The Wizard of Mecosta: Russell Kirk, Gothic Fiction, and the Moral Imagination

by Camilo Peralta (Joliet Junior College)

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Peralta’s brilliant portrait of Kirk’s literary themes gives us not only a richer explanation for Kirk’s Gothic imagination, love of mystery and permanence, and occupation as an independent man of letters, but also a vivid image of his literary craft which brought forward the rhetorical tradition of Burke, Johnson, Walter Scott, Hawthorne, and Coleridge into the 20th century. Peralta shows that Kirk’s Dantesque view of an ordered soul and cosmos and his Miltonic scope for good and evil makes him the literary equal of T. S. Eliot and C. S. Lewis, with whom he shared a Christian humanist vision for literature and man.

Dr. E. Wesley Reynolds, III
Professor, History | Social Sciences and Humanities
Northwood University

Peralta’s knowledge pertaining to author Russell Kirk is unparalleled in “The Wizard of Mecosta: Russell Kirk, Gothic Fiction, and the Moral Imagination.” […]
Peralta’s handling of the topic makes this reader feel immersed in the subject matter in a way that is both understandable and tonally supportive. I never felt out of place reading about an author whose fiction I have only read a few stories. Peralta does a stellar job of exploring the gothic nature of Kirk’s writings while supplying any reader who is looking to explore Russell Kirk’s fiction with a solid groundwork for furthering their studies of such stories and the macabre nature of such subject matter.

Morgan Chalfant
Fort Hays State University

In his book, “The Wizard of Mecosta,” Camilo Peralta offers the only comprehensive survey of Russell Kirk's fiction available. This is more than just another academic literary volume, though. Kirk, who is most known for contributions to political conservatism in America, was a gifted writer of fiction who embodied his principles through imaginative portrayals of everything from mysteries to ghost stories to political fiction. Peralta's book goes a long way to making this side of Kirk more known and accessible, a needed aid amidst the dry and thirsty land that is American conservative fiction. Every reader interested in the Permanent Things should have this book.

Dr. Sean C. Hadley
University of Arkansas

Hands down, the best book I have read about the “Wizard of Mecosta” in years. It sheds light on the often-overlooked literary legacy of Russell Kirk, the father of American conservatism. Dr. Peralta skillfully bridges the gap in understanding Kirk's contributions to literature and political philosophy. A must-read book for everyone who wants to explore Kirk's gothic and ghostly tales.

Jovan Tripkovic
Orthodox-Christian Journalist

"The Wizard of Mecosta" offers an extended analysis of the fiction of Russell Amos Kirk (1918-1994), a central figure in modern American conservatism who is often referred to as “the father” of the same. Born and raised in Michigan, Kirk was also a prolific writer of fiction, who published almost two dozen short stories and three novels over the course of his long career. At the heart of everything Kirk wrote was what he referred to as the “moral imagination,” a phrase he borrowed from Edmund Burke and often used to describe the instructive and enlightening purposes of great literature. Despite his prominent reputation as a public man of letters and the respect of fellow authors including Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, Kirk’s fiction was never very popular, and has fallen into almost complete obscurity in the present. "The Wizard of Mecosta" is the first full-length study ever published about Kirk’s fiction, and the only work of any length to consider the entirety of his output, including all of the stories and novels he wrote.

By emphasizing how Kirk’s fiction illuminates certain aspects of his social and political theory, "The Wizard of Mecosta" distinguishes itself from the half-dozen or more studies of the author’s life and work that have been published since his death in 1994. It should appeal to anyone with an interest in American conservatism, as well as fans and scholars of the sort of Gothic horror in which Kirk, unexpectedly, excelled. Through his stories of avenging ghosts and timeless journeys through the afterlife, he reminds us of the existence of “permanent things,” the core values and beliefs of Western society, which he strove all his life to preserve. It is high time that his fiction found a more appreciative, and larger, audience.

List of Tables
Chapter 1 Kirk’s Life and Work
Chapter 2 Kirk’s Inimitable Style
Chapter 3 The Gothic Tradition in England and America
Chapter 4 Order in the Soul and Commonwealth
Chapter 5 Timeless Moments
Chapter 6 Kirk, Johnson, and the Conservative Gothic Tradition
Chapter 7 Kirk, Evelyn Waugh, and the Art of Political Satire
Chapter 8 T. S. Eliot and Lord of the Hollow Dark
Chapter 9 Manfred Arcane

Camilo Peralta is an Associate Professor of English at Joliet Junior College. He has been teaching ESL, composition, and literature for over a decade, both at home and abroad, and has worked with students of all ages, races, backgrounds, and abilities.
His research interests include religion, science fiction/fantasy, and conservatism. His work on these and other subjects has been published in, most recently, the journals "Religions," "Mythlore," and "Symbolism". He is currently working on several projects, including a full-length treatment of traditional themes in Shakespeare and a novel set in China during the 1980s.
He has a PhD in the Humanities from Faulkner University and an MA and BA in English Literature. In 2021, he was invited to serve as a Wilbur Fellow at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal in Mecosta, MI, which is dedicated to promoting the work of its namesake, who died in 1994.

Edmund Burke, T. S. Eliot, Samuel Johnson, Evelyn Waugh, Plato, Conservatism, Gothic Fiction, Eric Voegelin, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walter Scott, Ann Radcliffe, William Shakespeare, Horace Walpole