Wednesday, 21 May 2008

"In Tongues of the Dead"...

Another Voynich-themed novel is announced: "In Tongues of the Dead", written by Canadian author and forensic psychologist Brad Kelln, to be published by ECW Press in October 2008. It's his third book ("Lost Sanity" and "Method of Madness" were his others, with some kind of Dead Sea Scrolls prophecy hook to the second one). According to Kelln's blog, in his day-job he is "a consultant to the Halifax Police and the Nova Scotia RCMP on hostage negotiation".

In his soon-to-be-published book, an autistic child visiting the Beinecke library is miraculously able to read the VMs... revealing it as "the bible of the Nephilim". The manuscript then gets stolen, the (presumably) bad guys in the Vatican chase the various protagonists across the world, but they get helped out by a plucky Canadian psychologist doctor guy with a sick child: and whatever happens at the end happens at the end.

Perhaps I'm just feeling a bit negative because the ECW Press blurb describes the VMs as "a 400-year-old document" (I don't think so, sorry), but this whole book does sound a bit join-the-dots to me. Look: the Voynich Manuscript is a fantastic cipher mystery, but there's absolutely no reason to think it has any religious (let alone sacrilegious) content. My old friend GC once tried to argue that a couple of the women in the water section were holding things that might possibly be crosses: but that is a pretty thin reed to be balancing any kind of sophistical superstructure upon.

Cryptographically and historically, I think that Kelln should have instead built his story around the Rohonczi Codex or Rohonc Codex, A.K.A. Magyar Tudományos Akadémia ("The Hungarian Academy of Sciences") MS K 114. This has 448 pages filled with as-yet-undeciphered text, is thought to have been written on Venetian paper from the 1530s, and has 87 illustrations apparently depicting "religious, laic, and military scenes" (according to Wikipedia). There's a complete set of scans here.

Older historians thought this codex was simply a hoax: but it actually has a lot of order and structure, all of which seems to point to its being meaningful in some unknown or unexpected way. At the Warburg Institute recently, Professor Charles Burnett mentioned to me in the lunch queue that a European scholar (whose name I half-remember as "Gyula", so might well be Hungarian?) is just about to publish a paper on the Rohonc Codex: a proper academic perspective on this would be very welcome, as just about all the hypotheses circling around it seem fairly lame.

To be brutally honest, if I was Kelln's publisher, I'd negotiate with him to drop the Voynich Manuscript angle, and to rebuild the first part of the story around Budapest (a far more intriguing town than New Haven I would say, having spent time in both) and the Rohonc Codex. But what do I know?

Incidentally, there's a conference currently running at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences on the fascinating reign of King Mathias. Yet another event I would have loved to attend. *sigh*


Anonymous said...

There is a religious angle (of a sort). Back in the 1960s when HP Kraus purchased the MS he inquired of the Vatican Library whether they'd ever heard of the Voynich. Monsignor Ruysschaert said that the book was in the Vatican vault only to discover it was not. Why did the Vatican think it was in their holdings? How did it get out?

Nick Pelling said...

It's a source of a little confusion: probably the best resource for understanding this is Xavier Ceccaldi's voyms website, specifically his page on Ruysschaert and Carusi and his page on the probable pre-Voynich days of the VMs. All credit to Xavier for doing all that legwork! :-)

Having said that, I still stand by my conclusion that there is no obviously religious angle within the VMs (and so the Rohonc codex might well have been an historically better choice of Macguffin).

To me, there seems no compelling reason to worry unduly about the precise route the VMs took to get from Marci to Voynich: all the stories told by the marginalia are from the early 17th century and before, which would be consistent with its having spent most of its time after that period unseen.

Novelists may find this lacuna in its timeline intriguing (which is fair enough): but to my mind the big questions about the VMs relate to what happened before 1600 (and indeed before 1500).