June 1, 2018

Of witchcraft, Jack the Ripper, the University of Nebraska, and three very late library books


“The Examination of a Witch” by T.H. Matteson

Last month, we reported on a torn-up Soul on Ice returned to the San Francisco Public Library forty-seven years overdue. Forty-seven years is a long time. For a sense of scale, ask yourself just how dead theologian (and erstwhile James Comey doppelgänger) Reinhold Niebuhr is, and appreciate that he shuffled off forty-seven years ago today.

Forty years is, according to mathematicians, less than forty-seven, but it’s still a long time — just ask American poet Matthew Hittinger, who turns forty today.

Forty years is also how long an unnamed patron held onto three books before returning them recently to the library of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, according to a punchy Associated Press report this week. They’re described only as “two books about witchcraft and one about Jack the Ripper.”

These dots verily cry out to be connected — particularly in an age when our access to books on witchcraft is increasingly under threat, and in a region where books on witchcraft tend to completely spookily disappear. We reported last year on several items seized at the Tajik border, one of them a “book of spells.” At the risk of speculating wildly, it’s obvious that this is one of the two witchcraft books in question. That AP staffers have apparently missed the connection is damning as hell.

The identity of the second witchcraft book is harder to pin down, but it is almost surely a publication of Tunglið, the Icelandic house we wrote about last year that publishes each book in an edition of sixty-nine, allows them to be sold only under a full moon, and throws remainders into what the original reporting described as “a fire,” here an obvious euphemism for “unholy orgy of phlogiston released unto the bare heavens.”

As for the book on Jack the Ripper, one can—without delving into the question of how the AP missed so many obvious leads—easily conclude that it was Jack the Rapper, Light-hearted Friend, in which “data processing field” veteran Richard Wallace uses the scientific method to prove what your heart has always told you: that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, Lewis Carroll, whose books are mostly anagrams of intensely labored confessions of murder.

To pull one example from an old Cecil Adams column:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Even the briefest of consideration reveals this to be an anagram for:

Bet I beat my glands til,
With hand-sword I slay the evil gender.
A slimey theme; borrow gloves,
And masturbate the hog more!

In conclusion, if you want to live… deliciously, sounds like Omaha’s where it’s at.


UPDATE: Over at the Wichita EagleKaitlyn Alanis identifies the three books as Leo Louis Martello’s Witchcraft: The Old ReligionClyde Kluckhohn’s Navaho Witchcraft, and Don Rumbelow’s The Complete Jack the Ripper. Fake news. It’s obviously Tajikistan stuff.



Ian Dreiblatt is the former Director of Digital Media at Melville House.