Today I received the first book of the collection I recently subscribed to: Easton Press’ “The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written”
The first book is “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain.
It wasn’t until only recently that I started to appreciated both an aesthetic as well as an intellectual gap in my life. My mother owned a huge collection of leather-bound classic literature from the UK publisher Heron, who has since gone out of business. I never appreciated these book while growing up, preferring them instead as a convenient means of hiding candy wrappers behind to avoid being found out I was helping myself to more than allowed.
Through the writing of Christopher Hitchens, who I was clued onto by way of the “New Atheist” wave of books and who frequently likes to quote the classics, I started to realize that I had missed out on a rather important part education. It was in his autobiography, where he frequently relates how his love of literature was fostered by his educators at Eaton, that I started to realize that a knowledge of the classics, who through their influence have left an indelible stamp on our culture, should be part and parcel of the repertoire of the educated mind. I resolved myself to address this problem, in style of course.
Those of you who have followed my Flickr photo stream know quite well that I have always liked to photograph the books I own. I was quite proud to have such a great collection of Microsoft Press books on my shelf. Even though I probably never got round to reading more than half of their content, a truth that is slightly embarrassing to me. The monetary expense of keeping this habit was really of little concern. It was the look and impression it gave that really did it for me.
So when I started to look into options concerning my future collection of classic literature, going the way of eBooks was almost immediately off the table. It would simply defeat the point. I wanted a collection similar to what my mother had. Something that you would only ever had to buy once, an investment, and could be proud to display and eventually pass on. I had already indulged in this line of thought when I purchased my Tolkien books.
As it turns out, very few publishers do collections like the kind Heron did. The ornate and luxury leather bindings, the India paper, etc. In the UK, several companies dealt in second-hand Heron collections, and then there where certain titles from Oxford University Press, and then there is of course the famous Folio Society. But I quite stumbled upon forum threads that described subscriptions one could apply to, and receive a new book every month, randomly, from a number of pre-selected sets. That idea instantly exited me. Anticipation every month, not knowing what you will get, and setting yourself in a forced one-month timetable to get the book read before the next one arrived. It was perfect.
A number of publisher do subscriptions like this, but only the US-based Easton press did a collection of high-quality leather-bound books, that could also be purchased in this subscription model. I could find no other publisher that did this. Granted, I would have preferred a UK publisher, more from a cost perspective than anything else. But so few seem to be in the business of ornately bound classic literature.
So today I received Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. This is the first of the collection, the specially priced introductory volume, after which the first few books are known. The next book will be Treasure Island, but after about the third book, it becomes random.
I am very pleased. The quality is as advertised. Its so well and firmly found, that I will almost be afraid reading it. This is not the sort of book to casually read, certainly not in bed. The act of reading properly, especially something of this caliber, should be something one invests real time in, applies ones self fully to. I intend to. This collection will not lie un-read on my shelf. In fact I will refuse to retire the book there until it has in fact been read.
Finally, I will share with you the introductory letter I received with the book.
Dear Valued Customer:
I am proud to present you with a work of genius. This single immortal edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is just the beginning of an exquisite library that will benefit your family for generations.
Before you join Huck and Jim on their journey down the Mississippi, I would like to welcome you to The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written and point out some of the deluxe features of the beautiful volume you hold in your hands.
Your edition of Huckleberry Finn features superb materials and craftsmanship. The premium-quality, genuine leather is dyed with a lustrous brown finish, then carefully drawn over raised spine hubs in the finest tradition of bookbinding.
The elegant spine design is stamped in precious 22kt gold. The cover features a deeply impressed, beautiful illustration. Gilded page edges, polished mirror-smooth, add a distinctive touch, and they protect your investment from humidity and dust.
It’s safe to judge this book by its cover because the luxury and quality continue inside…
Inside the covers are shimmering moire endleaves, dyed a deep gold. Endleaves of this quality are prized by lovers of fine books — not only for their elegant appearance and feel, but for the strength and stability they add to the binding. For your convenience, a beautiful and practical satin-ribbon page marker is dyed to match.
Distinguished artist Thomas Hart Benton made eighty-seven illustrations for this edition of Huckleberry Finn, heightening the enjoyment of reading this all-time classic. For each of them he made an entire drawing in brown wash, and then covered it with a black outline. In Thomas Hart Benton’s NOTE BY THE ILLUSTRATOR included in this edition he writes, "This whole project has been a big, slambang emotional indulgence for me." Opposite the title page is a powerful frontispiece portrait of Mark Twain, painted in watercolors by Hodges Soileau.
To add depth and insight to your reading, a revealing introduction was written especially for this edition by renowned scholar-historian, Pulitzer-Prize winner and all around professional writer Bernard DeVoto. In it he states, "No American book has more America in it, or more delight. Like all great works of art it is unique." As the editor he also made sure that this would be the most accurate text of the novel ever published.
As you turn to the first sentence, you will note the strong, clean, open typeface. The paper was specially milled for this edition, using acid-neutral stock of archival quality, a key element for permanence and durability. And each page has been securely sewn in place for added strength, not glued like ordinary hardcover editions.
The finished result: A luxurious edition fit for Mark Twain’s masterpiece.
From its charming beginning to its heartwarming conclusion, Huckleberry Finn takes you on an unforgettable coming-of-age journey that is at once comedic and deeply profound. Ernest Hemingway said, "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn."
We at Easton Press hope and believe you will enjoy the finest edition of Huckleberry Finn ever published. Your next volume, Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Treasure Island, is carefully being completed and will be shipped to you shortly.
For Easton Press,
Round about 1993, I went on a ski trip as part of my local scout troop. We when to the Czech republic, and had a really amazing time. I was about 13 at the time.
The older members of this troop, guys in their early twenties, one night organized a game on one of the mountains, amungst trees and deep snow. I cant remember what they called it exactly, but it was a simple role-playing game involving Orcs, Elves, Dwarfs, Men, and a curious folk of tiny people they called Hobbits.
I honestly cant recall what race or character I got to play, and what exactly the rules where. I do however recall that I was fascinated by the depth of detail with which they spoke of this world, and how a set of books could be the basis for something one could get so passionate about to create a role-playing game with. I now of course understand these guys where obviously LARPers, and obviously big Tolkien fans.
The concept of “fan-dom” was not alien to me however. I was at the time, a huge “trekkie” and had even brought, as I recall, the Deep Space Nine technical manual with me on the ski trip. It was, however, the first time I realized that there where other worlds around, that people could get as passionate about, as i was about Star Trek.
This was also not the first time I had heard of Tolkien, Middle-earth or Lord of the Rings. Through my Star Trek fan-dom, I had, in fact, already come across a curious song, written and recorded by Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock on Star Trek. Nimoy has recorded a number of albums in the 1970’s, and amongst those, a curious song called The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins. I remember seeing a clip of the music video of this song on one Star Trek documentary program, and being completely embarrassed about it. It was complete camp. Here is a Youtube version if you really want to see. I can not watch the dancing girls for more than 5 seconds before my brain shuts down.
Anyway, moving in geek-circles, especially later on the internet, one could not help but come across Tolkien and Lord of the Rings. I became aware of what it was, and that it was considered more or less compulsory reading for any serious fantasy fan or geek.
Despite this, I never really got into it.
Around about 2000, my mother bought the Silmarillion. The 1998 edition with art by Ted Nasmith.
This was probably due to the first Peter Jackson movie stirring up the first media hype.
It was only then I realized my mother also had Lord of the Rings, a 1980 single-book printing.
I cant remember the exact sequence of events, but I ended up buying my own 7-volume 1999 HarperCollins version of it, and the 1998 Collins printing of The Hobbit
I thought it first useful to start reading the Silmarillion, to understand some of back-story before I got into the other material proper. This was a mistake. The Silmarillion is proper literature from the beginning of the last century, and for someone who had hardly read anything yet, starting there proved to be a bit of a burden. I remember saying that getting through it was about as hard as understanding the bible properly.
I switched gears and read The Hobbit and then proceeded to start on the Lord of the Rings some time later. By this time, the first Jackson movie had already been released, as i remember quite well I was so surprised at the difference in length in the “Council of Elrond” scene. But for some reason, I gave up not long after they set off from Rivendell. I never got back to it.
I have always regretted this. Its been a serious bad mark on my geek-credibility that I am not more versed in Tolkien. The amount of in-jokes alone that you miss online and in games that reference Middle-earth.
Fast-forward to now. I am a huge fan of the movies, and own the three 4-disk extended editions, the soundtracks, etc. During my recent move, where I was forced to pack up all my books, I came across my Lord of the Rings again, which had been sitting for several years on a Shelf in my lodgers room.
Of late, being out of work, I found myself without much to do. Also, I have recently resolved myself to start getting into some serious classical literature. So going back and finally actually reading Lord of the Rings seemed like a good place to start.
My mothers 1972 version is pretty much coming apart now, and this past weekend I went and retrieved the 7-book set that was now in storage at my dads in Belgium.
As of this writing, I am about halfway into “Return of the King”, so almost done.
Completely coincidentally, my mother returned from the UK recently with The Children of Hurin, the hardcover version illustrated by Alan Lee.
I have resolved to finally take the plunge, and really familiarize myself with Middle-earth at large. The last few weeks I have slowly been coming to grips with the vast amount of Middle-earth material out there. Last night, I purchased a large amount of books, that more or less comes up to a complete Middle-earth collection.
First of all, my mother expressed the wish to have a boxed-set containing the 3 Lord of the Rings books, but including the Hobbit. There are several versions out there, but they are not common. I chose the 1999 released 4-book boxed hardcover set by HarperCollins, ISBN 0007105029, featuring illustrations by Alan Lee
To complete my own collection, I knew I needed the complete 12-volume collection “The History of Middle Earth”. This consists of the following books:
1. The Book of Lost Tales 1 (1983)
2. The Book of Lost Tales 2 (1984)
3. The Lays of Beleriand (1985)
4. The Shaping of Middle-earth (1986)
5. The Lost Road and Other Writings (1987)
6. The Return of the Shadow (The History of The Lord of the Rings v.1) (1988)
7. The Treason of Isengard (The History of The Lord of the Rings v.2) (1989)
8. The War of the Ring (The History of The Lord of the Rings v.3) (1990)
9. Sauron Defeated (includes The History of The Lord of the Rings v.4) (1992)
10. Morgoth’s Ring (The Later Silmarillion v.1) (1993)
11. The War of the Jewels (The Later Silmarillion v.2) (1994)
12. The Peoples of Middle-earth (1996)
The History of Middle-earth: Index (2002).
There are fewer versions of this to choose from, and amongst those for sale, are the wonderful 3-volume collectors edition tomes, but more or less unaffordable, at around 500 pounds each.
I went for basically the same 3 books, but the non-collectors edition versions of the same publication.
The Complete History of Middle-Earth: Part1
Contains the first 5 volumes
The Complete History of Middle-Earth: Part 2
Contains the volumes 6 though 9
The Complete History of Middle-Earth: Part 3
Contains the volumes 10 to 12
Not included in this set (i believe) is the Index to the books released in 2002
The History of Middle Earth: Index
To round of the collection, I wanted a good color atlas of all the Middle-earth maps. Again there are several to choose from, I went with the 2002 Houghton Mifflin revised addition by Karen Fonstad. I would have preferred the hardcover edition, but it doesn’t appear to be available.
The Atlas of Middle-Earth (paperback)
And finally, from a lore-perspective, one should have the The Unfinished Tales.
“a collection of stories and essays by J. R. R. Tolkien that were never completed during his lifetime, but were edited by his son Christopher Tolkien and published in 1980.”
Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth (Paperback)
I ordered this paperback version because its contains the nicest cover.
Sometime in the future, I shall need to buy my own, proper, hardcover versions of the Lord of the Rings, the Silmarillion and the Children of Hurin. I don’t yet know which version I shall get of those. I love the illustrated versions and anything with Alan Lee is pretty much a done deal for me. However, I may one day fork up the $dollar required for this limited edition box set, if it is still available at the time.
#CLP0006 – The J.R.R. Tolkien Deluxe Edition Collection: The Children of Hurin, The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – € 400,-
If I want to get that one, I will have to do it in the next year or sooner, as its a 500 volume run only, and I am surprised they are still selling it.
So, I hope with these purchases to have erased my shame in not having familiarized myself with Tolkien long ago 😉
I can, once I have actually read the stuff, and read it again, walk proudly amongst my fellow geek and share the occasional inside quote.