June 7, 2016
Fund fancy books, get a personalized story from a Pulitzer finalist
by Hannah Koerner
Small Beer Press, a tiny publishing house operated by the husband-and-wife author team of Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, recently decided to pursue an impressive goal: they wanted to bring out three separate hardcover editions of an obscure seventeenth-century text called The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz. The book, when it was first published anonymously in Strasbourg in 1616, completed a trilogy of “manifestos” that laid the foundation for the Order of the Rosy Cross, an esoteric secret society devoted to mystical Christianity. Now long forgotten, it has been adapted by World Fantasy Award-winning novelist John Crowley as The Chemical Romance.
Small Beer’s plans for the book — as befits one of history’s great works of esoterica — are lavish to say the least, following a design by Jacob McMurray, Senior Curator at Seattle’s EMP Museum:
Presented in a black cloth slipcase blindstamped and with a print on the front with gold foil spine and accompanied by an exclusive woodcut hand printed, signed, and lettered in her studio by Theo Fadel. Smyth sewn in oatmeal linen cloth with black and red foil stamped cover. Interior printed in black and red ink on a beautiful 70# Finch Opaque Vanilla paper with red endpapers and a red ribbon.
Which, wow. Crowley has said that his aim in producing the edition is “simply to make this, one of the great outlandish stories in Western literature, accessible to readers in the context of no context.”
All of this is great, but printing beautiful books — take it from us — ain’t cheap. Where could the tiny Small Beer turn to to fund their project? Why, the internet, of course! A Kickstarter campaign that ended last Friday aimed to raise a jaw-dropping $50,000 for the production of the book. And the final take, when all was said and done? A positively jaw-demolishing $72,288, coming from 1,314 donors.
That number is indeed impressive. Presumably, part of how it was achieved is through the rewards Small Beer offered donors, which were decidedly awesome. For instance, four lucky donors, coming in between $150 and $250, will receive a “4-6 sentence short, short story” by Link, who is the author of seven books and has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. (Don’t neglect to read the fine print, though: “Does not include publication rights: this is just for you.”)
The action in Chemical Romance sounds a little hard to follow: it follows the titular first Rosicrucian on a voyage to a mysterious castle full of wonders, where he must assist in a wedding that is at once a narrative element, a metaphorical representation of the goals of alchemy, and, presumably, a lot of other things that run toward the occult. Crowley credits it with being the world’s first science fiction novel, because “it’s fiction; it’s about the possibilities of a science; and it’s a novel.” Hard to argue with that. Step aside, Frankenstein.
Hannah Koerner is an intern at Melville House.