"Why did he write it?"
I had asked the question aloud, though I had not meant to. I meant, of course, Abdul al-Azrd, and his most famous work, the Kitab al-Azif, which had been rendered into the Greek as the Necronomicon. This work, in its various recensions, has been the subject of my studies for some years. I have accumulated something like seventy-five editions, fragments, and commentaries on the work in various translations. Stacks of xerox copies of blackletter pages, scans of manuscript pages from university libraries, cheap paperback editions from New York, London, Prague...
Most of my work is not about the text itself, as such. The cosmology, the prophecies, the formulas, and history...I am more concerned with the context of the work, the transmission. I compare sections of text from different manuscripts to the extant editions, compare the wording, the time and place and circumstances of the the content. Parallels in gnostic scriptures, poorly sourced hadith, fragments of stories retold in collections of the Thousand and One Nights.
Yet that day, at the coffee shop in the lobby of the library - is no place sacred? - I had been working my way through the Kitāb al-‘Uzzá - the librarians hadn't been willing to scan or photograph any of the pages, so I had to arrive in person at the special collection, present my credentials, and sit quietly as they went through the whole instructions on handling the manuscript - complete with white gloves! - and I was allowed only a pencil and notepad for my notes. Four hours of that and my ass was numb, my bladder was fit to burst, and I was getting that slight tension in my temples that presaged a caffeine-deprivation headache.
The question, muttered as I sat down in the coffee shop, hands wrapped around my personal lifegiving grail, came out of the depths of my consciousness. It was the kind of thing I could have meditated on for hours and days, but as often happens in any serene moment of contemplation, I was interrupted.
"Because it was what he was expected to do."
The voice belonged to a face, the face was studded with bits of metal in each lip, in each nostril, in each eyebrow and ear. It was carefully assymmetrical, the ragged cafe-au-lait birthmark over one eye juxtaposed by the dark black lines overlaying the other one, black ink on chocolate skin. The sides of her head were shaved, hair faded into something more involved than a high-top and too short and broad to be a mohawk. He smile was gap, toothed, broad, and immediately attractive.
I didn't say anything, but a wordless querulous gurgle buzzed into my throat.
"Alhazred, right?" I didn't correct her pronunciation, just nodded. "Mona told me you were looking it up in SC. Yeah, he did it because he had to."
My eyes tried to focus on her again. "You've been studying al-Azrd?"
She slurped her ice coffee through a straw, swallowed and nodded.
"Yeah. Dual masters in history and library science. I've been working a thesis on Manichean textual tradition, you know? Like, taking John C. Reeves' work and reworking it with the new manuscripts and archaeological sources we have now, right?"
"The thing is, in the Middle East back then, you couldn't just have a divine revelation. I mean, you could have this reputation of being very wise and a great magician and everything, but if you wanted people to take you seriously, you needed a book. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Manichaeans were all ahl al-Kitāb, People of the Book. The people didn't just want a prophet, they wanted scripture."
She sucked back at the iced coffee. I felt mine getting cool in my hands.
"There's no real information on Alhazred's followers, right? But he had to have them. Who else recorded the details of his life, his death? The Al Azif, that's a serious book, right? Takes a lot of money for that much vellum, more money for artists for all the diagrams and illustrations, the illuminations, the scribes to copy it. You think a poet is going to have the coin for all that? No, he had his own little cult. This mad poet. Okay, maybe not a cult cult, but you bet he had some rich merchant's widow or something footing the wheels - and that's who he wrote the book for. They wanted a scripture. They wanted a book to refer to, copy, pass on."
"That's...very interesting, actually." The wheels were spinning. "You're not the first to suggest al-Azrd had followers and assistance in preparing the manuscript. Some of the earliest extant fragments show different colors of ink, some of it silver or gold..." Her brown eyes were wide, the glasses pushed down on her nose. "But what makes you so sure it was some sort of scripture, not...an historical work, like the Kitāb al-Așnām, the Book of Idols written by Hisham Ibn Al-Kalbi? Or a collection of forbidden materials, like the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt?"
"Parallel construction," she popped out, flashing the smile again. "The way the Al Azif is ordered, it's informed by the structure of Judeo-Christian-Islamic texts, right? Because the manuscript copies, the original organization of the Al Azif texts wasn't fixed until way later, when it was printed in Toledo, right? The early handwritten copies, you've got your Genesis-parallel clumped together, and your psalm-parallels grouped together, but it wasn't ordered like it is today in the printed; the Al Azif's contents might be way alien to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic milieu, but it was written like a latter-day gospel, right? You can tell because some of them work the parallels really hard - the whole thing about the rebellion in Aldebaran or whatever it was - its all like the Enochian literature of the Manichaeans again, the stuff that the Yahwists redacted and tried to minimize in Genesis, but Mani was all over that stuff, and the texts like the Book of Enoch and the Book of Giants. Secret scriptural history! That's what it's all about."
She sucked on the straw again, dark lip gloss shiny against the clear plastic straw, quickly giving way to a slurping as the iced coffee ran out of coffee, leaving just a thin brown film clinging to the half-melting ice.
"Miss...I'm sorry I don't even know your name...this is actually really fascinating, and I'd like to talk to you about it more...maybe over dinner?"
She shot me that gap-toothed grin again. Her canine teeth bit down on her lower lip a little when she smiled. "Cthulhu fhtagn, baby. I get off at eight. Meet you here?"
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