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A MOST GRAND AND EXCELLENT GOOGLE SEARCH–Part 1

IMG_1744It’s not often that a Google search is as productive as this one…

The principal character in my BOOK OF HOURS novels is Brother Alphaios, born into a poor village in Greece.  He entered a monastery as a young man as his only means to an education.  There he became a monk—a cloistered monk, one who lives entirely behind monastery walls. He showed considerable artistic talent, and was transferred to a cloister in Italy where he became a master painter and restorer of medieval books.  Now, in contemporary time, he has been brought to a metropolis in the United States—New York City.  Here, along with Inaki Arriaga, historian and archivist, he is recreating a large and magnificent but severely damaged Book of Hours from the fourteen hundreds. Together they oversee the work of two scribes who are duplicating the medieval text, its errors and anomalies included.  When done, it is to be gift for the pope, a gift for the ages.

I note above that Brother Alphaios is cloistered, which is only mostly true.  He has lived behind monastery walls virtually all his adult life, and has taken vows of strict prayer and obedience.  But here in this country, in this mid-city monastery, he must walk some eleven blocks each day to the scriptorium where the Book of Hours is held in a private archive.  Beguiled by the city, he has taken to exploring its streets and its inhabitants rather than return directly to the monastery when his day’s work is done.

Now, in BOOK OF HOURS: UNHOLY ERROR, the recreation of the Book of Hours nearing completion, Brother Alphaios asks Inaki to bring its badly damaged cover boards from their archive for one more inspection.  He knows them to be completely unremarkable, providing no hint of the great beauty that once lay between them.  While inspecting their remains this time, though, he discovers crumpled pieces of parchment thrust between their oak and leather. He can see writing angling across their surfaces and folds.  Having been compressed by weight and damaged by water and insects, it will require time and expertise to loosen them and lift any text that may remain.  It is, of course, all a great mystery.

In the fall of 2015, while developing this part of the story, I found it necessary to acquaint myself with the vocabulary scholars employ for the analysis and description of letterforms used in the late Middle Ages.  (The term “letterform” is the predecessor of what we recently called “typefaces” and now refer to mostly as “fonts”.)  In particular, I needed to learn what characteristics might be used to distinguish one letterform from another and how variances in them could be used to determine when a medieval document was written and in what city or region–say, perhaps, sixteenth century in Ireland or northern England.  What, for instance, is the is the term for letters with their “feet” slanted upward as opposed to sitting more squarely on the baseline?  Or letters that tip forward in the writing, or backwards?  Or open letters versus closed and expansive versus cramped?  Or those with the little flourish called a serif?  How could I get sufficient knowledge about letterforms to leaven my story?

MORE TO COME…

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