The Battle of the Books. (Not found in Game of Thrones.)

It is pretty rare when a set of books comes in – with all the volumes present… but it happened today. And it’s always a happy day for me when Charles Dickens makes an appearance in the book shop.

Much to his dismay, the works of Charles Dickens were widely pirated, and he sold thousands of books – receiving nothing. His solicitors would send ‘Cease and Desist’ orders to U.S. publishers, who generally had ordered a copy of the latest Dickens novel and then set the type, reprinted the story, and took the profits. Copyrights were difficult to enforce in Dickens’s time, even though he made arrangements with publishers to print his ‘authorized’ version.

After his death, his works were widely reprinted in the U.S. by publishers who knew that Mr Dickens would no longer be sending legal representatives to protect his stories. The books that arrived today might be of that sort. Typically, early unauthorized editions contained no copyright information and – usually – no actual printing date. I was trying to pin down the date on this set when I ran across an ad in an Oakland Tribune issue from 1937.

The idea was to collect the twenty volume set by purchasing a couple of books at a time. (I remember doing that at the grocery store to acquire a set of Funk & Wagnall encyclopedias.) But – what a set of hoops the buyers were required to jump through!

According to the article from 1937, to obtain a set required a registration form, a printed mailing label, and a dozen ‘Dickens Certificates’ (obtained from the pages of the newspaper). Of course, the thirty-four-cent per volume price tag sounds pretty nice these days. Even the adjusted-for-inflation amount of $6.45 seems a bargain for a nicely printed hardback!

Such bargains could be offered when publishers were not required to pay royalty figures to authors or copyright holders. In the case of the Cleartype Edition library, the marketing expense was covered by the participating newspapers across the country – which also served as a distribution point for copies that were to be picked up in person rather than by mail.

Dickens wasn’t the only one ever to be defensive of his copyrighted works, and although he was vocal in his opposition to pirated copies, at least no lives were lost: the Irish in the mid-6th Century were a wee bit more emotional about their printed works. According to Wikipedia, the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne (Gaelic for the Battle of the Book) caused the deaths of some three-thousand Irish in a dispute over a copied religious book.

In the year 560 (or thereabouts), Irish abbot and missionary Saint Columba and Saint Finnian of Movilla Abbey disagreed over a religious book. Columba copied a volume owned by Saint Finnian, intending to keep the copy, but they disagreed as to whether it belonged to Saint Columba because he copied it or whether it belonged to Saint Finnian because he owned the original.

King Diarmait mac Cerbaill ruled on the disagreement, concluding that: “To every cow belongs her calf, therefore to every book belongs its copy.”

The judgment didn’t please Columba one bit. As a result, he staged a rebellion of the O’Néill clan against the King, which succeeded, but was said to have resulted in some 3,000 casualties.

Perhaps rightly shamed over the fuss, Columba took his copied book and left for Scotland, where he founded the Iona Abbey and devoted the rest of his life spreading the Christian gospel.

No lives need be lost in acquiring copies of books in our shop. And, although Charles Dickens might not have been happy about it, we are happy to offer the full set of the Cleartype Edition of his works, circa 1937, so patiently acquired by a newspaper reader and Dickens fan, in the time between the World Wars.

A (deadly) Game of Thrones

The series has been out for quite some time, but I’m a Johnny-come-lately to A Song of Fire and Ice, the epic fantasy series by George R. R. Martin. I’ve previously made mention here of Mr. Martin’s work, but at the risk of beating too long at the drum, I feel compelled to point out what an excellent series he has created.

I’ve also mentioned before that I avoid fantasy and science fiction most of the time, mainly. Here are examples why, from A Clash of Kings, book two in the series:

Hrakkar: from context, some kind of fur-bearing animal.
Xaro Xhoan Daxos: a merchant prince from
Qarth: home of Xaro Xhoan Daxos.
Shierak qiya: the Dothraki (a nomadic desert people) name for the passing comet.

Those names and words that have apostrophes and dashes are abundant as well. Given that most of the characters in the series are presumed to be illiterate (more than one mention is made of an inability to read) as it would have been in medieval times, the odd spellings are only exotic to the reader. Folks in the kingdom of Westeros would not have bothered with spellings, and as with spellings of that era, they would have been based on their oral rendition. Qarth would have been written as Cart or Carth (depending on Mr. Martin’s intention). Mr. Daxos might have written his given name as Zaro or Zarro. Maybe Exaro if the first letter shuns the Zee sound.

My point is, a glossary and pronunciation guide might help, but then the reading of the series might take on the aspect of work.

Still, even with the regular head-knocking spelling irregularities, like Ser – for Sir – the story is as intricate as a tapestry and just as tightly woven. One of the still-shocking realizations for me is Mr. Martin’s ability to write off his protagonists. Many authors admit to growing attached to their familiar characters and fall into the “happily ever after” trap.

Don’t assume that any character – major or minor – introduced at any stage, is going to make it to the finish line. Mr. Martin has the ability to cleave a player from the story without hesitation or forewarning much in the manner his antagonists use their broadswords.

A particular scene in book three is breathtaking in the swiftness in which the story changes course, when a particularly sympathetic family endures yet another tragedy. The passage is as unexpected to readers as the plot twist is to the book’s characters.

Not having seen the continuing episodes of the HBO series based on the books, I can’t say whether the producers of the television version have been less brutal to the cast of characters.

Where many authors and filmmakers go so far as to engage test audiences to determine the most widely-accepted outcomes and endings, George R. R. Martin possesses the confidence to jump into the dark water and ask us to come swimming with him amongst the beasts of the deep.

Who knows what may happen should we take a leap?

When the TV season ends…

Shame on me!

As someone who usually reads the book before watching the movie or program, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve gone straight to video where Game of Thrones is concerned. The fiction series by George R. R. Martin is actually titled A Song of Fire and Ice and there are currently copies of several installments on the McHuston shelves.

I’ve read Martin stories in the past and have enjoyed them. He’s been writing a long time, and has covered a lot of territory, but has settled of late in the fantasy genre. A Song of Fire and Ice is set in medieval times and centers on struggles between rulers of the “Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.”

One of the problems I have with reading fantasy material is the language. Tolkien invented not only languages, but dialects as well, to accommodate the beings in his Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Here is an excerpt from a different author, as an example:

“I am Ghashai,” said the leader. “I speak for the Atkhorakha, the People of the Weeping Towers, now that Ukku is no more.”

When author Chris Pierson penned that passage for Volume III of the Taladas Trilogy, no doubt he had a pronunciation rolling around in his head. For me, there are some questions. Is the leader called Guh-ha-ash-eye-ee? Or maybe just Gash-ee. Gush-eye, perhaps. The entity that is no more: is that You-cue, Uck-oo, Yuke-cuh? Uck-kuh-you, maybe?

In a well-written story, I find I make my own version and stick with it, or simply jump over the invented name or word. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo had a lot of Swedish towns and references, but I waded through and enjoyed that series.

I haven’t cracked open A Song of Fire and Ice. For one thing, my copies have been new, and if I read them they suddenly become used. But after watching two seasons of the television version I may have to tackle the series while awaiting season three.

There are seven separate kingdoms in the series, represented by that many families and more. At least in the book version, it’s possible to refer back to see what name is associated with what Royal House. Doing that with the video is a little hit and miss.

But I do like that Martin has tagged some of his characters with simple monikers like “Ned Stark.”

That one, at least, is easy to read and remember.