Jim Tresner, 33
Book Reviews Editor for the Scottish Rite Journal

Editor’s Note:
Publication information has been carefully checked but is subject to change. Before ordering, we recommend you contact the publisher.

I enjoy a good fantasy as much as anyone (I’ve yet to meet a SciFi fan who didn’t). I’m open to the criticism that I’ll pick up a book to read for pleasure much more rapidly than one to read for facts. It’s a special joy, then, to encounter facts and fun together. Three different offerings this month--two of facts and fun, one of fantasy.

Masons Along the Rio Bravo by Joseph E. Bennett softbound, 132 pages, $5.95 (autographed copy $9.00) S/H included Grand Lodge of Texas Library & Museum, P.O. Box 446, Waco, Texas 76703

Ill. Brother Bennett, 33, N.M.J., is a Northerner transplanted to Texas, but he writes with the wit, grace, and charm of a Texan born and bred. He is one of the best-known and most prolific Masonic writers, and he has produced a gem of a book. Masons Along the Rio Bravo (aka Rio Grande) gives the biographies of the noble (and not so noble) Masons who gave form and substance to Texas and its environs in the early years. The book reads more like a series of character sketches for a novel than the “dry dust and crumbling bones of biography.”

Bro. Bennett brings outstanding credentials to the work (Member of the Blue Friars, Fellow of Philalethes, etc.) but he also brings love and passion, and these qualities glint from the pages. The book is highlighted with his own pencil sketches of the men he chronicles--such men as Santa Anna, Jim Bowie, William B. Travis, Jack Hays, James Gillett, Pecos Bill, and Black Jack Pershing. We read of the Masons who created the Texas Rangers and the Masons who formed the government of Texas, as well as those who just did their jobs and thus made life better for everyone. I enjoyed reading this book, and I suspect you would, too.

Famous Masons Game by Sam Capozzolo, MPS $32 +S/H (box, with game cards, markers, rules, callers materials, and biography sheet) Ft. Washington Chapter, Philalethes Society, Cincinnati, Ohio order by contacting Robert Boyington (tel. 513-451-0530 or fax 513-921-1003) or e-mail 103222.301@compuserve.com

Not a book, obviously, but a game that’s both fun and educational, Famous Masons is played, as one plays BINGO, by covering a card marked with numbers and the names of famous Masons. This would be great for a Friend’s Night. You could pass out the cards, have a caller, provide small prizes, and the guests would both have a good time and learn about some of the famous Masons of history and today. I tried playing it with a group, and they loved it.

But you can have even more fun than that. The game comes with a card containing a short biography of the famous Mason, which the Caller ordinarily reads when he calls the name and number. (“M 10, Will Rogers”) Try playing it by just giving the biography so that the players have to figure out the name and match it with their card. (Example: “M Comedian, Actor, Political satirist, Pioneer aviation enthusiast. Killed in plane crash 8/15/35”) It’s more of a challenge that way, but however you play it, the game is entertaining, and it’s a good ice-breaker for non-Masons. Every Lodge should have a copy of this game.

Now, to the fantasy. I enjoy rereading Alice in Wonderland every few years because I always come away with a new appreciation of Carroll’s wit and biting social commentary. (If you have not read it in a few decades, get a copy of The Annotated Alice, which explains some of the Victorian references, and try it. It’s sure to be a treat!) No doubt it’s fun to spend some time with white rabbits and mad hatters and the Queen of Hearts--but don’t expect to meet them on the street.

The Hiram Key: Pharaohs, Freemasons and the Discovery of the Secret Scrolls of Jesus by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas hardbound 384 pages, $24.95. ISBN: 1-86204-004-4 from Element Books, Inc., P.O. Box 830, Rockport, MA 01966 Tel. 508-546-1040

If you decide to read The Hiram Key approach it as you would Alice in Wonderland--fun and fantasy, an interesting tribute to the creative ingenuity of the human mind, but NOT as a serious book about Masonry. ‘Tain’t!

Dr. Rex Hutchens, 33, G.C., mentioned that he had thirty pages of notes on flat, provably wrong, errors in the book, when we spoke about it recently. I stopped counting after the first dozen, but then I don’t expect Alice to give me accurate data on the gravity of falling down rabbit holes. The Hiram Key bears about the same relationship to a serious book on Masonry as does the Duchess’ famous couplet (“Speak roughly to your little boy and beat him when he sneezes/He only does it to annoy, because he knows it teases”) to a serious book on child-rearing.

Some of the errors are understandable. We all write about the Masonry we know, and the authors are English Masons, so it is not too surprising when they assert that ALL Masons wear black suits and white shirts and gloves in Lodge, and that the Tiler won’t let them in unless they are so attired (albeit it would come as a considerable surprise to the Brethren of several Lodges I know where the usual dress is cowboy boots, jeans, and a plaid shirt). It is harder to understand why two English Masons, who were taking the trouble to write a book, would assume that the Grand Lodge of England and the United Grand Lodge of England were the same thing, and give the date of the United Grand Lodge as 1717 rather than 1813. Equally surprising, they assert that since Masonic ritual does not explain why Hiram Abif is called “the son of the widow,” there is reason to assume that Hiram was really an Egyptian pharaoh. It is more likely that the ritualists assumed candidates would be familiar with 1 Kings 7: 13-14.

The book makes use of a technique known as the creeping assertion. To illustrate, suppose I wrote: “Is it remotely possible that John Russell Pope, when he designed the House of the Temple, really wanted to use the design for an oyster bar?” (Don’t laugh; that’s mild compared to some of the assertions in The Hiram Key.) Then, a little further into the article, I wrote, “Oysters have been sold in Washington, D.C., since the days of its founding.” And I were to conclude the article by writing, “So it is clear that Pope wanted to use the design of the House of the Temple for an oyster bar.” “Huh?!” you would be entitled to say.

More upsetting, in fact unpleasant, to me is the attitude of religious intolerance and ridicule toward Christianity and, to a lesser degree, Judaism, that the authors adopt. I have no objection to anyone examining and analyzing any faith--that’s part of the intellectual give and take which Masonry has always supported--but I do expect any Mason to treat ANY faith with respect, not snide contempt.

In fairness, there are some very good lines in the book. One, which I especially enjoyed, comes in a discussion of the Egyptian concept of Ma’at. The writers say, “Freemasonry is not a religion in the same way that the concept of Ma’at was not an integral part of some theological structure or legend. Both are pragmatic realizations that the continuance of civilization and social progress rests upon the individual’s ability to ‘do unto others as you would be done to.’” I’ll probably echo that line at the first opportunity.

So if you read this book, read it for the fun and the fantasy and the creative flights of imagination--but don’t read it for facts, don’t read it for history, don’t assume you’re getting some profound new insight into Masonry, and don’t be too surprised if you catch a glimpse of a white rabbit with a pocket watch.