L’Enfant Savage

This Ancient, Mysterious Book
May Have Been Written by a Boy

There are just a few things we like better than books. Like rare books. Mysterious, single-edition books. Books no one knows who wrote them, or what they’re really all about.
We told you about the Voynich Manuscript. Still impenetrable, despite efforts of the best minds of our time. Legendary cryptologists and code breakers, all have tried their hand at it and they all failed.
Now, here’s another one: Le Livre des Sauvages, which like the Voynich, also seems to have come to light years after it was written. But apart from that and the fact that it remains inscrutable, the coincidences between the two books stop here.
The manuscript was hundreds of pages long, full of odd, sexually suggestive drawn figures, many of them appearing to be urinating, copulating, whipping each other, and displaying enormously swollen genitals.
Fate has it that Le Livre came to the possession of Emmanuel Domenech, a French seminarist who may have unwillingly contributed to much confusion surrounding all efforts to interpret its content. Starting by his own misguided attempt.
Domenech had come to Texas in the early 1800s, as a missionary, and traveled extensively the wild West, then a dangerous land of bandits and armed gangs. He somehow survived it all, all the while studying the Native American and Mexican cultures.
Around the time he was given the manuscript, said to have been collecting dust for a century in a box at the Biblioteque de l’Arsenal in Paris, he’d also been introduced to Pope Pius IX, who lent him support to publish an annotated “translation” of the book.
For a lowly abadé, Domenech was a bright and well connected fellow. He also spoke several languages, but not German, which turned out to be the unraveling of his budding reputation as a scholar.
Thinking that the manuscript was a treatise on the Native American culture he had come in contact in his trips to the U.S., he developed a whole interpretation of the book’s content as such. In many instances, he stretched the meaning of the words and illustrations to fit his, at best, guesswork.
As it turned out, many of the terms he misunderstood as an ancient language were simply misspelled German, and when Manuscrit Pictographique Americain was published, the Vossiche Zeitung of Berlin suggested that, rather than a study of the American Indian culture, it was the product of a “nasty-minded little boy.”
It was enough to brand the whole thing a hoax and Domenech, despite having published other serious books, before and after the fiasco, never quite recovered his status as a reputable researcher.
The authorship and ultimate meaning of the ‘book of savages,’ though, remains unknown to this day.
Throughout history, a handful of other similarly intriguing books have challenged all attempts, scholarly or otherwise, to decipher them. The lore surrounding such haunted domain was enough to fascinate H.P.Lovecraft, a horror writer who created his own legend, the Necronomicon, a work of such unespeakable power as to cast eternal damnation over anyone who’d dare to read it.
Urban myths, conspiracy theories, Internet hoaxes, computer viruses, even a misconstructed idea that suddenly acquires legs and multiplies, it’s a human nature trait to constantly devise ways to to try to fool people for fun or devilish delight.
Which makes it to a fool’s errand to wonder whether one day we’ll finally see clearly through all of them. But we can always treasure, though, the moment right before we find out we’ve been taken for a ride, when anything can be possible.
The “what if?” moment, when we allow ourselves to be impressed for just a bit, and enticed just a little longer to find out more about what’s in front of us. After that ever so brief instant, our jaded ourselves just takes over and we’re reassured once again that reality can’t never match our own expectation of wonder.
Old books don’t need any of that to be mysterious and full of wonder themselves, of course. But there should be little doubt that most of us do love a good trick, an illusion act, a wave of a magical wand. After all, we should all make sure our “nasty-minded little boy” is still alive and well within, right?

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