Today’s entry in the Royal Occultist Compendium delves into the bureaucratic wrangling of the Ministry of Esoteric Observation and Containment.
The Ministry of Esoteric Observation and Containment was formed in 1907, following the disappearance of Edwin Drood, the then Royal Occultist. Drood, a firm believer in the rational sciences and the observation, classification and regulation of the eldritch and aetheric, privately supported the formation of a governmental body to deal with what had, until then, been the sole province of the Queen’s Conjurer.
The Ministry, while small at first, wielded – and still wields – influence out of proportion with its size and oversight budget. As the world grows smaller and more complex, many in His Majesty’s government feel that final authority concerning occult matters should be held not by one man, but by an organisation of dedicated civil servants, who can be better prevailed upon to put the good of the nation first, and dedication to obsolete and eldritch and, frankly, heathen, matters, second.
As such, the Ministry is on record as believing that the responsibilities of the Royal Occultist would be better undertaken by the Ministry itself, all evidence to the contrary. To this end, the Ministry has made a number of attempts over the years to circumvent the office of the Royal Occultist – often to the detriment of those involved. Nonetheless, the Ministry shows no signs of relenting in its pursuit of these powers, or of those belonging to independent bodies such as the Westenra Fund or the London Tunnel Authority.
The Ministry is most often represented in its affairs by the enigmatic Mr. Morris – almost certainly a pseudonym – a bland individual of unassuming appearance and diffident manner. As the Ministry’s representative, Morris has made it his personal mission to take the lawless demimonde of London – and England – in hand. That includes the Royal Occultist. While Drood’s successor Carnacki often clashed with the Ministry in matters magical, his successor, Charles St. Cyprian, has worked with Morris and the Ministry on more than one occasion, including the Seeley Affair of 1921.
Despite this mostly amiable working relationship, however, St. Cyprian and Morris have found themselves at odds on occasion – something which has begun to occur with more frequency in recent years.
The idea of a governmental body tasked with investigating the occult isn’t a new one. It’s a fairly common trope of urban fantasy and modern occult detective fiction. Which, honestly, is why I decided early on to add it as a background element to the Royal Occultist – I love tropes and clichés, and a series like this should be full to bursting with them. Too, ‘the gentleman amateur replaced by a bureaucratic body’ is a trope of espionage fiction, which the series draws from as much as works by Hodgson and Benson, though somewhat more subtly.
The Ministry is often embodied in its appearances by a bureaucrat named Morris. Whether this is his real name or an assumed one is never revealed, but the implication is the latter. A fussy, egg-shaped man, Morris is a monster through and through – a sort of nastier George Smiley, only thirty years early and with fewer redeeming qualities. His successors – also named Morris – are, if anything, even worse, as seen in stories such “Unquiet in the Earth” and “Cheyne Walk, 1985”.
Morris, and by extension the Ministry, are good foils for St. Cyprian as well as good plot-motivators. If I ever run into trouble coming up with the impetus for a plot – it’s the Ministry’s fault. If I ever need a deus ex machina rescue – the Ministry can do it. If I ever need a villain that’s a cut above a werewolf or a cultist – rogue (or not so rogue) Ministry asset.
That said, I try not to use them too often. Like the Order of the Cosmic Ram, the Ministry is best used sparingly, and for bigger stories, with political or international implications. And like the Order, they’re always there, lurking in the background.