Thursday 9 August 2012

Aleister Crowley: character profile

Part of a series of articles on the characters of The Only Genuine Jones. For the other articles in the series, please click here.


Born Edward Alexander Crowley in 1875, Aleister is an infamous figure in history. During the course of his controversial life, he accumulated a variety of pseudonyms and titles, most notable among them the Wickedest Man in the World, the Great Beast 666, Perdurabo, and the Laird of Boleskine (to mention only a few!) The name by which he is most frequently known, however, is Aleister.

Crowley grew up in the strict religious environment of the Plymouth Brethren. Rebelling against this inflexibility, he developed a lifelong hatred of Christianity, yet it also left its marks in other ways. Throughout the course of his life he dabbled in magic and all forms of the occult, and even invented his own religion which enjoys enormous popularity to this day: Thelema. He also played a key role in a schism of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at the turn of the century. Today the majority of people think he was a Satanist, but this is in fact not true--he never worshiped the Devil.

He was accepted into Trinity College, Cambridge, in late 1895 where he studied Moral Sciences. He read a great deal but rarely attended lectures, and attained a reputation for preferring drink, drugs, and prostitutes to his studies. He soon switched to English Literature as he believed he would have a greater chance of obtaining his degree without doing any extra work. During his time at Cambridge he befriended (and soon fell out with) Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, and spent a lot of time climbing on the rooftops of the college with a band of 'night climbers'.

Although most widely known today for his role in the occult, Crowley was in fact an accomplished mountaineer in the last years of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th. He climbed on Skye with Professor Collie, in the Lake District with John Robinson and O.G.Jones, and was a frequenter of the major Alpine centres including Zermatt and Chamonix. Young Crowley was extremely talented. He usually climbed solo, avoiding the usual gully routes and striking out onto the open faces and exposed ridges; he scorned tradition; he avoided employing guides at all costs, believing them to be incompetent penny-grabbers. He was accepted into the Scottish Mountaineering Club in 1894 at the age of only 19. His partnership with Oscar Eckenstein, another controversial figure in the annals of British climbing, resulted in a number of spectacular climbs including a very early attempt on K2 in 1902.

Also a 'progressive' like Jones, Crowley made use of a primitive version of modern crampons for some of his ascents on ice. His relationship with Jones went sour from the start, however. After Jones made his controversial ascent of the Kern Knotts Crack in 1896 using 'combined tactics', Crowley went out of his way to badmouth the older climber and they remained rivals for years.

His mountaineering career ended in 1905 after an attempt at Kangchenjunga resulted in four deaths, largely thanks to Crowley's own selfish and inconsiderate actions. Even Eckenstein refused to climb with him after this, and he was shunned by the rest of the mountaineering community for life.

For an excellent analysis of Crowley's climbing career, see this article on Footless Crow.


I have chosen the real Crowley as a starting point, and increased both his ambition and his abilities. The Crowley of my story has developed his use of crampons to a higher level, and is using them (combined with a short ice axe) to climb ice at a standard unheard of in the 1890s. His prodigious talent largely brings about the explosion of climbing standards that underpins the story of The Only Genuine Jones. However, Crowley is betrayed by his friends and allies. In trying to take back what he feels he deserves, he loses perspective and almost destroys the very thing he is seeking: a climbing culture free from the chains of the past.

The entire story is based around the dire consequences of one avalanche in the Alps--an avalanche that strikes Crowley, denying him the chance to be the first man to climb the North Face of the Matterhorn. After that moment, history changes and Crowley's actions have profound consequences for the small British climbing community.


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