Making Waves – Duncan MacGregor

 

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Like another artist whom I featured before in this blog, Sir Robin Philipson, Duncan MacGregor has painted a lot of the art on my walls at home, I like his almost abstract seascapes where with a few apparently simple lines he can express the scurrying movement of a yacht in full sail. In 2013 he wrote this book which along with examples of lots of his work includes a fascinating biographical sketch as to how a boy from the English midlands ended up as a seascape painter and nowadays living for the most part in Scotland away from his native Birmingham. The book is published by DeMontfort Fine Art and is 34cm x 28½cm and came in three editions:-

  • Standard edition, unlimited book at £65
  • Limited edition, book in a box with a signed limited edition print and certificate numbered between 151 and 595 at £165
  • Deluxe edition, book in a box with a signed limited edition print along with an original sketch and certificate numbered between 1 and 150 at £495.

The box for the special editions, both limited and deluxe which is the version I have, has a frame built into the lid which held the print and if appropriate the original painting.  The print that came with all 595 limited or deluxe editions is shown below.

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I have left this with the book in the box however I have framed the original sketch as I wanted that on my walls.

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Although there is quite a lot of text, this is primarily an art book so it is the lovely photographs that draw the reader in and despite the relatively large size of the book there are some fold out pages as well so you can really appreciate the paintings featured

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Paintings also extend over the central page boundary at times so that they use the full height of the page and spread if needed to show the full image whilst included photographs are much smaller. Below are a couple of double page spreads showing Duncan with a couple of his boats. Note the doodled fish in the margins of the lower image, there are little bits of humour like this throughout the volume.

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I particularly like the use of multiple fonts throughout the book which complement the artworks beautifully and there are also some double page images with doodles and handwriting in white on a black background just to play with the print format further

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At the time the book came out MacGregor was experimenting with painting direct onto glass and one of the illustrations shows him at work seen through the panel he was painting. This is obviously complex as effectively the artwork is done backwards, with the foreground and highlights painted first and then gradually covered with the subsequent layers of paint until he reaches what would normally be the first layer of paint on a canvas which is applied last. It does produce an amazing glossy effect though in the finished piece.

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As a final view here are three of his original paintings that are hanging here. Click on an image to see it larger.

The Wanderer & other Old-English Poems

My latest limited edition book from The Folio Society is The Wanderer illustrated and signed by Alan Lee. An artist best known for his decades long association with works by Tolkien, both in illustrating his books and his many years in New Zealand working on the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.

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The text is largely from a 1966 Penguin Classic ‘The Earliest English Poems’, translated by Michael Alexander, which also included four pages of Beowulf. Over the years this has been revised until the 2008 edition which provides the entire text for this book, with some amendments, which by then was entitled ‘The First Poems in English’. Lee was approached by The Folio Society to see if he would like to illustrate something for them and between them chose this work as it takes him back to the source materials that so inspired Tolkien in his writings. This is by no means a typical way round, the society would normally choose a book that they wanted to publish and then approach an artist to illustrate it; but what it has produced is a book where you can see the love the artist has for the material and I suspect they eventually had to stop him from creating any more artwork so that the book could actually get published. As it is each poem has its own distinctive decorative borders along with the beautiful tipped in colour paintings and on page printed black and white illustrations.

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The poems and riddles themselves come from a very short window in time, between the reign of King Alfred the Great over the Anglo Saxons (886 to 899AD) where he started the process of moving the written word from Latin to Old-English and the Norman invasion of 1066 when all that was swept away with the imposition of Norman French. In truth there were probably just thirty or forty years where Old-English hit its peak before becoming almost extinct. The greatest source material for the work of this period is The Exeter Book which was regarded as largely worthless for centuries before becoming recognised as the treasure trove that it is.  The poems are much more powerful than might be expected from their great age, they clearly come from an oral tradition as they are directed at the reader as though being read to them, I am reminded of the Icelandic sagas in concept if not in size. Indeed as Bernard O’Donoghue writes in his especially commissioned foreword

There’s a vitality to these poems, written as they were at a time when life was so much more embattled, more desperate and fragile

Along with the general introduction and note on translation each poem has its own introduction setting the scene for the following work and providing mush needed context. The works are over a thousand years old and the people who wrote and read them were very different to ourselves.

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The original Penguin book its variants and companion volumes have sold over a million copies in the fifty years since they came out and the quality of the work shows exactly why Michael Alexander is such a respected translator and this edition makes reading them so much more of a joy than the original paperbacks. The text is presented with the original on the left hand side and the translation on the right as can be seen in one of my favourite works included the fragment of ‘The Battle of Maldon’ from the section of Heroic Poems. I suspect I like these more than the somewhat more introspective other poems is my fondness for the sagas and these have more of a feel of those. However this is an account of a real battle that can be also seen in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to such a level of detail that there is also an accompanying map included with the text so the reader can easily see how the fight progresses, which frankly is not well for the English side and a lot better for the attacking Vikings.

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The riddles are great fun and at the back are a set of proposed solutions, however the one that I have shown as an example also has drawings by Alan Lee which somewhat give away the answer. All the riddles are from The Exeter Book where presumably there are a lot more as these start at number seven and there are lots of numeric gaps.

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The answer is of course mead.

As only 750 copies were printed at £395 each and these are all sold out from the Folio Society it would be difficult to get a copy of this fine edition, but if I have whetted your appetite for Old-English poetry and riddles then the Penguin paperback is still in print and considerably cheaper.

There is a short video showing the book from the Folio Society

and a longer video of an interview with Alan Lee.

 

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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This post is going up on Christmas Eve so I thought it would be good to look at one of the Christmas books sent as occasional gifts by Allen Lane (the founder of Penguin Books) and his family. This isn’t a review of one of the greatest works in English literature, rather I want to look at the book itself and how it came into existence.

The Ancient Mariner was the gift in 1945 from Allen and his brother Richard, sadly the third brother John had died during the war, and this was the first one published since 1930. The tradition of an occasional privately printed limited edition book was started by Allen’s uncle, John Lane, who founded his company The Bodley Head in 1887 initially to sell antiquarian books. In 1894 he started publishing in his own right and that year sent a small volume of the autobiography of Sir Thomas Bodley as a Christmas present to family and friends. It is not known how many copies were printed but it is rarely seen so presumably the print run was quite small. I featured this book in my first ever post on this blog.  There were three books printed as gifts from 1928 to 1930, the first was from Allen and Dick Lane, the other two were from Allen, Dick and John Lane and then whilst there was a gap in the production of books, there were some interesting Christmas cards printed instead in some of those years.

As mentioned above John Lane (Allen’s brother as opposed to his uncle of the same name) died during the war so this restart of a tradition came from Allen and Richard (no longer calling himself Dick). The resultant volume bears the mark of being a little hurried, after all it was only a few months after the end of the war and it was presumably also a little celebration that the conflict was over and normal life could start to return. The cover is full dark blue Niger leather with a medallion stamped in gold and looks rather fine (although it does fade quite badly) however the title page in particular is a bit of a mess with five different fonts and type sizes used in just seven lines.

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After that unprepossessing start though the presentation of the poem itself is rather lovely, the paper is hand made with a gilded top edge, the illustrations by Duncan Grant are also quite atmospheric and whilst better than the original attempts which were rejected by the artist were apparently not as good as they might have been.

Duncan Grant was not happy with the first illustrations we produced, so we did them again, adding I think two more colours

Richard Lane

Quite what they would have looked like without the extension of the colour palette I can’t imagine as they are fairly restricted in colours used even as ultimately printed. Hans Schmoller, Head of Typography and Design at Penguin Books from 1949 to 1976, also felt that they were not as good as they might have been, although for a different reason.

I’ve always thought it a pity that Duncan Grant’s beautiful coloured drawings were reproduced photo-lithographically instead of as auto-lithographs.

Auto-lithography is definitely a far superior process and one that Penguin already used very successfully to give far more subtle colour grading and is also under control of the artist so would presumably avoided Grant’s original problem with the first version of the prints. Maybe it wasn’t done because of this extra work that the artist has to do, but anyway the illustrations are good but as Schmoller says, could have been better.

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As can be seen above the actual text is very pleasingly done with the main part of the poem being in black whilst the commentary on the action is in Venetian red. There is also a lot of blank space round the text which makes it easier to read, this is especially noticeable after the cramped styling forced on publishers during the war when the need to conserve paper stocks led to small fonts and words as close to the paper edge as possible. Richard Lane again:

During the war the production of our publications was only moderate – very narrow margins and as many words to the page as we possibly could fit in – so in The Ancient Mariner we went to town on production

I like the book a lot, it is one of the more difficult Lane Christmas books to find as it appeals not only to collectors of these works but Duncan Grant is also very collectable and there were only 700 copies produced. This is a lot compared to the other Christmas books right up until 1950 when the first one with a print run of 1000 appeared but this does appear to be quite elusive, so was one of the last I have managed to acquire for my collection. I leave you with the image of the first appearance of the albatross that would cause so many problems for the Mariner and wish my readers a very Happy Christmas.

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Misericords – Philip Sharpe and Andrew Judd

This lovely book wasn’t planned to be a post on this blog because until the 23rd November this year I didn’t even know it existed. On that day I was in Hay on Wye, which is the worlds first book town, and discovered a new shop that I hadn’t seen before. Balch and Balch (also trading as The Story of Books) specialise in books from Private Presses and although the main room was closed at the time as they were preparing for the Winter Festival to be held the following weekend Graeme kindly brought a selection of about eight titles for me to have a look at, top of the pile was this one. Now he couldn’t have known that I have a lifetime fascination with misericords and if ever I am in a medieval church or cathedral always check to see what delights are hidden away there in the choir stalls.

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So before reviewing the book, just what are misericords? The description as given at the start of the King Penguin book on the subject (written by M.D. Anderson and published in October 1954 as K72) is reproduced below.

An intelligent sightseer who wishes to understand the mentality of ordinary people living in the Middle Ages will find a rich reward for even a superficial study of the carvings on Gothic choir stalls, particularly those of misericords. The medieval priests, finding the physical strain of standing through a succession of long services beyond their endurance, devised a hinged seat with a corbel projecting from its under-surface which, when the seat was tipped up, allowed them to combine the comfort of sitting with the appearance of standing. In an age which was lavish in the use of fine craftsmanship it was natural that these corbels, although seldom seen, should be decorated with carvings and the work gave a rare opportunity for self-expression to carvers employed.

As implied there is a wide variety of subjects to be seen on misericords and a lot of the time you wonder what they are doing in a church, real and imaginary animals, people making beer or wine (and drinking it), various domestic scenes, knights in armour or even in New College Oxford a series depicting the seven deadly sins… What is rarely depicted is religious subjects. these carvings after all were intended to be sat on and it was not seen as suitable to have sacred images for that purpose. This brings us to the carvings in St Mary’s church at Ripple in Worcestershire, England which were used to inspire the illustrations in this book. Of the sixteen misericords in the church twelve depict ‘the labours of the months’ and Andrew Judd has produced some lovely linocuts of these to accompany not only a medieval poem but also twelve new works by Philip Sharpe that fill out the story.

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The book is printed in a limited edition of just 50 copies of which mine is number 45 by a private press called MKB Editions about whom I have unfortunately been able to find out very little other than it appears to be a Hereford based collaboration between Sharpe and Judd as everything I can find published by the press involves one or both of them. Of the 49 other copies of this book, two are held in libraries according to worldcat, at the University of Oxford and also, somewhat more randomly, the University of Arizona.

It really is a beautiful book, printed by letterpress on Zerkall paper it is quarter cloth bound with printed boards forming the cover. In total there are fourteen prints, one for each of the months along with one facing the anonymous medieval poem that formed part of the inspiration to the book and a further image making up the final page; all are based on the misericords in St. Mary’s. I admit to buying it for the prints rather than the poetry by Philip Sharpe which is OK but without the images I would not have looked twice at the book. There are several references to the River Severn (which flows roughly 100 yards from my front door) and also its propensity to flood, which living here I am all too aware of, so the verses ring true to my locality. But sadly other than the geographic recognition I don’t have a deep feeling for the text; but I will treasure the book nevertheless for adding to my love of the remarkable misericord and a chance discovery decades ago in childhood that has led to a fascination with old churches that I still retain today.

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Hansel and Gretel – Simon Armitage

This was not the book I expected to be writing about at the beginning of June as the publication date is not until the 24th of this month, but on the 31st May a wonderful package arrived and I couldn’t help abandoning what I had been reading and starting on this beautiful volume straight away.

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Simon Armitage has just been made the Poet Laureate for the next ten years and this is therefore his first newly published work since that honour. The poem originally appeared as a ‘libretto’ to a puppet production designed and directed by Clive Hicks-Jenkins which toured England between July and November 2018 but this is its first book publication.

You can see the entire production with the darkly appropriate music by Matthew Kaner, performed by the Goldfield Ensemble here

Clive Hicks-Jenkins has produced a wonderful series of illustrations for this book published by Design For Today. These are clearly based on the theatre production without being limited by his original work.

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The subtitle of the poem is ‘A Nightmare in Eight Scenes’ as the Hansel and Gretel story has been re-interpreted as a modern tale of refugees from a war zone. Without giving too much away the family are starving as the bombs rain amongst them at the start of the book and the parents decide to at least get the children away from there to somewhere where they stand more chance of survival. Hansel and Gretel though mishear their parents planning and think they are simply to be abandoned. This is not the only time that mishearing becomes a plot device in the poem.

As in the original Brothers Grimm tale there is a ‘witch’ and a gingerbread cottage, a trail of stones, a trail of breadcrumbs and abandonment to avoid famine followed by a return only this time without the treasure that would lead to a happy ending. In the modern world of war meted out against helpless civilians there is rarely a happy ending…

The illustrations fit the text so well and the design of the book is beautifully done. I particularly like the colour coding of the words so that you know who is speaking, each character has their own colour as specified in the cast list at the start.

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Oddly I’d never read any Simon Armitage before this but I will definitely be seeking out more of his work. According to his website there are a lot of books to check out

The total production run of this book is two thousand copies, of which one hundred form a further limited edition signed by Simon Armitage and Clive Hicks-Jenkins and which include two extra art prints. Mine is copy number twenty two.

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White Horses – Eric Ravilious

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Puffin Picture Books, an imprint of Penguin Books intended for children, started in December 1940 and ran until March 1965, although by then you were lucky to get one new title a year. In all 119 titles were published out of 120 that were given numbers, the missing title was 116 assigned to Life Histories by Paxton Chadwick and this was eventually printed by the Penguin Collectors Society in March 1996 under the guidance of Steve Hare. The story of the series appeared to be complete, but there were in the archives references to other titles that never even got as far down the path to publication that Life Histories had. One of these was Eric Ravilious’s White Horses. The beautiful watercolours of chalk figures and hills on the English chalk Downs intended for the book did exist but there appeared to be nothing more.

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Ravilious had been approached by Noel Carrington, editor of the Puffin Picture Book series to produce illustrations for a thirty two page landscape book of Downland figures back in 1939 and he was originally very enthusiastic about the project working of watercolours straight away. By the beginning of 1941 he had produced a dummy which showed the planned layout but by then commitments to the War Ministry left him no time to do more. Sadly on 28th August 1942 Ravilious was killed in an air crash whilst working as war artist in Iceland, the dummy of Downland Man (as Carrington referred to it)  disappeared and the planned book appeared to have died with him.

The story leaps to 2010 and the rediscovery of the dummy tucked away with other papers in the possession of Roland Collins. This critical evidence is now held at The Wiltshire Museum in Devizes and it is with their permission to make use of the document that the book I now have in front of me exists. Step forward Joe Pearson, owner of a small printing company in London, book and illustration collector and Penguin Books expert.

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Design For Today has, since its launch in 2015, already built up a reputation for producing fine examples of illustrated books based on Joe’s love of mid 20th century design, either reprints or more often using contemporary artists as inspired by the period as Joe is. As their website says…

Design For Today’s artists’ books are all designed, crafted and printed in the UK, using quality, sustainable materials and printed using the traditional processes of lithography, letterpress, screenprint, or linocut.  Editions are small, from 500 – 1500

Joe had been hinting throughout 2018 that White Horses (as Ravilious titled the dummy) was a project he was working on; with Alice Pattullo commissioned to produce the black and white illustrations needed to complete the artwork as Ravilious had only ever done the colour pictures and Puffin Picture Books are a mix of both. The text of the final book is by Joe himself.

On the 31st December 2018 disaster struck, as the warehouse holding all of DFT’s stock, along with part of Joe’s own book collection and personal items, was burnt to the ground and nothing could be saved. White Horses is the first book to be launched after that loss of all of the back stock from the first years of the business and members of the Penguin Collectors Society are to receive a copy of the standard edition with their June mailing.

My copy of the limited edition version, which also includes a signed A3 print of one of the pictures by Alice, arrived the other day and it is an excellent piece of work not just well printed as I expected having quite a few of DFT’s products already, but entirely in the spirit of the Puffin Picture Book series.

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The double page spread above shows the sort of village that the creators of the earliest chalk carvings would have lived in at about 1500BC and this is the illustration that comes as the print with the limited edition book. The limited edition appears to have sold out already but standard copies of this beautiful book are available for £15 plus postage from Design For Today, anyone who like me loves Puffin Picture Books and/or the works of Eric Ravilious is sure to want one.

The Antipope – Robert Rankin

The first in the increasingly inaccurately titled Brentford Trilogy (currently eleven books with at least one more to come, which is claimed to be the last of the series) The Antipope also has the most straight forward title. Rankin has a passion for punning titles but as this was also his first ever book, originally published in 1981, maybe he felt something more mainstream was required. My copy is the 35th anniversary limited edition privately published by Rankin and signed by him, it is also the first time the book has appeared in hardback. Rankin himself describes his work as far fetched fiction, indeed his privately published volumes are by Far Fetched Books, at the time of writing the limited edition of The Antipope was still available and is illustrated internally by the author, the cover is by the brilliant Josh Kirby

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The full list of Brentford Trilogy books so far is as follows; and from this you can see his love of wordplay with other book titles and songs:

  1. The Antipope (1981)
  2. The Brentford Triangle (1983)
  3. East of Ealing (1984)
  4. The Sprouts of Wrath (1988)
  5. The Brentford Chainsaw Massacre (1997)
  6. Sex and Drugs and Sausage Rolls (1999)
  7. Knees Up Mother Earth (2004)
  8. The Brightonomicon (2005)
  9. Retromancer (2009)
  10. The Lord of the Ring Roads (2017)
  11. The Chronicles of Banarnia (2018)

The Brightonomicon and Retromancer (2009) are included above although they aren’t in the list of Brentford Trilogy books at the front of this book which only has the first seven but equally on the dust wrapper it says:

The Antipope was the first book in the Brentford Trilogy which now includes at least nine books and will feature one more with the launch of The Lord of the Ring Roads – the first book in a new Brentford Trilogy – some time in the not too distant future.

The reason for the confusion in the number of books to be officially counted in the series is probably due to the appearance of several characters from the set appearing in other books by Rankin which means that those may, or may not, be part of the canon. The books also do not appear to have a specific reading order; things that happen in one book are ignored in later volumes, characters even reappear when they were apparently killed off or written out in earlier books and never with any explanation. Individual volumes are consistent within themselves however just don’t expect a sweeping narrative across them all.

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Brentford itself is one of the least eventful places in the UK and certainly contests strongly for the top spot for this amongst towns within Greater London. Looking on the time line on the wikipedia page reveals that the only act worthy of mention in the last ninety years is the 1965 opening of the elevated section of the M4 motorway, an opportunity the express road took to bypass Brentford entirely. This makes the location all the funnier for the ‘far fetched fiction’ that Rankin has take place there and the cast of odd characters that populate the books. Chief amongst these are John Omally and Jim Pooley who are the reluctant, and frequently drunk, heroes of the book. They are never happier than when enjoying a pint of large in The Flying Swan served by Neville the part time barman at that establishment. It should be noted that Neville appears to be the only barman at the Flying Swan so he does seem to be full time although is always described as the part time barman. The other main characters for this tale are Professor Slocombe who understands more than most what is going on and guides the characters to the ultimate defeat of the Antipope; Norman Hartnell (always described as not to be confused with the other Norman Hartnell) who is a mad inventor and runs the newsagents; Soap Distant explorer of the inner Earth; Captain Carson from the Seaman’s Mission and Archroy who, at least at the start of the book, is working at the local rubber factory.

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The plot starts with the arrival in the Flying Swan of

a beggar of dreadful aspect and sorry footwear

All those who encounter him feel compelled to cross themselves even if they are not Catholic and he slowly encounters most of the main protagonists most especially Captain Carson as he moves in and then takes over the Mission house. Quite what a seaman’s mission is doing in Brentford is also a mystery, the town is on the Thames but a long way from the sea. The plot gets odder and odder with each flight of fantasy by Rankin including ‘magic’ beans, vast underground chambers, an attempt to wade the English Channel and a cowboy night nobody will ever forget amongst other things.

Now I’m going to have to read the others in the series…

To conclude with Robert Rankin’s own explanation of Far Fetched Fiction from a 1999 interview in Dublin

 I’ve said this before, when I went into writing I wanted to create a new genre of fiction that wasn’t like anybody else’s. It was going to be called Far Fetched Fiction, I would have my own book shelf in Smiths, with just my books in them and it would be bliss. But it didn’t quite work out like that, I ended up in a general fiction section, and then they realised that I didn’t write general fiction and I ended up in science fiction, which I feel a bit of a fraud for being there. Because people who write science fiction don’t know what I write, and… I’ve forgotten what I was going to say, what was I going to say?

Sourcery (book proof) – Terry Pratchett

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The fifth Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett was published on 26th May 1988, before that however Gollanz released a sample for book reviewers and this was the only time that the book proof of one of Terry’s works was not the complete book. Instead what you got was just the first 61 pages and an essay from Terry explaining Discworld as it was still not well known. It is this short essay that makes this book so interesting as it has never been reprinted so you can only read it is you are one of the lucky few people that own a copy. It is not known exactly how many were printed but the proofs of books four and six in the series were both only of circa 100 copies produced so it is not unreasonable to assume that it is also the case for this example. The poor production value of what is basically a pamphlet with what looks like a bad black and white photocopy of the cover for an author who was not then famous would also suggest that not all of the printed editions were kept.

When Sourcery was printed for real the first edition (see below) ran to 7,600 copies, ten years later Carpe Jugulum (printed 5th November 1998) would have a first edition print run of 160,000 in the UK alone although the proof for that book was still only 148 examples. Pratchett UK book proof collecting takes a lot of looking to find copies and they are all rare.

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But back to the sample book proof, the essay inside describes how Terry saw the Discworld at the time, over the years this evolved and it is fascinating to read his views then, just four and a half years after the first book in a series that would eventually run to forty two novels, along with numerous other books, maps, plays etc. that added to the Discworld universe. The essay is headed

An Introduction to the series, composed by the Author, and included to make this special preview sample of Sourcery even more valuable as a collector’s item

In it he gives this description of why he invented Discworld in the first place

 It was created as an antidote to all those trilogies whose worthy heroes stagger across three volumes in order to do whatever it is that the fates have decreed that a hero must do. But fairy tales and folklore and all the feedstocks of fantasy have been dragged into it, and the humour gently teased out of them by the simple process of taking them seriously and staffing them with real people. This is very unfair on them, because it is like turning loose a large herd of cows in a small pottery.

This was indeed the case in the early Discworld books, the story is played for laughs and there is a strong sense of parody about the writing particularly in the ones up to and including Sourcery. The name of the novel by the way is also a joke and is deliberately spelled that way rather than Sorcery. The concept is that the eighth son of an eighth son is automatically a wizard of power but if he then goes on to have children each son would be as powerful as any existing wizard and if he has an eighth son then he would be a wizard squared and be all powerful with access to the source of all raw magic on the Disc hence a Sourcerer rather than a sorcerer. This duly happens and wizards start building towers to fight with one another, laying waste to the lands and peoples between; does this remind you of any three volume series by any chance? Pratchett specifically mentions Tolkien a little later.

Thus on the Discworld, wizards smoke. Nothing new about this Tolkien revealed to the world that wizards smoke. But on the Disc they really smoke, you can tell a wizard by his golden fingers, stained beard, tendency to cough when walking upstairs and, in the dark, by his little red glow.

The book goes on the amplify to the ridiculous numerous tropes of the fantasy novels up until then, barbarian heroes that are either like Cohen at 87 years old and sometimes needs to be carried off by the young maidens he has just rescued from sacrifice or patently unsuited for the role they have chosen such as Nijel who is far too polite for this sort of thing with his battle cry of “Erm, excuse me”. The book is very funny especially if you are well read in the sort of books that Pratchett is mercilessly parodying.

People keep asking for maps of the Disc, on the basis that all fantasy world have to have a map, but I retreat into my Somerset bunker and refuse on the ground that I may decide to move places around a bit if it makes a better joke.

As stated above there are now maps not just of the Disc itself but also specific regions but they weren’t created by Terry, instead Stephen Briggs eventually convinced him that it could be mapped, starting with the city of Ankh-Morpork and eventually the whole world and yes it did prove difficult because there wasn’t a map when the books were written and the lost continent of XXXX had to have a huge extension added just so that one of the books worked. The later books are also less parody of fantasy novels and more a humorous parody of life on Earth, back then Pratchett could never have seen where his work would take him and the millions of books he would sell, indeed he was somewhat bemused that it was as popular as it was even then.

the evolution of the books into a cult has rather perplexed me.

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At the time of writing there is a copy available on Abebooks should you be interested at a quite reasonable (considering its rarity) £225

The Temple of Flora

One of the most ambitious books ever printed was a publishing disaster twice over but also one of the most beautiful books about flowers that exists, even if in far fewer numbers than was intended by either of its publishers.

20190115 temple of flora 1The sheer size of the book can be glimpsed from the clamshell box that my Folio Society edition comes in. The book weighs in at 27½ lbs (12½ kg) so is definitely in literatures heavyweight division and at 22½” x 18¼” (57cm x 46½cm) is a true giant of a volume. The original was the brainchild of Robert Thornton in the second half of the 18th century and it rapidly attracted royal patronage from not just Queen Charlotte (wife of George III) but also her son the Prince of Wales and other members of the British royal family.

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He sold it as a subscription edition from 1797 at a guinea per part (roughly £165 in today’s money) and there were planned to be lots of parts and he did keep going for several years. Thornton’s ambition was to create a botanical book that would be a National honour

which in Point of Magnificence is intended to exceed all other Works of a similar Nature on the Continent.

it was never to be finished…

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but what he did get produced is magnificent, the flower paintings are of the finest detail and there were plans to have far more than the twenty nine that were ultimately produced before Thornton was driven into bankruptcy by the sheer scale of the venture. It has to be said that the text chosen is odd, lots of long and rambling poems rather than a scholarly text which would have been preferable in my view but it is the pictures that makes this incredible book.

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There are long sections of text which presumably were intended to be broken up by the missing paintings but when you do get to the pictures the text doesn’t matter; what is important is the art, and in his way Thornton was trying to match the beauty of the flowers with literature which he perceived as equally beautiful. The fact that to modern readers the poems simply aren’t very good doesn’t mean that I don’t get a huge amount of pleasure from the book even if it is so unwieldy to actually get out and read.

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The craftsmanship that went into each painting was unbelievable expensive, Thornton commissioned the best engravers and also used the new techniques of mezzotint and aquatint which allowed a true wash of colour to be reproduced rather than relying on cross-hatched engraving which had been the standard method up to that time. Quite often his artists would use all three techniques on the same plate which vastly increased the cost especially as after printing each print was hand coloured so every page is unique to the volume that it appears in.

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You can properly judge the size of the book by the picture above which has a twelve inch (30cm) ruler resting on the open pages. The Folio Society edition that I have is the first time anyone had tried to reprint the book at its original size with all the plates in colour and as I hinted at in the opening sentence even the publishing experts of the Folio Society couldn’t make this book pay. They bought an original edition at auction and took it apart in order to do high resolution scans of each image before finally publishing this massive undertaking in 2008 in a planned edition of 1980 copies. The books were quarter bound in Nigerian goatskin with cloth on board sides with the front cover printed with a design taken from one of the pictures “The Night Blowing Cercus’.

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Fortunately for the Society with fine limited edition books like this they bind them as customers place their order as orders did not flow in. Three and a half years later in June 2011 the Production Director wrote to all purchasers of the book explaining that the edition was being cut. Far from 1980 copies just 600 actually got bound and even then they were left with books to sell from the severely truncated limitation. The remaining 1380 sets of flower prints were sold off in a buckram and cloth portfolio as an un-numbered edition. Presumably the remainder of the pages including the five decorative (non floral) plates were pulped.

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I doubt anyone will attempt to print this book at it’s original scale ever again. Collins had a go in 1951 but their edition is smaller and only twelve of the plates were colour. The Folio Society edition includes two extra loose plates intending for framing, Tulips and the Egyptian Lily both of which are shown above as they are bound within the book.

The Tempest – William Shakespeare

Continuing with my plan to read plays through November, I am now starting The Tempest. I have several copies of this play, partly due to the two complete sets of Shakespeare’s works I have, one of which I covered in an earlier essay, but I also have three copies of the play in individual volumes. One from the Oxford University Press, one by Penguin Books from 1937 and the copy that I have been reading which is the beautiful Folio Society letterpress edition from 2008.

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This edition is bound in green goatskin leather, blocked in gold with hand-marbled paper sides and limited to 3750 numbered copies although not all of these appear to have been produced. The book is large (14˝ x 10¾˝ – 35½cm x 27cm) and the pages clear and easy to read. As the Folio Society themselves said about these volumes…

The starting point was the text. Rather than keep text and commentary together, we decided to put them into separate volumes. Out went the elements that clutter the page : footnotes and textual variants. All that was left was Shakespeare’s words.

We decided to have the text printed by letterpress in 16-point Baskerville. The type is set in hot metal and impressed on thick, mouldmade paper. The margins are generous – over 6 centimetres – to allow the words room to breathe.

The result is a simple, understated design that is a delight to read and a pleasure to hold.

Needless to say the books were expensive (£295 per play) but they did set out to produce the finest editions available and the ones I have are amongst the treasures of my library. A comparison between the Folio Society edition and my complete Oxford Shakespeare can be seen below and it’s obvious which is the better to read.

Enough about the book, as Shakespeare himself wrote in Hamlet “The play’s the thing” and this was the last play written by Shakespeare so I’m looking forward to reading it.

The play opens with a short scene set on a ship that is caught up in the eponymous tempest and looks as though it will probably sink. On board is Alonso the King of Naples and several courtiers including Antonio the Duke of Milan, the noblemen are however getting in the way of the seamen trying to save the vessel and frankly are just a nuisance. The rest of act one takes place on the island home of Prospero and his daughter Miranda, during which we find out that Prospero is the true Duke of Milan who was usurped by his brother Antonio with the help of King Alonso.

Prospero has somehow gained magical powers during his exile on the island and with the aid of the sprite Ariel he caused the foundering of the ship but also ensured that all aboard survived. The other occupant of the island is Caliban, the son of the witch Sycorax who is enslaved to Prospero and is described as half man, half beast. Ariel is also in servitude to Prospero but this is because he rescued him from a spell by Sysorax and Prospero has promised that when he regains dukedom so Ariel will be free to go on his way. Towards the end of the first act Ferdinand (King Alonso’s son) finds Prospero and Miranda and immediately falls in love with her, which is clearly Prospero’s plan to try to regain his dukedom.

Act two moves away from Prospero to follow up the other characters in two separate scenes. In the first one the other noblemen including King Alonso assume that they are the only survivors of the wreck although Gonzalo in particular is perplexed by the condition of their clothing which suggests that this was no ordinary maritime disaster.

…Our garments being, as they were drenched in the sea, not withstanding their freshness and gloss, being rather new-dyed than stained with salt water…

…Methinks our garments are now as fresh as when we put them on in Afric, at the marriage of the King’s fair daughter…

Ariel joins the group although he is invisible to them and by means of music causes some to fall asleep leaving Sebastian (Alonso’s brother) and Antonio. Antonio suggests to Sebastian that with Ferdinand dead the only thing stopping him doing what he did to Prospero and taking the kingdom of Naples for himself is Alonso himself who is conveniently asleep at his feet. Sebastian has drawn his sword to kill Alonso when Ariel reverses the charm and the others awake. Sebastian explains the drawn sword by saying he had heard noises and was preparing to defend the king.

The second scene takes us to the last remaining significant characters in the play Trinculo the court jester and Stephano the drunk butler who has managed to salvage a barrel of wine and is happily working his way through it. These two also believe themselves the only survivors and stumble across Caliban who sees them as a means of escaping his slavery by getting them to kill Prospero. His clownish attempts to get them to help him and the drunken antics of the other two are quite funny.

Act three keeps the three groups apart and sees us catching up with them in turn in separate scenes. All three scenes are quite short and we bounce from Ferdinand and Miranda who are now getting on very well and are talking of marriage. Then to Trinculo and Stephano who are convinced by Caliban to attack Prospero but are also now quite drunk and have also introduced Caliban to wine so this plot is clearly going nowhere. Finally the king and his party meet up with Ariel and with Prospero watching and commenting although invisible to the party he can see that his plans are working.

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Both of the final acts are short single scene performances and act four sees things moving forward quickly. Prospero agrees to the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda as they continue to express their love for each other and when they have left the stage he works with Ariel to ensure that the plot hatched by Caliban to get the two drunks to kill him will fail although by now none of the them are in a fit state to do anything sensible.

Finally the fifth act brings everyone together at last, Prospero draws a magic circle on the stage and lures the noblemen into it where he reveals who he really is but decides to forgive rather than punish them. He also reveals that the ship didn’t sink, instead it has been anchored off another part of the island with the crew charmed asleep, these are woken by Ariel and prepare for sailing as soon as possible. It isn’t clear what happens to Caliban, he presumably remains alone on the island but everyone else returns to Naples with Prospero renouncing his magic as he regains his dukedom.

The Tempest is grouped with the Comedies within Shakespeare’s canon however there is nothing particularly comedic about it, it is probably there because it certainly isn’t a History or Tragedy which are the only two other options. The light relief is provided by Trinculo and Stephano during their interaction with Caliban but this, as explained above, is largely self contained within scene two of acts two and three. I’m not a big fan of Shakespeare’s later mystical plays but this made for a pleasant evenings read and I’m surprised that I haven’t got round to reading it before. As usual for a Shakespeare play there are several quotes that have enriched the English language and gone on to be used even by those who don’t know where they were first created:-

Hell is empty. And all the devils are here.

Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on

O brave new world

and the probable winner for the worst chat up line of all time is given to Ferdinand

Hast thou not dropped from heaven?

Note: The kingdom of Naples and the duchy of Milan sound odd to us now as Naples in particular appears far too small to be a kingdom, but in Shakespeare’s time both these houses existed. The kingdom lasted from 1282 to 1816 although from 1501 it was effectively a title only as control of Naples passed between France, Spain and Austria depending on which monarchy was in the ascendant at the time. As for the duchy of Milan that lasted from 1395 to 1814 although over the last century of this it was absorbed into the Austrian Hapsburg empire.