a real book

One of my favorite of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales is about the adventures of a pompous little beetle.  This tiny personage sees the emperor’s horse being shod with golden shoes and stretches out its own legs to be illustriously shod.  When no gold beetle-shoes are forthcoming, he flies off in a huff, out into the great world, to prove that he is every bit as valiant as the emperor’s horse.

I have been experimenting with how to illustrate this one and am going to make and bind a physical book of big rice paper sheets, with text printed directly on them.  The ‘title’ was just an experiment, which I messed up in various ways (and I was not happy with that look for the beetle: I think I finally got the right look for him in the sketch. He *must* have little mustachios …).

I think I will also approach the swans story this way.  I love working with large sheets of rice paper.  I love hand made books.  My favorite memories of art museums are the old illuminated pages, individually drawn and lettered, of which only single copies exist.  There is something about the texture of the love with which they were created, of love’s illuminated rarity.

It echoes in my mind from how the Word became flesh — something, the apostle John says, that our hands could handle. Our age has increasingly moved away from enfleshment.  Even our contact with one another is often (especially now) ‘virtual’. The reasons for this are many-dimensioned, and have their advantages: I understand readily that personalities and work can extend over a wider mass, the less each separate thing is limited to its embodiment. God incarnate taught large crowds, but they were much smaller than lots of people’s twitter audiences.

But I believe in the precious rarity of enfleshment.  I will go on making my small efforts to cherish it.  Perhaps a single copy of this particular beetle-tale is all that will ever exist (and I doubt it will turn up in a museum; I’m no Michelangelo) … but maybe its adventures as a ‘real’ book before it decays will include the touch of someone who needs to feel the fragile grain of rice paper. Who needs to feel something of Love become finite, bound in edges — with molecules slipping away, with texture to the touch.

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