Review: The Arcanum by Thomas Wheeler

Review written by Jess Peacock

There was a time, not too long ago, when struggling novelists would find a certain amount of success writing treatments and screenplays for television and film. Recently, however, that trend has reversed itself as creative concepts that begin their lives as big budget movie pitches find an outlet on the bestseller lists. Take, for example, The Strain, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s vampiric literary hit based on del Toro’s treatment for a new television series (which, not surprisingly, has come full circle as a green lit small screen project).

Enter Thomas Wheeler, a low level Los Angeles based screenwriter with a gem of an idea that may have been a little too smart for Hollywood: bring together some of the most imaginative minds of the early twentieth-century to battle an evil so dark and insidious even they may be woefully inadequate to emerge victorious. Harry Houdini, Marie Laveau, H.P. Lovecraft, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle form The Arcanum, a group whose purpose is to stem the flood of supernatural wickedness continually tearing at the seams of our reality during a period of history where everyday life was transforming technologically and spiritually.

Wheeler introduces us to The Arcanum after they have disbanded after decades of working together, years which have produced strained relationships, buried emotions, and, for Lovecraft at least, a battle with encroaching madness as he balances on the shaky precipice between our world and the unknowable void of the occult (which, let’s face it, is not too much of a stretch for Lovecraft).

Faced with a tragedy that potentially forecasts the end of humanity (naturally), Doyle must travel to Old New York to re-form the one group that stands a chance of stopping the accelerating evil. The rest of the group has moved on, however, and the creator of the greatest literary detective of all time finds that one member’s celebrity and another’s imprisonment for a series of ghastly murders threaten to halt the rebirth of The Arcanum before it even begins.

Not surprisingly, The Arcanum is traveling a similar path to that of The Strain, and is set to be directed by Randall Wallace (We Were Soldiers) with Wheeler writing the script. While the translation from book to screen should be relatively easy given the very cinematic nature of the prose, one cannot help but remember the on screen abortion known as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen based on Alan Moore’s amazing graphic novels recounting the exploits of a similar team comprised of literary figures such as Allan Quatermain and Captain Nemo.

Despite this concern, it can be said that The Arcanum is a close to brilliant blend of various strains of magic, over the top action, Gnostic Christian mysticism, the Cthulhu Mythos, and Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries. In addition, it wildly succeeds at seamlessly constructing a history that many of us desperately want to be true, and a fascinating fictional window on some of the more colorful and fascinating characters of our time.