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Essays

Hitchhiker's Guide to
Publishing in the Wizarding World

by Diana Patterson

    Wizards are very fond of books, newspapers, and magazines, ones filled with moving photographs. But their presence in the world of quills, ink and parchment raises some problems about publishing - at least for us Muggles.

What is Publishing?

Before beginning to decipher the ways of publishing, it may be necessary to define exactly what publishing is: it is making ideas public. Technically, yelling in the street or scribbling in chalk on a pavement would be a form of publishing. But more practically, publishing involves making copies of material in such a way that someone can make money from the exercise. A publisher need not be anyone who makes copies of something (such as a printer), but must be someone who distributes the copies.

Medieval Setting and its Implications

Now the wizarding world is mainly medieval. Wizards wear robes, presumably in such a way as to get a 'healthy breeze' around their privates (GF7) in the medieval manner, and similarly they use drippy ink with mainly quills (reed pens for thicker writing) on parchment, in the late Classical or early Medieval manner. There certainly was publishing of books in the Classical and Medieval times. One person copied a book from another, or, for more 'mass-market items', copying was done in scriptoria, where either a text was read aloud to several copyists, or the exemplar was taken apart and each copyist had a portion of the exemplar to work on, then everyone traded until each copy had all the parts (this is called the pecia system of copying, and need not be carried on in one room at the same time). Of course what I have just described is the Muggle Medieval world. Once we have magic, why things change.

What do Wizard Books Look Like Inside?

The Muggle technology to replace magic was the printing press, a device that delineates the Middle Ages from the Renaissance. But we are never told whether particular books or newspapers or magazines are done in type, or in manuscript (handwriting). The films (non-canonical) tell us that the Daily Prophet is in manuscript, but books are nineteenth-century, printed, Victorian items, like Moste Potente Potions, although the miraculous book that Hermione refers to that mentions Nicolas Flamel, and updates itself to record his current age, is in manuscript with metal tags sewn to the presumably parchment leaves. This makes sense since Nicolas Flamel was born around 1330, before paper was much used in Europe.

We know that some books are as big as paving stones, and some are very tiny. We know that they are in the familiar form of books in our era: the codex, as opposed to the Classical form of the book, the scroll. The only books whose pages we have been able to turn are Quidditch through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. These are printed books on paper, at least to my Muggle eyes, although they could be done by magical quills that draw extremely good book hands, and the paper might just be for us Muggles. Of course neither of these books contains photographs, only some sketches that appear to have been done in manuscript, not like the images in Moste Potente Potions [film version], which appear to be wood blocks. The spelling of Moste Potente Potions suggests that the book ought to be a Renaissance production, not a Victorian one, however; in which case, in the Muggle world, illustrations would have been either more elaborate wood blocks, or engravings on copper.

Sheep skin cut and folded to make an octavo book

Parchment and Paper

We do know that the students write essays using quills on parchment. Now in the Muggle world, parchment is a really tough, whitish substance made of animal skin. The skin has the hair removed, and it is stretched and dried, and has all the fat scraped off it as it stretches and dries. The best parchment is made from young sheep or goats, but really, it could be made of many animals, including dog and cat. It looks vaguely like paper, but it is not paper. (My publishing students have trouble describing a sheet of writing material as anything but paper, but parchment is not a kind of paper — paper is vegetable, and parchment is animal.) The animal skin is enormously difficult to tear. It is impossible to crumble. But when it gets wet, it warps and thickens: it tries to turn back into the skin of the animal it came from. Nobody dealing with Muggle parchment could wad it up into a ball, tear off a strip to hand somebody a note, or do any of the many things that wizards seem able to do with their parchment.

We do not know whether most books are made of paper or parchment, although we do know that at least one book, the one containing information about the basilisk (CS16) is paper. Paper came into the western world from China, through the Arabic countries, at about the same time that the printing press (actually movable type, not really the printing press, but . . .) came to be used in Europe, c. 1450. Thus the particular copy of the basilisk book is that late. We also know that for some odd reason, although temporary lists for bulletin boards are on parchment, Snape uses a roll of paper to give the clues about the vials guarding the Philosopher's Stone (PS16). So we see elements of the Renaissance here. Still very old books, even printed ones, are likely to be of parchment, as they are in the Muggle world.

It takes many dead animals to make a parchment book. One complete sheep is required to make between four and eight pages of a book as big as a paving slab (depending on the size of the paving slab and the size of the sheep).  Thus a book of, say, 394 pages, in a size we would recognize as the size of a textbook (octavo), would require 394/16 sheep, or about 25 sheep. If everyone in a class of 20 had such a textbook, a Muggle would have to have 500 sheep on hand to slaughter. Presumably wizards have developed some magical-synthetic parchment, since we don't run into many sheep around Flourish and Blotts or Hogwarts. Not only does this magical material tear, and crumple, but also it withstands being thrown into toilets too, since nobody seemed surprised when the diary of Tom Riddle survived being thrown into a toilet.

Renaissance book with latches to flatten parchment

In the Muggle world, books made of parchment were bound in wood (which is why we use the word ‘board’ to describe the heavy paper used for covers). To keep the parchment from changing shape, the boards had latches on them to press the parchment flat.

Reproduction

One of the possibilities of making a Daily Prophet would be using a collection of enslaved Quick-Quotes Quills that would write out thousands of copies of Rita Skeeter's text at one go so that they would be available next morning for owl post. Or, there might just be a reproduction spell for making copies: fero copia (meanwhile the wizard imagines how much abundance he wants in order to produce the correct number of copies).

Integrating photographs into this process would be difficult if not impossible in Muggle technology, but clearly not in magic. The photographs, so far as we know from seeing Colin Creevey using a camera and the photographer from the Daily Prophet with his purple flash, are the result of a mechanical process, much like Muggle photography, only using potions to create the moving images (CS6). How one copies the photograph into a manuscript is, well, magic.

Transport

One of the problems of publishing is distributing the weight of paper and cardboard. Magically transporting parchment and wood solves this problem, of course. But as in the Summoning Charm, the materials requested fly through the air as heavy objects rather than Disapparating and Apparating, presumably as atoms. Similarly, sending material by Floo powder would create flying objects through chimneys: imagine attempting to go to Diagon Alley and meeting a shipment of the Monster Book of Monsters coming from another direction! We don't know how published material gets distributed other than by owl post and by carrying the books around after a purchase in a book shop.

Publishers

The HP Lexicon lists the known publishers of the wizarding world (see), including their addresses and published books. Two of these have offices in Diagon Alley, where we know the Daily Prophet also has its offices, but whether they have other premises at which they reproduce their materials, or warehouse them, we know not. Somehow, one is sceptical that The Quibbler has offices in Diagon Alley.

Content Quality

One last problem in considering publishing in the wizarding world is the quality of the books. Literature, composition, and editing are not skills taught at Hogwarts, and no books described so far seem to have fiction in them, the only stories being histories, biographies or travels. So far we know of only one play (Hélas, Je me suis Transfiguré mes Pieds [Alas, I have Transfigured my Feet] a play by a wizard named Malecrit [he writes badly] (QA8)), and one book of poetry (Sonnets of a Sorcerer (CS13)) in all those tens of thousands of books in the Hogwarts library. How good is the writing and editing in these many wizard books? (Editor's note: Since this essay was first written, further wizarding books have come to light; see books by title for more information.)

Further Reading

To learn more about parchment and medieval books:

Brown, Michelle P. The British Library Guide to Writing and Scripts: History and Techniques. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1998. ISBN 0-8020-8172. (Available from the British Library bookshop on-line).

To look at some manuscript books, browse the Bodleian Library's sample collection at:

WEB LINKhttp://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/medieval/browse.htm

To see how books changed between manuscript and printing, you might look at the University of South Carolina's on-line exhibit:

WEB LINKhttp://www.sc.edu/library/spcoll/sccoll/renprint/rp1.html

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