I am fascinated by rare, strange, and mystical books. I think they intrigue most geeks who love to read. It might be a stretch to call a couple of these “books,” since they’re compilations of stories that weren’t written down at first, but let’s not quibble. (This post contains some adult content.)
“Let’s read Icelandic sagas! It’ll be fun and magical! Wait… what the hell?”
These stories, which were written down in the late 13th century, are like reading Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings (which they influenced) if
A. there were more female characters.
B. there were some shapeshifters
C. all of the characters were homicidal maniacs.
Does the name Nicolas Flamel sound familiar? Good for you, book nerd! He is mentioned as the original owner of the philosopher’s stone (or sorcerer’s stone, as you like) in the first Harry Potter book. He also gets a shoutout in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Way back when, Victor Hugo mentioned him in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. His legend also inspired this young adult fantasy series.
Flamel was a real guy who lived in Paris, running a couple of shops that sold manuscripts and working as a scribe in the fourteenth and early fifteenth century. More than two hundred years later, this guy got a reputation for knowing the secrets of alchemy. Today, he’s probably the world’s most famous alchemist, despite the fact that there’s no historical evidence to suggest he was into that at all.
Livre des figures hiéroglyphiques, attributed to Flamel, was published in 1612 in Paris, and the English translation was published in London in 1624. I don’t believe Flamel actually wrote it, and I’m not clear on exactly what’s in it, but I’m curious. (If you know, enlighten us!)
At the time of this post, there is apparently this original (?) copy of the book for sale on Amazon for $5546. Go look inside it! So cool.
Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of The Mayan Book of The Dawn of Life and The Glories of Gods and Kings, translated by Dennis Tedlock
Tragically, Spanish invaders burned and destroyed hundreds of ancient Mesoamerican books. A Spanish friar preserved these Mayan creation stories. Most creation myths are bizarre by contemporary standards, and this is no exception. The imagery and logic are dreamlike, and it’s a fascinating read. Also, these guys really liked to play their particular ball game.
The Blood Quran
In the 1990s, Saddam Hussein commissioned a special copy of the Islamic holy book, allegedly written in his own blood – an enterprise that many religious authorities considered wrong, by the way. This supposedly took somewhere between 50 to 57 pints of his blood, donated over the course of two years, which was mixed with ink.
For a while, the finished creation of the calligrapher was on display on the compound of a mosque, and it sounds like it was gorgeous. Who knows if any blood was used to create it, and how much of it, if any, was Hussein’s. After the dictator’s demise, people weren’t sure what to do with the thing.
The Malleus Maleficarum (The Witch’s Hammer), by Heinrich Kramer and Joakob Sprenger
This 1486 guide to understanding, identifying, torturing, and executing “witches” might be the most hateful and delusional book I’ve ever read. It’s all about how evil and intellectually inferior all women are, and about all the terrible things female witches do.
The supposed crimes for witches are exceptionally imaginative, and many have to do with causing impotence and emasculation. I’ll never forget the image of witches collecting dozens of male members and keeping them in boxes or birds’ nests, where they hop around like pets and eat corn or oats.
The book lauds towns in which dozens of women were tortured and then burned to death. Pope Innocent VIII wrote an introduction to the original version, supporting the Inquisition, and some crazy person wrote an introduction to the 1928 version, suggesting that while the Inquisition was ruthless, it was necessary because there was a vast conspiracy of witches trying to take over the world.
Codex Seraphinianus, Luigi Serafini
This book is just plain bananas. Although it looks old, it isn’t — the artist created it in 1981. Take a look at this video:
You can see more of the illustrations here!
If there’s a book that intrigues you, or one that blew your mind, let us know about it in the comments! Happy reading!