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Under Your Skin: A History of the Necronomicon and Skin-Bound Books

The absence of evil books in real life hasn’t stopped us from imagining them in all manner of genres both past and present. And we love a good evil book, don’t we? Whether it’s Mister Babadook demanding entry into your home, the King in Yellow bringing carnage and ruin to the stage, or the Spirit grimoire manipulating a young magician in The Care Bears Movie, our fascination with malevolent tomes and nefarious publications continues to thrive. One of the more popular, if not the most popular, versions of this trope is the Necronomicon, a book as notorious as it is fictitious.

Pamela’s Letterbox

At first, the move from in-person instruction to an online Zoom classroom seemed like it would hit us particularly hard in Dr. Matt Kirschenbaum’s “BookLab: How to Do Things with Books” course. The course focused not only on the theoretical affordances of reading textual materiality, but also on getting our hands dirty with the physical production of material objects: using clay tablets, making paper, playing with a 3-D printed type matrix and punch, collation exercises, bookbinding, letterpress printing. On our last day of class, the same day our university announced its plans for a campus closure, we were all huddled around one of the presses pulling prints of Walt Whitman’s “A Font of Type” on the paper we had made only a few weeks prior.

Pandemic Transmission

In Fall of 2019 I took a class at the University of Maryland from Professor Tita Chico entitled “The Postmodern Enlightenment.” In this class we read and compared contemporary works and 18th-century works. As a companion to the Yorgos Lanthimos movie The Favourite, we were assigned to read The Secret History of Queen Zarah of the Zarazians, Being a Looking-Glass for —– ——– in The Kingdom of Albigion by (probably) Mary Delariviere Manley. This satirical roman a clef is an attack on Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough leveled by a woman no less ambitious than Churchill was.