A review by Phillip Coppens
The Ninth Gate was the film adaptation of The Dumas Club, written by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. The central quest of the film and the book is… another book: “The Nine Doors To the Kingdom of Shadows”, also known as “De Umbrarum Regis Novum Portis”, the "Nine Gates" for short. The book is written by one Aristide Torchia in Venice in 1666 and contains nine woodcut engravings rumoured to be copied from the apocryphal Delomelanicon, a book purportedly written by Lucifer himself. The Nine Doors to the Kingdom of Shadows is said to contain within its pages knowledge to raise the devil. The author was burned, along with all his works in 1667. Three copies are known to survive, one with Baroness Freida Ungern, one in the Fargas collection, and one last known to be in the possession of Enrique Taillefer, but recently sold to Boris Balkan.
Whereas the latter characters will immediately be deemed fictional, more research is required to find out whether the book itself of the Delomelanicon is an invention of the author – or fact. In short, both are fictional, as is Torchia, the author of the Nine Gates. But such a quick classification of the core of the mystery would miss out on some major points of interest of both the book and the film.
First, the name of the source, Delomelanicon, is a mixture of two Greek words: delo, to summon; melas, black, dark. The methodology to summon Lucifer is said to be extremely old, visible in the Turis Papyrus (dated to ca. 1300 BC) and quoted in the Corpus Hermeticum. For the experts, the latter would be a give-way to its fictional character as the Hermeticum could not be further removed from demon worship. As to the Turis Papyrus, it does not exist, but was probably derived from the well-known Turin Papyrus. The Turin Papyrus of Kings, also known as the Turin Canon, is a hieratic manuscript of the 19th dynasty of Egypt, listing the kings of Egypt from the earliest times to the reign of Ramses II (1279–13 BC), under whom it was written. Thus, not only does the Turis resemble the Turin in name, but also in date of origin.
The fictional work of the Delomelanicon or the Nine Gates is cleverly surrounded by books that do exist. At the same time, the book is also full of genuine historical characters. Thus, there is Roger Bacon and Giordano Bruno… but Reverte leaves it to the expert reader’s insecurity to see whether he will immediately recognize the Nine Gates as a fictional invention, or something the expert might not have known about.
One of the existing books is Asclemandres, the book that enables one to “face the light”. This is worked into the story on the opening page of the Nine Gates, where the inscription reads SIC LUCEAT LUX. In the book, this is translated as “Thus shines the Light”, in the movie as “Thus let the Light shine”.
Throughout the movie, the entry codes of the “bad guy” Boris Balkan is 666 – the number of the devil. As such, Reverte has the book written in 1666, in Venice. Aristide Torchia, though fictional, is created from the life of Giordano Bruno… and Reverte gives his creation real life by stating how Torchia’s life is identical to that of Bruno: both were arrested in Venice, burnt at Campo del Fiori, Torchia in February 1677, Bruno in February 1600. Though Bruno and Bacon were all interested in magic and esoterism, it would be incorrect to state that they tried to summon the devil… but no-one has taken Reverte to task on that confabulation.
Reverte writes that Roger Bacon claimed that the book was owned by King Solomon and that copies of the book were burnt in 1350 AD on orders of Pope Innocent VI. He is therefore giving the book historical credibility by linking it with known people – though inventing a book burning… Reverte thus uses similar techniques to e.g. Dan Brown in some of his world bestsellers, including The Da Vinci Code. Though Reverte will not have tasted the wealth of Brown, at the same time he has never – and so many other authors – come in for criticism for inventing a book and then surrounding that fiction with a series facts… which is exactly what Brown has done in his work.
Brown has used the “Priory of Sion” as the secret society that has continued to preserve the secrets; Reverte invents the “Order of the Silver Serpent” as the society that throughout the centuries has tried to call upon Lucifer, in the tradition of Torchia. There is an actual “Order of the Silver Serpent”, but only in computer games – not as a group of devil worshippers who have maintained the traditions established by Torchia in the 17th century.
Reverte’s book is called The Dumas Club, but the figure of Alexandre Dumas is absent from the movie – no doubt having been found too complex to fit into the scenario. Reverte has carefully constructed his book, so that almost all of the principal and peripheral characters are counterparts of characters in Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. Parallels are also drawn between those characters and actual persons who existed in Dumas's time. Many of Dumas's 257 volumes of novels, memoirs and other writings are listed, as are the names of some of his 27 known mistresses and 6 legitimate and illegitimate children. Amongst them, no doubt, some must have been interested in the occult – if not devil worship, as Reverte alleges.
Dumas (1802-1870) wrote Three Musketeers, but also The Man in the Iron Mask and the Count of Monte Christo. A musketeer was a member in the group of bodyguards who protected the French king in the 17th and 18th centuries. The book, like so many others of Dumas, was a historical novel: set in France’s past, to exalt it and bring it to the attention of the general public.
The Three Musketeers is a historical romance that tells the story of a young adventurer, D'Artagnan, whose life changed when he left his provincial hometown for Paris, and became friends with three Musketeers – Athos, Aramis, and Porthos. Together they fight against the evil Cardinal Richelieu for justice, love and friendship. “One for all – All for one.” Another well-known historical “adaptation” was The Man in the Iron Mask, about the unwanted twin brother of the king, Philippe, imprisoned in Bastille. His face is covered with an iron mask to hide his true identity.
The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo were both written within the space of two years, 1844-45. Dumas was among the first, together with Honoré de Balzac and Eugène Sue, to fully use the possibilities of the “roman feuilleton”, the serial novel. Dumas' works are fast-paced adventure tales, not faithful to historical facts, but blend skilfully history and fiction – which is exactly what Reverte accomplishes in his own novel – and which is of course what Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code performs as well.
Before 1843 Dumas wrote fifteen plays. Historical novels brought Dumas enormous fortune, but he could spend money faster than he made it. He produced some 250 books with his 73 assistants, especially with the history teacher Auguste Maquet. Dumas earned roughly 200,000 francs per year and received an annual sum of 63,000 francs for 220,000 lines from the newspapers La Presse and the Constitutionel. The outlines for the books came from Maquet, who provided the historical setting, even the theme of the “novelistic idea” inserted into history. Dumas would then write the story, sometimes in what critics have labeled as “bad writing”. But Dumas’ audience constantly had to be kept wanting for more – and thus Dumas greatly contributed to cliff-hanger scenes, so that readers would buy the next installment.
Many readers and viewers have become inspired by the woodcuts that appear in The Ninth Gate. They give extra credibility to the movie, as well as intrigue. The woodcut engravings in the novel were designed by the Spanish artist Francisco Sole. The engravings have a tarot-like quality and are rich in symbolism, which is the core of their appeal.
A lot of the engravings tend to become real: the hanging man, the game players, the castle, etc. Hence the reference on the postcard, from Balkan to the baroness “I found it”… Balkan has been able to identify the castle to which the Nine Gates refers, from which the Ninth Gate can be opened.
Like many movies, the movie made use of elegant locations, such as the Parisian Hotel Cayre and the Château de Ferrieres, or the Ville de Pontoise, all in the general vicinity of Paris. But it is the castle of Puivert that is the castle where Balkan will try to raise the devil – and where Corso will enter through the Ninth Gate.
The fortress exists and is recorded at the start of Cathar crusade, the onslaught of the Catholic Church as the heretics in the South of France. Puivert sits close to the Pyrenees, in the region of the other Cathar castles, including the famous Montségur. Whereas Montségur became the last stronghold of the Cathars, Puivert fell in 1210 after a siege of only three days. Simon de Montfort then gave it to his companion, Lambert de Thury, who held it until at least 1213. As a Cathar castle, it sits within an esoteric tradition, which is linked with both the Grail and Lucifer. In the 1930s, the German author Otto Rahn wrote a book about the Cathars, entitled “Lucifer’s Court”. The Church saw the Cathars as heretics – devil worshippers. The Cathars saw the material world as the world created by Lucifer. Each side thus identified the other with evil – which was nothing new at the time and has not changed since.
Reverte talks about other intriguing books that sit in the same tradition as the fictionalised The Nine Gates. There are references to the La Hypnerotomachia di Polyphilo by Colonna, published in Venice in 1545 and the Compendium Maleficarum by Francesco Maria Guazzo.
Both books must have inspired Reverte when he fabricated The Nine Gates. The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is one of the most puzzling, enigmatic and fascinating books ever conceived. Since its publication in 1499, it has surprised its readers with its vast knowledge of architecture and landscape and garden design, but also engineering, painting and sculpture. Though its author is officially unknown, it is now believed that the book was written by Leon Battista Alberti. The book is, however, not about devil worship – largely, it is a book about the right of women to express their sexuality – and eroticism in general.
The "Hypnerotomachia Poliphili" is also known for its woodcuts, 174 in total. They were a primary source for Renaissance ideas on both buildings and plants.
Francesco Maria Guazzo was however an Italian Demonologist. Guazzo wrote his work in 1608, when he was an authority on witchcraft. In his Compendium Maleficarum, he drew up eleven headings under which witchcraft was then held to consist. These include a pact with the devil, a disregard for the Church, trampling the cross, etc. They allegedly also promise to seduce others into the worship of Satan and are baptized in the name of Lucifer, Belzebuth and other demons.
Identical to Balkan’s ritual at the end of the movie, the Devil was also said to draw a circle on the ground and all the candidates reaffirm their oaths to him. They ask Satan to take their names out of the book of Christ and to instead inscribe them in his own book.
Whereas the figure of Balkan is easily identifiable as the millionaire seeking more, the role of Corso and his female “aide” – Irene Adler – is more of an enigma. Towards the end, it also becomes clear that the man on a genuine quest is not Balkan, but Corso.
But who is the girl? Lucifer? If she is, why would Balkan need to raise her, as she is already there? Or perhaps Balkan’s ritual will enslave the devil – her? This would put the devil at his command – he would control Lucifer.
Some evidence suggests she is the devil. She is in love with Corso and in the book, she gives him a copy of a book called The Devil in Love. She at one stage identifies herself as the devil and in the book, Corso believes she is the devil. She also states that she once wrestled with an angel and makes references to the Fall of the angels from Heaven – taking their side…
But at no time does she do anything to actually harm people. She is not evil; she is a protector, an advisor for Corso… but in the end, the killings and other crimes are Corso’s. Whatever her exact role, her role is to protect Corso. Unlike Balkan, Corso will enter the ninth gate. As such, she is the caretaker of the Ninth Gate. In the woodcut – the ninth woodcut that has been removed from all three copies –, this is symbolized by her depicted as riding a dragon, a creature with several heads: the Whore of Babylon, mentioned in the Christian Bible as foreshadowing the entrance of the Antichrist, etc.
By entering through the Ninth Gate, what does this make of Corso? Is he the devil, without knowing it, the girl one of his minions, sent to guide him back to hell? She does possess supernatural power, but it is clear that she never dictates anything to Corso.
Johnny Depp stated: you begin to like Corso towards the end, though he has turned out to be a cruel, cold man, willing to do anything to meet his goal. Throughout the book and movie, the reader or the viewer is largely ignorant of Corso’s role – and it seems Corso himself is no different. The reader and the character are too focused on everyone else, each of which seems more important than Corso… but in the end, only he will go through the gate… and the only person in the story who prepared amd helped him for this was the mysterious Irene. The woodcuts in The Nine Gates made by Lucifer himself are signed LCF… Corso’s first name (in the book) is Lucas Corso… Initials: LC… F?
I know this is tempting to discuss, Noodlemantras. We will, just not quite yet…
Sharpen your #2 pencils and put your thinking caps on.
Our discussion of The Club Dumas starts tomorrow!
by Arturo Perez-Reverte
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Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!
Wow! What a ride!
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