This week sees the launch of the Erewash Press, a venture I’m extremely excited about. I’m one half of the outfit, the other half being my wife, an editor and cover designer who previously worked for Oxford University Press. We’re going to be publishing affordable editions of unusual, slightly obscure or half-forgotten works which we think deserve a wider readership, mostly from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The idea for the Press came from the conversations we have with friends, where we recommend books to each other, discuss odd corners of literary history, and generally chat about the unusual and unexpected in writing from the past. We’re hoping that Erewash Press will work rather like one of those friends, recommending books people might have overlooked, and providing an opportunity to discuss them with other bookish types. Because of this, we’re deliberately keeping the prices low in comparison to other publishers, especially on our fiction titles: we want people to be able to pick up a copy whenever their interest is piqued.
Some of the books will be the less famous books of well-known writers, and some will be by authors who have been a bit neglected and whose works aren’t easily available. We’ll be including various kinds of extra material in our editions, such as introductions, footnotes, literary essays and biographical notes, all intended to help everyone enjoy the books. A lot of the fun of reading out-of-the-way books comes from discussing them after you’ve read them (or even whilst doing so…) so our essays and notes are a way of beginning the conversation. We hope you’ll want to carry on that discussion, so we’ve set up a GoodReads group where it can happen, and where we’ll be joining in too. Given the readership of this blog, and the sort of comments you lot leave – always thought-provoking, and always remarkably well-read – I thought this was exactly the sort of venture that might interest you! We’re also hopeful that our readers will want to suggest their own favourite volumes for us to publish, and point out to us which books would benefit from being available more widely and cheaply. I bet you all have opinions on that… We have a blog for the Press, where you can sign up to our mailing list to be kept informed of what we’re doing, and even to bag the odd free book.
We’ve already published our first two volumes. One is Witchcraft by Charles Williams, often referred to as one of the “Inklings”, but a major figure of fantasy literature, theology and literary criticism in his own right. He was a significant influence on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and caused a sensation when he was invited to lecture at Oxford in the 1930s – students had not expecting his heady blend of literary history, theology and mystical philosophy, but a number of them were profoundly affected by his ideas. Witchcraft is a striking and provocative book, written before the rise of modern witchcraft as a nature religion, and before the association of witchcraft and feminism. In it, Williams traces the history of the subject from his own theological point of view, discussing both the famous cases of witchcraft in history, and the repressive and violent reactions to them. It is, it must be said, not sympathetic to its subject: despite Williams’ interest in esoteric ideas and ritual magic, he considered witchcraft to be a failed and dangerous spiritual path. Indeed, perhaps part of his impulse in writing the book was to distinguish his own magical and theological interests from the category of “witchcraft”. It is certainly a fascinating book, written by one of the major literary and theological minds of the British mid-century, and we hope you’ll find it interesting. I’ve written an introduction to the book, briefly setting it in context, and it’s £4.99 (or just over $6.00 if you buy from the US site.)
The second volume we’ve published is a pair of short fantasy novels by the Victorian clergyman and writer George MacDonald: The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie. MacDonald is another name sometimes connected to the Inklings: his works had a huge impact on them, and indeed on other fantastical writers such as Alan Garner and Lewis Carroll. C.S. Lewis described reading MacDonald as an epiphany, giving him a sudden vision of how fantasy and reality could interact with each other and reveal a powerful truth. These two books are light in style, with occasional eerie moments, and tell the adventures two princesses, a young miner, a horde of goblins, a King under an enchantment cast by a wicked counsellor, and a shape-shifting woman with white hair who turns out to be the source of all wisdom. One of the pleasures, we think, is spotting where later writers have picked up ideas and images from MacDonald, from Lucy’s vision of Aslan, to Theoden’s illness, to the very notion of a “second breakfast”! This edition also has a couple of essays by me exploring MacDonald’s literary style, mode of fantasy, and theological ideas. I’m convinced that there’s a line of images and ideas running from him back to Boethius and the Church Fathers, as well as forward to Tolkien and Garner… The book is £2.50, and we’d love to hear your views on it.
We have a clutch of other books planned for release: a novel by Anthony Trollope about a woman who inherits a fortune and has to choose between a life of small-town religion and small-town dissipation; a volume of Arthurian poetry by Charles Williams; a futuristic dystopia by Mary Shelley; an E.F. Benson novel about a guesthouse in a spa town where a surprising set of relationships evolve… As I said, I’m really very excited about this venture, and I hope some of you will join us in it.