You have stumbled upon this book. I know because stumbling upon this obscure book is the only way you’ll find it. There are few translated copies but only one original, hidden away in a secret. Don’t ask me where, I was blindfolded before I was taken to inspect it – so even if you torture me (please, don’t) I still shan’t reveal it to you. Regardless if I did know, I would not expose it – I have dedicated my entire 57-year career at Yale and to a certain extent my entire adult life to this book. It is a rarity, in fact in my opinion it is the rarest of books! And it is so rare because it is an act of vandalism. But unlike almost all acts of vandalism, this one transcends the original.
The original text was a primitive avian encyclopedia written in what we have determined to be a West Saxon dialect of Old English. Each entry of the book pertains to a certain species of bird, but that is where the similarities to the original encyclopedia end. The many authors, or vandals, of this book have used each species of bird as the seed of their stories. The stories have been translated from 13 languages, both contemporary and ancient, from almost every continent. The fact that it exists is amazing, let alone that over the centuries of its creation its structure and contents has remained cohesive despite its dozen and a half anonymous writers. Imagine the Brothers Karamazov being written by strangers on the wall of a public toilet in Moscow – over the course of 400 years! I still think to myself, “It is impossible…” and I would not believe it was genuine if I had not carbon dated the pages myself, and spent agonising hour after hour looking for signs of forgery. But there was nothing awry. It was genuine. Somehow.
I had a promising academic career ahead of myself when I was a young man, until the day I found this. And since that cursed day, I have spent every living moment on the enigma that you hold in your hands. Madness! It has cost me my livelihood, my physical and mental well being, even my marriage. Insanity! My children grew up and became adults in the few briefs glances I tore away from the stories, and I hardly care. Depravity! Throw this book as far as you can and run. Ha! Run far away before it consumes you, as it has me, and so many before. Flee!
Sir Quincy Archibald