I’ve just watched the National Geographic / Naked Science documentary on the Voynich Manuscript, courtesy of a Stateside friend (thanks!). Regular Cipher Mysteries readers will already know how my review of it is supposed to go – ‘that, despite a few inaccuracies, it was great to see the Voynich Manuscript being brought to a popular audience‘.

But actually, the whole thing made me utterly furious: it was like watching yourself being airbrushed out of a family photograph. Let me get this straight: I researched the history like crazy, reasoned my way to the mid-15th century, stuck my neck out by writing the first properly new book on the Voynich for 30 years, talked with the documentary producers, sent lists of Voynich details for them to look at, got asked to fly out to Austria (though they later withdrew that at the last minute without explanation), kept confidences when asked, etc.

And then, once the film-makers got the radiocarbon dating in their hands, my Milan/Venice Averlino/Filarete theory became the last man standing (Voynich theory-wise). So why did it not get even a passing mention, when just before the end, they thought to edit in a map of Northern Italy with swallowtail-merloned castles and the narrator starts (apropros of nothing) to wonder what will be found in the archives “between Milan and Venice”. Perhaps I’m just being a bit shallow here, but that did feel particularly shabby on their part.

However pleased I am for Edith Sherwood that her Leonardo-made-the-Voynich-so-he-did nonsense merited both screentime and an angelic child actor pretending to be young Leonardo, the fact remains that it was guff before the radiocarbon dating (and arguably double guff afterwards): while much the same goes for all the Dee/Kelly hoax rubbish, which has accreted support more from its longstandingness than anything approaching evidence.

Perhaps the worst thing is that we’re all now supposed to bow down to the radiocarbon dating and start trawling the archives for candidates in the 1404-1438 timeframe. Yet even Rene Zandbergen himself has supplied the evidence for a pretty convincing terminus post quem: MS Vat Gr 1291 was completely unknown in Italy before being bought by Bartolomeo Malipiero as Bishop of Brescia, and so its stylistics could not sensibly have influenced the Voynich before 1457. In fact, 1465 – when the manuscript was carried from Brescia to Rome and became much better known – might even be a more sensible TPQ. And that’s without the cipher alphabet dating (post-1455 or so) and the parallel hatching dating (post-1440 if Florence, post-1450 if elsewhere in Italy).

And I’ll leave you with another thought: a couple of seconds after hearing the Beinecke’s Paula Zyats say “I don’t see any corrections”, the following image got edited in – a part of the f17r marginalia that looks to my eyes precisely like an emendation.

Voynich Manuscript f17r marginalia

Really, what am I supposed to think? *sigh*

The next European Skeptics Conference starts in Budapest in a few days’ time (17th-19th September 2010), and features Klaus Schmeh giving a talk on the Voynich Manuscript.

Though Klaus has invested a lot of effort into building up a hardline skeptical position on VMs theories (basically, that more or less everything written on it is either pseudoscience or pseudohistory), I personally don’t think this is particularly fair. Compared to the frankly fantasmagorical literature on the Phaistos Disk or even the wistfully nationalistic fancies floating around the Rohoncz Codex, I’d actually say that the majority of VMs theories do tend to rest on a far less rumpled bed of historical evidence and tortuous historical reasoning (if you put the alien Nazi Atlantean end-times theories to one side).

Yet it is also true that VMs theories also often share the same historical methodological flaw (some people would call it an “antipattern”). What I call the “Big Man” fallacy is the conviction that the only way of constructing a convincing explanation for the VMs would be to weave it into the narrative of a well-known historical (but occult- or cryptography-tinged) personality. As examples of this, you could quickly point to theories name-checking Roger Bacon, Leonardo da Vinci, Trithemius,  John Dee, Edward Kelley, Francis Bacon and perhaps even (I’ll say it so that Klaus doesn’t have to) Antonio Averlino.

Of course, the awkward truth about the Renaissance is that for every one half-decent such historical candidate, there were probably a hundred better qualified ones long lost in the fog of time: so the odds are always strongly against anyone succeeding in taking on the Voynich in the absence of proper scientific / codicological data to build upon.

Perhaps this marks the line between cynicism and skepticism I mentioned a few weeks ago: whereas a cynic dismisses any such speculative exercise as a unsupportable waste of effort, a skeptic realizes that the challenge of acquiring proper, revealing historical information is always going to be significant, and so struggles to retain a core of optimism. Is getting to such an extraordinary end line worth precariously balancing optimism and pessimism for? I think so, but… opinions differ! 🙂

For decades, Voynich Manuscript research has languished in an all-too-familiar ocean of maybes, all of them swelling and fading with the tides of fashion. But now, thanks to the cooperation between the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the documentary makers at Austrian pro omnia films gmbh, we have for the very first time a basic forensic framework for what the Voynich Manuscript actually is, vis-à-vis:-

  • The four pieces of vellum they had tested (at the University of Arizona / Tucson) all dated to 1420-1, or (to be precise) 1404-1438 with 95% confidence (“two sigma”).
  • The ink samples that were tested (by McCrone Associates, Inc.) were consistent with having been written onto fresh vellum (rather than being later additions), with the exception of the “cipher key” attempt on f1r which (consistent with its 16th century palaeography) came out as a 16th-17th century addition.
  • It seems highly likely, therefore, that the Voynich Manuscript is a genuine object (as opposed to some unspecified kind of hoax, fake or sham on old vellum).

The f1r cipher “key” now proven to have been added in the 16th/17th century 

The programme-makers conclude (from the ‘Ghibelline’ swallow-tail merlons on the nine-rosette page’s “castle”, which you can see clearly in the green Cipher Mysteries banner above!) that the VMs probably came from Northern Italy… but as you know, it’s art history proofs’ pliability that makes Voynich Theories so deliciously gelatinous, let’s say.

Anyway… with all this in mind, what is the real state of play for Voynich research as of now?

Firstly, striking through most of the list of Voynich theories, it seems that we can bid a fond farewell to:

  • Dee & Kelley as hoaxers (yes, Dee might have owned it… but he didn’t make it)
  • Both Roger Bacon (far too early) and Francis Bacon (far too late)
  • Knights Templars (far too early) and Rosicrucians (far too late)
  • Post-Columbus dating, such as Leonell Strong’s Anthony Askham theory (sorry, GC)

It also seems that my own favoured candidate Antonio Averlino (“Filarete”) is out of the running (at least, in his misadventures in Sforza Milan 1450-1465), though admittedly by only a whisker (radiocarbon-wise, that is).

In the short term, the interesting part will be examining how this dating stacks up with other classes of evidence, such as palaeography, codicology, art history, and cryptography:-

  • My identification of the nine-rosette castle as the Castello Sforzesco is now a bit suspect, because prior to 1451 it didn’t have swallowtail merlons (though it should be said that it’s not yet known whether the nine-rosette page itself was dated).
  • The geometric patterns on the VMs’ zodiac “barrels” seem consistent with early Islamic-inspired maiolica – but are there any known examples from before 1450?
  • The “feet” on some of the pharmacological “jars” seem more likely to be from the end of the 15th century than from its start – so what is going on there?
  • The dot pattern on the (apparent) glassware in the pharma section seems to be a post-1450 Murano design motif – so what is going on there?
  • The shared “4o” token that also appears in the Urbino and Sforza Milan cipher ledgers – might Voynichese have somehow been (closer to) the source for these, rather than a development out of them?
  • When did the “humanist hand” first appear, and what is the relationship between that and the VMs’ script?
  • Why have all the “nymph” clothing & hairstyle comparisons pointed to the end of the fifteenth century rather than to the beginning?

Longer-term, I have every confidence that the majority of long-standing Voynich researchers will treat this as a statistical glitch against their own pet theory, i.e. yet another non-fitting piece of evidence to explain away – for example, it’s true that dating is never 100% certain. But if so, more fool them: hopefully, this will instead give properly open-minded researchers the opportunity to enter the field and write some crackingly good papers. There is still much to be learnt about the VMs, I’m sure.

As for me, I’m going to be carefully revisiting the art history evidence that gave me such confidence in a 1450-1470 dating, to try to understand why it is that the art history and the radiocarbon dating disagree. History is a strange thing: even though thirty years isn’t much in the big scheme of things, fashions and ideas change with each year, which is what gives both art history and intellectual history their traction on time. So why didn’t that work here?

Anyway, my heartiest congratulations go out to Andreas Sulzer and his team for taking the time and effort to get the science and history right for their “DAS VOYNICH-RÄTSEL” documentary, which I very much look forward to seeing on the Austrian channel ORF2 on Monday 10th December 2009!

UPDATE: see the follow-up post “Was Vellum Stored Flat, Folded, or Cut?” for more discussion on what the dating means for Voynich research going forward…

My fellow Voynich old-timer Jan Hurych has long been interested in various Prague-linked research strands: after all, Prague was home to the first three properly-documented owners of the Voynich Manuscript (Jacobus de Tepenecz, Georg Baresch, and Johannes Marcus Marci), as well as its most illustrious claimed owner (Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II).

It is certainly true that Rudolf’s interests and obsessions acted as a powerful magnet to draw wonders from all over Europe to his court. Yet given that the claimed link with John Dee and Edward Kelley is gossamer-thin, it is no less sensible to wonder whether the VMs had been brought to Prague by someone from the town: perhaps someone well-travelled?

I mentioned Rudolf II’s manuscript-collecting astronomer / astrologer / herbalist / physician Tadeás Hájek here recently (who studied in Italy), but Jan Hurych regales me with tales of several others: for one, Hájek’s father (Simon Baccalareus) studied alchemy and collected manuscripts… though what happened to his library after his death is not currently known.

Jan has put together a nice page on one of his favourite Renaissance Czech travelling knights, Krystof Harant de Polzic and Bezdruzic, and his travels from Venice to Crete to Cyprus to the Holy Land to Egypt (etc). But I have to say that if a writer had picked up an intriguing cipher manuscript on their travels, it would be one of the first things they would write about: yet there is no mention. So we can probably rule Harant out, sorry Jan. 🙁

But Jan brings up a rather more full-on Czech Voynich theory, courtesy of Karel Dudek’s Czech webpage (though I used Google Translate, Dudek also put up his own English translation here). Dudek discusses Georg Handsch of Limuz (1529-1578), whose 1563 German translation of Mattioli’s Latin herbal came out a year after Tadeás Hájek’s Czech translation (it even used the same nice woodcuts!) Like Hájek, Handsch was a physician living in Prague, but whose main client was instead Ferdinand II Tyrolský (1529-1595) and his wealthy wife Filipina Welserová (1527-1580).

Dudek got his information from Leopold Selfender’s “Handsch Georg von Limuz – Lebensbild a Arztes aus dem XVI.Jahrenhunderts”: but after a bit of a false start (linking Handsch directly to Baresch, which I doubt would convince anyone), he proposes a possible chain of ownership from Handsch -> Welserová -> Ferdinand II Tyrolský -> Rudolph II -> Jacobus de Tepenecz, before Tepenecz’s estate got looted in the chaos of 1618 and the manuscript somehow ended up with Baresch (with the signature erased).

OK… but why Handsch? Dudek points to the VMs’ botany, and Handsch’s translation of Matthioli’s herbal (though I’d have to say that Hájek fits that bill even better). Dudek also discusses a book by Handsch based on his trips to visit medicinal baths and spas in 1571 called “Die Elbfischerei in Bohmen und Meissen” (eventually published in Prague in 1933), and sees parallels with the VMs’ water section there.

But Dudek gets even more speculative, talking about whether Bartoloměj Welser was financed by Charles V to undertake a (possibly Lutheran?) mission to South America, and drew pictures inspired by exotic plants he saw beside the Orinoco (hey, I thought he was a Womble?)

It’s a good story, but a little lacking in connection to the VMs: and doesn’t really explain why we see (for example) 15th century handwriting in the quire numbers, or even the Occitan-like month names on the zodiac, etc. Perhaps we should really admit that looking for an origin for the VMs in Prague may be a little too hopeful, not dissimilar to the way 19th century German historians’ looked to see if Nicholas of Cusa might secretly have been some kind of Teutonic Leonardo. Nice try… but no cigar.

For those of you who like the whole John Dee / Edward Kelley mythology schtick, I thought I’d mention that the Wikipedia entry on Edward Kelley points to a silly link with the Blair Witch Project. There, the witch is named “Elly Kedward”, a spoonerism of his name: there’s even a fake site for her (all part of the guerilla marketing, I guess).

Not very substantial, but it amused me, nonetheless. 🙂

I suppose it was glumly inevitable that the world’s favourite anti-reptilian ex-goalkeeper David Icke would have included the Voynich Manuscript in “The Biggest Secret” (1999), now freely downloadable from scribd.com. Which is nice.

Much as you’d expect, many of the strands of the mainstream story get picked out and respun into a distinctly paranoia-flavoured fabric. For example, “John Dee was the Queen’s astrologer, a Rosicrucian Grand Master, a black magician, and a secret agent for the new intelligence network”: he and Edward Kelley were talking not with angels but “reptilians“. Oh, and Rudolph II was “of the reptilian Habsburg dynasty, another occultist.

Hmmm: I feel another semantically irregular verb coming on:-

  • I am a visionary, a singularity within a vortex of eternal chaos
  • You (singular) are badly compromised, but might be redeemed if you buy my book
  • He/she is reptilian. Oh, and did I mention he/she is reptilian?
  • We are freedom fighters against the infinite evil of The Brotherhood
  • You (plural) are corrupted by prolonged exposure to reptilian media lies and hype
  • They are part of a reptilian dynasty/network/conspiracy that spans the ages

Once you get the hang of how it works, Icke’s stuff almost writes itself. What is he going to say about the Voynich Manuscript? Easy: just take the most superficial reading you can (Newbold’s snail, etc), reptilify it, and summarize it thus:-

“This manuscript is just one example of the level of knowledge the
Brotherhood were working with hundreds of years ago while their other wing, the
religions, were keeping the masses in the most basic ignorance.”

And now someone has posted on David Icke’s online forum, claiming to be a senior member of the Illuminati (though to me it reads more like a publisher PR hack having a bit of fun at Icke-fandom’s expense):-

“Let me just say to you that we tried twice in the past to show a coded glimpse of the nature of our great secret. You have probably heard of the most mysterious manuscript in the world – the Voynich manuscript. No one has ever been able to decode it. The men who wrote it were members of the Illuminati and they were captured and killed before they could release the key to decoding it. The Arthurian legends were our other main attempt to enter popular consciousness and reveal our true purpose. They succeeded to an extent, but our enemies were able to confuse our message by releasing alternative versions of the legends. So, now we are trying again.”

Yeah, rrrright.

Bizarrely, the title of the (probably as-yet-unfinished) book being puffed (“The Soul Camera”) is the same name as an odd camera that has just been released in Japan by Sonaco, that apparently photographs your “aura” in some way. As always, the world is far stranger than conspiracy theorists think – but in a completely different way.

John Sweat’s “The Anthropogene” is a nice ‘lost history’ blog I recently stumbled upon: what caught my eye was a post of his that mentioned the Voynich Manuscript and tried out Gordon Rugg’s seven-step “Verifier Method”. As this is what Rugg allegedly used when he made his famous “VMS is a hoax” claims in 2003/2004, I thought it perhaps should be examined in more detail. Sweat summarises Rugg’s 7 steps as:-

  1. “Accumulate knowledge of a discipline through interviews and reading.
  2. Determine whether critical expertise has yet to be applied in the field.
  3. Look for bias and mistakenly held assumptions in the research.
  4. Analyze jargon to uncover differing definitions of key terms.
  5. Check for classic mistakes using human-error tools.
  6. Follow the errors as they ripple through underlying assumptions.
  7. Suggest new avenues for research that emerge from steps one through six.”

All of which can, I think, be summarised even more brutally:-

  1. Engage with so-called “experts” and their writings
  2. Decide if those “experts” are indeed actually experts
  3. Do those experts have a particular agenda?
  4. Do the words they use get in the way?
  5. Are their theories basically built on sand?
  6. See how their errors beget other errors
  7. Work out the biggest issues, and continue until you’ve had enough

This seems to be describing intellectual history, which I would characterise as a thinky, “Florentine humanist”-style knowledge-critiquing methodology based around herding all the arguers in a field together, logically dismantling their arguments, and then using whatever is left standing to construct tentative explanations. Technically, the difference between intellectual history and the history of ideas is that the former tends to see ideas as actively shaped by agendas and as flowing between cultural frames of reference, while the latter tends to try to engage with ideas-in-themselves. (Having said that, the Wikipedia entry for history of ideas cites Michel Foucault as a sympathetic practitioner, yet he sees everything as a product of the agendas implicit in cultural frames of reference. But I digress!)

At its best, intellectual history throws up dazzling insights: in the hands of a master (such as the extraordinary Anthony Grafton), it can be a virtuoso performance of brain over matter, not unlike a QC’s persuasive mastery of his or her brief. Yet at its worst, it can be a sterile exercise in intellectual futility, divorced from the world by its shallow insistence on examining only the participants and their claims, not the validity of the evidence expressed in the ideas, and so ending up in a kind of over-finessed, intricate superficiality.

As an example, even though Grafton’s generally excellent book on Leon Battista Alberti shows precisely how Alberti’s form and ideas flowed from classical topoi, I think Grafton perhaps takes the whole humanist conceit (that if we all wrote as well as Cicero the world would be a better place) a little bit too literally – whereas humanism was by and large more like a courtly Latinistic game of patronage – and as a result his book never really engages with Alberti the person.

If we bear this kind of thing in mind, it should be reasonably clear that Rugg’s “Verifier Method” looks to verify not evidence qua contents but instead expert opinions qua methodology: a kind of faux legalistic framework, with the investigator as self-appointed armchair judge in his/her own kangaroo court, and with no power or desire to step outside into the real world.

In the case of the Voynich Manuscript (in case you were wondering when I’d ever mention it), I think the Verifier Method falls right at steps (1) and (2). Because Rugg’s conceptual framework had no mechanism to critique evidence (in particular the various transcriptions of the text), and what separates experts in such an uncertain field is by and large their conception of what constitutes relevant evidence, Rugg has no intrinsic way of deciding who is (and who is not) an expert, let alone trying to infer their agendas (3) or to diagnose any linguistic/semantic difficulties (4)

Essentially, it seems to me that the Verifier Method relies so heavily on the underlying field being regular that it fails to be a satisfactory tool to apply to such irregular areas of study as the Voynich Manuscript. But the problem then is that regular fields of study tend not to need exploratory methods such as the Verifier Method to help traverse them.

Finally, I think that “Verifying” is such a weak aim of any knowledge methodology as to be virtually useless: as a strategy, all it really tries to elicit is some kind of limp correlation. The “Cardan Grille” nonsense that Rugg concocted to “verify” that the Dee/Kelley hoax hypothesis was “possible” is precisely such a thing: of course the hypothesis was possible, that’s why it was a hypothesis, duh. Come on: when dealing with an uncertain field, when would the Verifier Method ever be preferable to Popper’s Falsificationism, where you collect together plausible hypotheses and actively design experiments to try to kill them? Now that’s what I call proper Popper science…

No, not the 2008 film (though that too has a crystal skull-based storyline): I’m talking about the 1995 book by Max McCoy, which Bantam have just (May 2008) reissued apropos of nothing (apart from perhaps trying to surf the wave of the film’s gigantic marketing spend?)

The Voynich Manuscript makes its appearance very early on (p.27, actually the first page of Chapter 1): McCoy manages to present its history very lightly and not bog the reader down in too many details. But as the book is set in 1933, there wasn’t a whole UFO angle to cover (or other such modern confections). Instead, you get a little bit of Newbold, Bacon, alchemy, Major John M. Manly (!!!), John Dee, Kelley, the Shew Stone, and even a quick reference to Wilfrid Voynich in New York: basically, everything moves briskly along in the kind of proper screenplay-like way you’d hope from an Indy novel. Yes, there’s even the occasional snake (for readers playing Indy buzzword bingo, I guess).

I’ll admit it: I was charmed by the book. It’s small (293 pocket-size pages), no larger than you’d imagine a Japanese commuter squeezing into a pocket, and reads so quickly that at some points (most notably in the end sequence past the oasis) I deliberately closed my eyes to slow the pace down so that I could properly picture the scene in my mind.

Historically, the book has a deliciously light touch throughout, in particular when Indy and his companion are improbably rescued by an elderly French couple called Nicholas and Peronelle (p.200) – and if you can’t work out who they are by that stage in the story, you very possibly deserve to be shot.

I liked all the atlantici history and the Shelta Thari stuff (there’s a Wikipedia page too) woven in: but note that when McCoy writes “Nus a dhabjan dhuilsa“, he probably means “Nus a dhabjon dhuilsha” [‘The blessing of God on you’], though I’d prefer not to pick a fight with a tinker / tinsmith as to which one is correct. Incidentally, my guess is that McCoy picked up the reference to Thari from Roger Zelazny’s 10-book ‘Amber’ series.

Inevitably, there are some historical mistakes in the book (the VMs wasn’t in Yale in 1933, I’m pretty sure that the British Museum had a positive rotograph of at least some of the VMs in 1929, etc), but frankly I couldn’t care less. It’s a delightful, frothy, whip-cracking romp through alchemical history, that I think should be required reading for any modern Voynich novelist.

Another day, another Voynich novel to read: but “Enoch’s Portal” by A.W.Hill is certainly one with a heady sense of ambition. The flame the author wants us readers to touch is nothing short of an occult ‘Theory Of Everything‘: a kind of quantum alchemy, linking Cathar euthanasia with Renaissance magic all the way through to Nazi Germany, the Temple of the Sun (though this is the name of a 1969 Tintin film, the Order of the Solar Temple is what is really meant) and the twin modern magics of finance and Hollywood. And the threads binding this bulging mass of ideas together are the Voynich Manuscript, an impossibly virginal woman called Sofia, an impossibly filmic hero called Stephan Raszer, and… former Czech president Vaclav Havel. Ohhhh yes.

The Voynich aspect of the book is straightforward enough: the author buys in to Leo Levitov’s whole Cathar Endura ritual reading of the manuscript, along with all the John Dee fairy dust that people like to sprinkle on the VMs to make an otherwise unpalatable mystery taste that little bit sweeter. Yet the author has a character called Dr Noel Branch describe the VMs as “A theurgic riddle in the guise of soft-core pornography” and insisting that the “the key might lie in those silly illustrations” which are usually dismissed as nonsense: which would seen to indicate that Hill has at least properly engaged with the VMs on some level. 🙂

But for me, Hill gets enough of the history wrong in important places to break the narrative spell: for example, John Dee was never Emperor Rudolf’s alchemist (though Edward Kelley was, and Sinapius / de Tepenecz arguably came close enough too [though one might perhaps call him the “Imperial Distiller”]). Which is a bit of a shame, as this isn’t really a key support for the story.

Speaking of the story: in it, Stephan Raszer’s job is basically to track down rich women lost in cults, empathize with them, show them his own scarred wrists, have them fall in love with his failed-actor good looks, and convince them to transfer their (implicitly sexual) passion for the cult over to him… so that he can then haul them back to the pampered bland existance in Richville they worked so hard to escape from, thereby earning his handsome fee.

But Raszer is not so much a character as a filmic construct, formed from the unholy merging of a Kundalini/chakra-obsessed later Stevan Seagal (though Raszer never actually fights as such), a later Arnold Schwarzenegger (his “I don’t shoot peepul, I only saif cheeldren” phase), and the asexual 1990s James Bonds, who (along with their audiences) were neither shaken nor stirred by the various Dreary Hi-Tech Plot Devices Of Doom placed in their paths.

Females in “Enoch’s Portal” fare little better: Raszer’s partner comes from the same mop-up-all-the-loose-plot-threads school as did Tom Cruise’s impossibly capable assistant in “The Firm” (Holly Hunter); while the empowered modern women Raszer meets are all so, errrm, “enmoistened” by his good looks that they basically make love to him while his soul leaves his body on a brief spiritual holiday. Ghastly stuff.

All the same, there was a good idea in here: though Raszer lives in a supernatural world of walk-ins, succubi, and the like, the cults he deals with are basically spiritual frauds – which leads to an (actually quite interesting) question of whether Raszer is in fact delusional… but this is never obviously addressed.

Really, the problem I had with the book is that (whether it is actually true or not) it comes across again and again as having been written by someone who has watched too many trashy 1990s action movies and taken too many drugs, all the while not really engaging with the world around them. The thought kept returning when I was reading the book that it could all have been redeemed if only the author had done X or pulled back from Y… *sigh*. All in all, I just wish that Hill had had the courage of his convictions and written a screenplay instead, rather than the book of the film in his head. Oh, well!

A couple of emails just in from Voynich novelists: it’s so much nicer to hear about stuff before it happens, rather than haphazardly 6+ months later (sadly the de facto standard for the Internet).

Firstly, Richard Douglas Weber writes to tell me that his Voynich novel is now very well advanced, and that (though I’m exaggerating a tad) it has a VMs-related plot device that will hopefully jolt me out of my novel-reading seat. I’m really looking forward to this!

(As an aside, the last thing that nearly made me choke on my own intestines with surprise was the “canape” sequence in the “Ali G Indahouse” movie. But perhaps I should say no more about that, aiii…)

Richard came to the Voynich Manuscipt sideways while researching a Dee/Kelley/Enochian writing project, but which then got stalled. When it later restarted, the Dee/Kelley angle got dropped while the VMs took centre stage. Unlike many “Voynichologists” out there (*sigh*), he had taken the time to read Mary D’Imperio’s “Elegant Enigma” (good for him!), though he felt it only really amounted to “a long rehash of everything that was conjectured”… (errrm, it’s not that long, is it?) All of which is fair enough: we’ll all have to wait for his final book to see what angle he takes on the VMs…

I should say that though D’Imperio affects impartiality, if you read “Elegant Enigma” carefully, you can find quite a few places where her actual opinion of the VMs sneaks in. I think it is the structure of Voynichese that particularly fascinated her, the siren singing that pulled her ship toward the manuscript. For example, on p.11 she writes of its “architectonic … quality“, and that “I gain a persistent impression of the presence of rules and relationships, a definite structure with its own “logic”, however erratic and bizarre it might appear when compared to present-day concepts. The intricate compound forms in the script and its matter-of-fact, rather austere style all confirm this impression of craftsmanlike and logical construction in my mind“, before going on to describe the “persistent tectonic element of style in the drawings.” This basic idea recurs on p.16 and elsewhere.

Secondly, Bill Walsh emailed with news of his own Voynich-homage novel with a supernatural twist. It wouldn’t be fair to say more than that at this early stage – even in these electronic times, getting from pitch to draft to agent to publisher to marketing to production to retailer to reader is as slow (and tricky) as it was a century ago. But having now seen some of his writing (which I found sparky and enjoyable), I really wish him the very best luck in taking it further.

Finally, I’ve just picked up a copy of A.W.Hill’s ‘Stephan Raszer’ novel “Enoch’s Portal” (2001), which allegedly has its own supernatural take on the Voynich Manuscript. I’ll post a review here once I’ve imbibed its intriguing mix of “visionary doses of Renaissance magic, Kabbalah and sacramental sex” (according to the back cover, anyway)…