Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Hedgehog of Emptiness

I was a little early for lunch with Tom Franklin yesterday, so I stopped by Square Books, not intending to buy. But they had a big anthology of writings about magic, dating from ancient times to the Enlightenment, just sitting there propped up by the register. So I bought two copies, one for Tom and one for myself. An impulse purchase! Very clever, Square Books. At lunch, people would come up to our table to say hello and there we were, each with a large, black book next to his plate, the word MAGIC engraved on the rough, jacketless cover in huge gold letters. So we looked like a couple of evil old wizards in a book club, as we realized too late. (As you will notice, I have represented the overall tone with a picture of Paul Lynde as "Uncle Arthur," making his head appear in a silver serving dish.) No sooner had I brought the book home and thumbed through the first few entries (skipping some Bible stories I knew too well) than I found "Nightjar and screech owl shall take it,/ night owl and raven nesting there." And so it was without much surprise that it went on my big long list of books with owls in them that nobody cares about (the list, I mean). The passage was taken from Isaiah, but the translation looked funny to me so I checked in the old-timey goodness of my Geneva Bible: "But the pelicane & the hedgehog fhal poffeffe it, and the great owle, & the raue fhal dwell in it, & he fhal ftretch out vpon it the line of vanitie, and the ftones of emptines." I wonder why the last "s" in stones and emptiness looks like an s while all the other s's look like f's! Obviously it has to do with placement. But I don't care enough to think about it too much. (By the way, the magic anthology boringly translates "stones of emptiness" as "weight of ruin." Boo!) I wonder how pelican and hedgehog became nightjar and screech owl! (I won't lie to you, I had to look up "nightjar." I figured it was a bird. It was a bird.) I cared just enough to check my facsimile of the original King James Bible about this hedgehog business. "The cormorant and the bitterne shall possesse it, the owle also and the rauen shall dwell in it, and he shall stretch out vpon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptinesse." I'll tweet this to Jimmy. He'll care.