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The Atrementus Collection - Men, Monks and Gamekeepers - a study in popular legend

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The Cair Paravel Reading Room is proud to have been selected as the new repository of the Atrementus Collection, bringing together every book, paper or private correspondence known to be associated with the Faun Tenvis, whose three careers, as bookbinder, publisher and leader of our people, shed much light on a sadly neglected period of Narnian history. The series of exhibitions from the Collection to be held in the Reading Room will, we hope, excite more interest in the study of Tenvis' own life and works, and those of his intellectual and social circle.

The volume selected for display throughout Greenleaf is possibly the finest example we have of his work; there is some evidence (see below) that it was especially bound as presentation copy for its author, the Faun Alacrus.

Visitors are invited to inspect the finely sewn leaves of imported mulberry paper. While Narnian paper-making was of course an established cottage industry at this period, the smoother texture of the Terebinthian product allowed more rapid calligraphy than the local nettle-based paper. The tipped-in woodcuts, however, are on Narnian paper, and presumably by a Narnian artist (forthcoming exhibition: Narnian artists of the late pre-Jadis times.).

The copying is typical of the best Narnian studio calligraphy - a plain and workmanlike script, since the book is, after all, intended for reading, not as decorative object, but with a remarkable consistency, rapidity and fluidity of line. The ink, of course, is oak-gall. Of Tenvis' team of copyists, very few have left their names to history. (forthcoming exhibition: Nymphs and their ways. Parental guidance recommended.)

The front and back covers are of exceptionally fine embossed birch-bark; this work alone evidences Tenvis's pre-eminence in the field - note the delicacy with which the embossed design is made to echo and elaborate on the grain of the bark, while incorporating the traditional Narnian motifs adopted as the signature of his book-binding (as it was at that time) workshop - later retained as the mark of his publishing house.

All of the above would in itself make this book a highly-valued heritage item, but a feature of quite extraordinary interest is the letter which was found inside it, containing Tenvis's own response to the work, addressed to the author. The presence of this letter in the book, along with the particular attention which has been paid to its production, is the main reason adduced by scholars for supposing this to have been a presentation copy of the work. It is also of much interest in that, like the book itself, it offers useful insights into the mind of the scholarly community within Narnia just twenty short years before the Winter.

 

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My dear Alacrus,

I shall not burden you with flowery compliments! I daresay you will be loaded with those as your book begins its circulation, and for years to come. All I can say is that I have endeavoured to bring to its binding the same care and scrupulous attention to detail as you have brought to your examination of the re-emergence of these wild, and frankly unsettling, tales.

Your central thesis I think is wonderfully convincing, and will surely bring you to the attention of all those scholars whose names you have poured into my ears during so many long, happy, argument-filled nights. It's undeniable that "Men", as Humans are commonly known (are our people beginning to actually forget the feminine form, do you think?) have been decreasingly seen in Narnia for many decades now. Of course, the Islands are in many ways like the Narnia of our parents' youth, and Humans are very commonly seen there—and as we have ourselves seen, Calormen's ships are almost exclusively crewed by Humans. (Can it really be that only Humans live there?)

But too few Narnians travel now, other than Birds, and of course no monarch with solely Human ancestry has filled our throne since Great Frank and Helen. I don't regret that! You know that I think that the constant invigoration of our royal family by non-Human heritage is a strength of our people (and you know how proud I am to have that trace of Naiad in my own family history!). Still it does seem, as you say, that the rarity of the unmixed Human in Narnia has helped give rise to the wilder figures of popular imagination.

If there were more Humans mixing in everyday Narnian society, would anyone give credence to such wild fantasies as the one about a breed of "Monks" (the name, as you point out, obviously derived from those small man-like beasts in Calormen) who somehow live and reproduce without mating! Ludicrous! Now, as you very well know from the events of five years back, all those sexual pleasures which you find so breathlessly sweet and heady leave me cold—I would rather be reading a good book, like yours! But I have seen enough of Humans to know that in general they throw themselves into such joys as eagerly and recklessly as the most ardent Nymph—or, if you'll pardon me, as a certain fresh-faced, just-come-down-from-Lantern-Waste young Faun did, that glorious summer! No, my friend, the all-male, eternally sober, magically reproducing "Monk" figure, however benign, is to anyone who has travelled, simply absurd.

The other fantasy is not so amusing, of course. The "Game-keeper" has very chilling—murderous, we may say—undertones. I wonder very much who first imagined such a being—and why? Who would imagine such horror as a Man acting to entrap Beasts—or beasts, the principle is the same—in order to present them to a King to be hunted for sport? Oh, my friend, this is dark indeed. Why have our people persisted so long in toying with this horrible idea?

I say "toying so long" because it is clearly of very ancient folk-memory—the Badger among your informants is evidence enough of that! (Whoever heard of a Badger adopting a new idea?) However nonsensical was her insistence that her people had heard tell of such creatures from Frank himself, it does argue that the legends are of some antiquity, and not simply modern rumours from abroad spread in the attempt to destabilise Narnian society. I would almost prefer that explanation, Alacrus; I don't like to think that such concepts are somehow deeply stamped into the Narnian imagination. And again, why? Can such a thought have orginated in a fear that some day some Narnian queen or king might turn on us, to see us as something even lower than slaves or cattle? And why are such fears gaining ground now?

Well, the why is not the subject of your book—and I do believe that in tracing the how, the path of development from the increasingly hazy memory of real Humans/Adam'sSons/Eve'sDaughters to these re-imaginings, your study will help to clarify and distinguish the real from the imagined. I am honoured and delighted to have had the task of binding it—and not to decry my own work, I do believe that between us we have produced a work which will establish us both in our chosen fields! Heartiest congratulations, my friend, and may this copy of your book bring you as much pleasure as it has me!

Tenvis.