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01 June 2009 @ 08:59 am
Fic: A Book by its Cover (Demons, PG-13)  

Title: A Book by its Cover.
Author: Prochytes.
Fandom: Demons.
Rating: PG-13.
Characters: Mina Harker (with mentions of Galvin, Luke, and Ruby).
Disclaimer: This version of Mina belongs to Shine Productions. The present fic is not for profit.
Summary: The (half-)life of Mina Harker, through successive editions of the most important book in it.
Word Count: 1168.
A/N: Spoilers for Demons 1x04: “Suckers”. The bibliographical details are, to the best of my knowledge, accurate (and much indebted to the works of John Sutherland). Philip Larkin’s “Annus Mirabilis” lurks behind the opening paragraph of part four.


 

Most books look better after 70 years than their owners. Certainly after 100 they do. "Consumer imperishables" might be the more accurate term.

John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel

 

1.

 

In terms of content, there are few points of comparison between meat markets and the occult libraries that sometimes lurk in their basements. One topside of Smithfield’s beef should not differ markedly from another. Uniqueness is seldom welcome in a steak.

 

In The Stacks, by contrast, idiosyncrasy was the rule rather than the exception. There was scant room, here, for multiple copies of the same text; Mina’s domain, like a popular panel game, brooked no repetition. The gossamer thread of the Van Helsing line could support little in the way of excess baggage.

 

On occasion, to be sure, there had been reason to mitigate this policy. Needs must when the Devil drives (and no one manages to grade him and smite him first). For example, The Stacks had held every copy of the Shoreditch Manifesto since shortly after it was published (and suppressed) in 1911. Mina kept the entire print run triple-locked in a vat of holy water. According to reliable sources, it would take one hundred and one years of continuous immersion before they finally dissolved.

 

But such exceptions were few and far between. Throughout the storied length of The Stacks, from Unaussprechlichen Kulten to Experiments with a Medium, one book alone was represented by every edition there had ever been. In more than a century, no one had ever summoned the nerve to ask the custodian why in this of all cases she was a completist, though Galvin, being Galvin, had come closer than most. “What a fortuitous happenstance, Mina,” he had said once, trailing his finger along the spines. “They’re playing your song”. And the blind woman had almost smiled.

 

2.

 

Mina was a librarian, not a book-collector. She owed no allegiance to the cult of the first edition. Also, she had her own reasons for distrusting obsession with the archetype, the exemplar, the source. Too much grief had been caused, down the decades, by those who valued her only as the closest extant copy of a lost original. Of him. Hence, perhaps, her disposition to surround herself with knock-off versions, at many removes, of well-worn classics. Luke and Ruby: the Neophyte Hero and the Girl Next Door. Galvin: a Savonarola returned so overdue that there was not even any point in working out the fine.

 

Nonetheless, the 1897 first edition of Mina’s story had its place on the shelf beside its fellows. The cover was yellow, with red lettering: yellow like mustard, red like, well, the obvious. As Ruby would put it, unconsciously reviving an idiom that had been moribund when Mina was a girl, Stoker’s publisher hadn’t exactly been Captain Subtle.

 

The dominant yellow hue was more puzzling. Perhaps it had been intended to evoke the Yellow Book, which had ceased publication in the spring of that year. Mina did not know with certainty; she had had little regard for Beardsley and his clique. Silly boys, playing at danger, who considered jaunts to Dieppe the acme of thrilling depravity, and that the worst thing one could bring back from the Continent was syphilis.

 

Constable and Co. had printed three subsequent editions in 1897. Bibliophiles distinguished them by differences in the advertisements that followed the text. For herself, Mina rather regretted the extent to which later years had curbed the practice of inserting such material at the finish. Better by far that bright mercantile chatter about other books, other stories, continued to drown out the spurious simplicity of a final chapter which had not really brought an end to anything.

 

3.

 

The narrative Stoker concocted from what Mina and his other informants had been prepared to divulge was not the longest of his books. Nor was it the most misleading, a distinction which belonged to his Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving. (Irving still occasionally e-mailed Mina complaining of that work’s inaccuracies, although not in sufficient detail to let Galvin determine where the Grade 11 was currently hiding.) But subsequent decades proved it to be the most enduring.

 

A case in point was the 1944 Armed Services Edition, published by arrangement with Doubleday, Doran, and Co. Like other ASE texts, this version was twice as broad as it was high – all the better for slipping snugly into a trouser pocket, or an ammunition pouch. The world was changing, streamlining itself under the press of circumstance; the old conventions of format and lay-out followed suit. It was harder, now, to hide a life in the gaps that thrift decried as wasteful. Even if one had only half a life to hide.

 

Over a thousand Armed Services Editions were issued in total, amounting to one hundred and twenty million individual copies. Scholars later claimed that more books had been dropped on American troops than bombs. Since ASEs were manufactured on pulp magazine presses, they cost as little as five cents a copy to produce.

 

In World War Two, the publishing, like the carnage, was much more efficient the second time around. This observation was not one upon which Mina allowed herself to dwell. It was apt to lead her memory down paths that it did not please her to revisit.

 

4.

 

In 1962, between the end of the Chatterley ban and The Beatles’ first LP, Mina entered the public domain. Like another librarian’s notable transaction of this interval, the process was messy, and rather undignified. Many publishing houses leapt at the chance to reprint an acknowledged classic – it was as though the world had become a hall of mirrors. Which, in Mina’s case, was more than a little ironic.

 

A late bud of this printing efflorescence was the 1983 World’s Classics Edition, from the Oxford University Press. Mina’s copy was no longer in perfect condition, its pages having been somewhat discoloured by spilt whisky. A legacy of the trying days after Jay had been lost to them, when for a time Galvin had all but abandoned hunting Half-Lives in favour of hunting Famous Grouse instead.

 

Those who had seen this edition told Mina that its front cover bore a picture of Bela Lugosi. Mina had lost her body’s vision before the great days of cinematography, and those occasions on which she permitted it to return did not find her minded to welcome a movie night. The faint spark of vulgar curiosity which she indulged herself as to the accuracy of Mr. Lugosi’s depiction would therefore smoulder on, unsatisfied.

 

If anyone ever had asked Mina why she felt thus compelled to collect her story, again and again and again, it was doubtful that she could have given him an answer. Perhaps it was because of the paradox all those editions mapped out: that the book changed, where its heroine did not. And perhaps this conceit was something of a solace, amongst the countless consumer imperishables of The Stacks, to the one imperishable consumer who watched over them.

 

FINIS

 

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Valderys: Lifeon Mars - Trust the Gene Genievalderys on June 1st, 2009 09:00 am (UTC)
Yum. Library porn! Although I am boggling at library porn from Demons :) Poor mostly unloved Demons, it probably needs the attention.

(And you should be happy, I had to look up Savonarola - so now I know something more, which is nearly always the case with your fic! :)
prochytesprochytes on June 1st, 2009 12:43 pm (UTC)
Yum. Library porn! Although I am boggling at library porn from Demons :)

Yes; once the notion of an occult book collection, hidden under Smithfield's, with a blind vampire librarian, hoved into view, I knew that it would issue forth in something.

now I know something more, which is nearly always the case with your fic! :)

We aim to please :)

Thank you for commenting!
(Deleted comment)
prochytesprochytes on June 2nd, 2009 08:02 am (UTC)
I am very glad that you enjoyed it (and that you spotted the reference to Carnacki). Exceedingly appropriate icon, too.
dorsetgirl: kissdorsetgirl on November 22nd, 2009 08:15 pm (UTC)
Um, can't make a clever comment I'm afraid, but I did enjoy this rather a lot. I like the very bookish style, which suits Mina's character and speech patterns in the show. *mourns show*
prochytesprochytes on November 24th, 2009 10:14 am (UTC)
Thank you! I was indeed going for a rather mandarin and formal style, as suits Mina's late Victorian propensities. I mourn it, too.
gwynevere1 on February 3rd, 2010 07:39 pm (UTC)
I'm so happy to find a Mina-centric fic, as she's my favorite character. I adore how you depict her as seeing her role as a librarian, albeit of the strangest book collection in the world. I also admire how you weave the actual history of the novel into the fictional background you've created for Mina.

Mina's "voice" sounds right too, in this story. I like how you capture her stylized, formal-yet-not-cold tone.
prochytesprochytes on February 4th, 2010 11:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Mina is my favourite, too. Her tone of voice is one of the things about her that I particularly like.