Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Unopened Book

So, the Nodens paper proceeds, having finally arrived at Arthur Machen -- the point at which Nodens transitions over from being a forgotten god once worshipped in the real world to being a fictional character used by authors like Machen, Ellis, and Lovecraft.

The next stage is to look at the plays (operas) by Thomas Evelyn Ellis, based on the MABINOGION (making him one of the first authors in English to adapt the medieval Welsh stories from the Four Branches into modern English -- earlier even than Kenneth Morris). The plays were originally published separately, but I have the omnibus edition of all three in one volume, called THE CAULDRON OF ANNWN, a privately printed limited edition signed by the author (mine is copy #72 out of a total of 250.

The dilemma is that I need to read the book and it's never been opened. By this I mean that each gathering of the pages are still attached together at the top and sometimes side of pages. Books used to come like this, and you cut the pages apart as you read.*  Nowadays books are trimmed (so the margins are all smooth and the same size) and opened (so each page is only attached on the side of the binding). Some previous owner of my copy seems to have read the first play but abandoned the book without ever making his or her way through the second and third plays. So in order to read them I'll have to cut apart what's remained in its original condition for the better part of a century. Once done, it can never be undone. But books are meant to be read, and I bought this one because I wanted to read what Ellis had to say, not to decorate a shelf.

I wonder how many other copies of this old book survive (most of them, I shd think) and how many remain unopened and unread to this day (an unknown quantity).

--John R.
current reading: various bits by and about Arthur Machen
current audiobook: still DODGER by Terry Pratchett, getting near the end.
the new arrivals: the vellum edition of TIME AND THE GODS, signed by both Dunsany and Sime (not the best of Dunsany's eight early collections, but the reproduction of the artwork here is incredible), and the third of Kel Richards' C. S. Lewis, Detective' series.

*(Samuel Johnson was notorious for using a butter knife alternately to butter bread and cut the pages of books his friends had loaned him)


David Bratman said...

Get a good slitting knife!

WorldCat shows 30 copies in libraries, including the Library of Congress and Wheaton (IL) College. Though WorldCat is not always accurate, it's a good rough number.

Magister said...

I bought a second American printing of Time and the Gods a few years ago, and when the book arrived I found that it was uncut. In 100 years, since the book was printed, nobody has read it.