Warehouse 23

This article originally appeared in Pyramid #9

The Seven Books of Alexander Lacan
by John M. Ford

While Alexander Lacan (1823-1892?) is usually described as an "occultist," he would have rejected the term. He considered himself a scientist -- he preferred the archaic term "natural philosopher" -- and believed that nothing was hidden to those with the perseverance, and the courage, to look. He wrote: "As Man has finally begun to learn that there must not be one law for the Prince and another for the poor man, one law for the Englishman and another for the Hindoo, so there is not one rule for the Gods and another for Men. What They have done, we may do. Nay, can do, must and shall do."

Lacan lived in Devonshire, England, near Dartmoor, where his experiments with chemistry and electricity would disturb no one. His source of income is not precisely known, though he certainly never lacked for money. He was not a complete recluse, appearing once or twice a month in the nearest pub, the Star and Compass, for dinner and political conversation -- radical, but not beyond the radicalism of the times.

The Star and Compass was where he was last seen, in April of 1892. No one seemed to notice anything unusual on that visit. When he failed to appear for three months, a constable visited his house. It was empty, and had clearly been so for some time. The library, laboratories, and astronomical observatory, all quite valuable, were apparently intact, and most of Lacan's clothes were still present. A manuscript journal was found in the study, but it offered no clue -- at least, no practical clue -- to his disappearance.

Lacan's Journals of a Free Mind were published in 1923, the hundredth anniversary of his birth, by Editions du Bord, a small "mystic arts" publisher in Paris. Editions du Bord closed in 1940, leaving very few records; the best guess is that between one and two hundred copies of the Journals were printed.

According to the Journals, around 1860 Lacan became interested in the "lost" writings of the natural philosophers of the past. He developed the idea that there were seven volumes of extraordinary knowledge, lost or deliberately hidden away through human ignorance and fear. Any one of the books could make the owner immensely powerful, if that person were willing to apply its contents; with all seven, there would be nothing separating a mortal from the Gods. Lacan always referred to "the Gods" in the plural, and he seems to have believed that they were mortal beings (not necessarily human) who had mastered the arts he tried to learn.

Lacan's disappearance was never solved. Most people believed that he had died on Dartmoor, in whose bogs and wilds many people have vanished, either by accident or murdered by a vagrant. Skeptics claimed that, financially exhausted by his quest and ashamed at its failure (for even those who considered Lacan a fool never doubted his intelligence), he chose to vanish, either a suicide or an exile under an assumed name, possibly in America. A few true believers insisted that he had completed his search and been translated to a higher existence, perhaps to Deity itself, and that the Seven Books of Knowledge had then been scattered across the world, waiting for the next questor.

The Seven Books

The Sforza Codex. A notebook of Leonardo da'Vinci, containing working diagrams for machines far beyond the cannon platforms and underpowered flying machines of his known work: death rays, robots and computers, nuclear explosives, a time machine. In da'Vinci's handwriting -- mirror-writing, in Italian, naturally -- and unique.

Further Investigations of Andreas Vesalius. Vesalius was the great student and illustrator of human anatomy, working at a time when human dissection was officially forbidden. This book describes his experimental work in the reconstruction and animation of dead bodies; Lacan may have acquired it from the library of the late Dr. Victor Frankenstein. In Latin, though Vesalius's illustrations are famously clear. There may be as many as eight copies.

Elements, by the Comte de Saint-Germain. A practical manual of alchemical transformation. More than a recipe for making gold, it includes the secrets of chemical immortality, invisibility, and control over all properties of matter and energy. While the author is known to have lived in pre-Revolutionary France, this book is much older; either "Saint-Germain" was an immortal, or simply appended his name to a work he inherited. In Latin; one, or possibly two, copies.

Beyond the Pillars of Hercules. An anonymous account of a voyage to Atlantis, possibly used as a source for Plato's writings on the subject. So much has been claimed for Atlantean science that its exact contents cannot be guessed at; some believe that it is actually an atlas and gazeteer of lost places of power. Written in classical Greek; one copy only.

Principalities of the Kingdoms. Describes strange and exotic forms of life, some of which inspired the monsters of legend: sea serpents, flying blood-drinkers, shape-shifters. One section deals with intelligent plants, another with the hypothesis that the Earth itself is a living organism. Attributed, doubtfully, to Pliny the Elder. In Greek; at least three complete copies exist, and as many as three more have been cut apart and rebound as pamphlets dealing with a particular creature or class of creatures.

The Grand Orrery, by "King Balthazar." Detailed account of the mechanics of the Universe, including descriptions of contact with extraterrestrial beings. Allegedly written by one of the "Magi" (Babylonian astronomer-priests) of the equally pseudonymous Gospel of Matthew, but known to have existed several centuries before the Christian Era. One copy in Aramaic, one in Greek, one in Arabic.

The Siren of Odysseus. Study of the powers of the mind, human and animal: special perception, telepathy, soul travel, and a chapter called "Will Influencing Will." Written in Asia Minor before Alexander's conquest of Persia, by someone using the name "Odysseus," who claims to be an eternal, immaterial wandering spirit temporarily inhabiting a human body. The language of the original is unknown; two copies of a Greek translation were made.

The number of copies can, of course, be adjusted by the GM -- availability is what really counts, of course, and even eight of something isn't very many in the whole world, especially when the owners are so very possessive. More modern translations could exist, though such are likely to contain errors -- making the recipes worthless, or dangerous.

Also note that the books may take a number of forms: the earliest may still be scrolls, or for ease of use a scroll may have been cut and rebound as the kind of book we're familiar with. Microfilm has been around for decades (though remember that microfilm deteriorates) and this, of course, is the era of color scanning and electronic storage. Those who have owned the Books, with the exception of Alexander Lacan, have not wanted to increase the number of copies in circulation, and might well, after having a copy or translation made, destroy the original.

Launching Adventures

Obviously, in an occult/dark-knowledge campaign, the Seven Books fit right in with all the other semi-legendary semi-lost tomes of Stuff We Weren't Etcetera. Any Dark Lord of Mystic Knowledge would give any number of his flunkies' cheap and convenient lives to obtain any one of them. And, naturally, once a book is in someone's possession, he has to start acquiring the stuff listed in the parts manifest, very little of which is available from Illuminati Mail Order. A little less conventionally, the characters might need one specific bit of knowledge from one Book -- but people who possess them tend to be rather difficult about letting others have access.

There's also the synergistic element: for instance, Saint-Germain's Distillate of Eternal Life might require organs from an animal described only in the Pliny book, prepared on a piece of lab equipment described in the da'Vinci Codex, and then injected into a location shown in the Vesalius. In short, anyone who acquires even one of the Seven Books will desperately desire the others. It's even possible that Alexander Lacan, or someone before him, deliberately swapped around or encoded pages from the books so that they are worthless individually.

In a Victorian-era campaign, Alexander Lacan himself might approach a group of investigators to help him acquire one or more of the Seven Books. Lacan is a cautions, highly intelligent man, but (unusually for someone with an interest in the Seven Books) he is not greedy or selfish: he wants the power of the Books available to all of humanity. He is obsessed, and might try to have someone steal (he'd say "borrow") a Book he could not otherwise obtain, but he will use violence only to defend himself.

In the Twentieth Century, the characters might learn about the Books from Lacan's Journals, either the printed edition or the manuscript. Starting a bit earlier, they could be investigating Lacan's disappearance -- probably hired by someone actually after the Books, or even Lacan himself under a new identity. The Journals can conveniently contain as much background as the GM wishes to provide, as well as clues for the search.

An entire campaign could begin with a player character coming into possession of one of the Books -- a mysterious bequest, a discovery in a sealed attic -- and discovering that all kinds of people are awfully interested in obtaining it. The new owner would assemble some friends (who might have occult knowledge, or might be completely new to the hidden world) to solve the mystery and survive the solution. Further compicating matters, the Book's owner might not be immune to the collector's obsession.

In Vampire: The Masquerade, the Books would be the special interest of the Arcanum (of which Alexander Lacan would almost certainly have been a member); the complete set would surely contain the secret of Rebirth as a mortal.

The Books will fit into a non-supernatural campaign simply by making them the McGuffin everyone's chasing, and reserving judgement on whether or not they "work;" think of The Maltese Falcon. If mysterious forces are trying to kill you over this funny old book you can barely even read, you've got a more immediate problem than whether the book can put you in touch with extraterrestrials. In a sense, what's dramatically interesting about the Seven Books is not the "power" they will grant to the characters (even if, in the game, that power is real), but the intensity of the chase, the kinds of people the characters meet on the way.

Article publication date: October 1, 1994

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