pulling the strings somewhere along the way.