It is one of the paltry niceties of modern literary life that somehow irritate me. Have you noticed how long novels can be! They go on for ever, and nothing ever happens. Not only that but if by some oversight the novelist allows themselves the frisson of excitement that comes from allowing something to happen, it always happens slowly. I despair!
A poem is fugacious
A novel is interminable
But the hero of my tale, as Anthony reminded me, is a fine fellow who set out, single-handedly, to remedy this. Only he did so by accident.
Port Naain has a few epitomators, nobody really knows how many. Most epitomes are written for students. Faced with reading the dozen thick volumes recommended for their course the average student panics and turns to drink. But just as they’re sobering up along comes the accomplished epitomator. They’ll clap the student on the shoulder (jarring them and uncomfortably reminding them of the aching head and delicate stomach) and ask their problem.
Weeping gently the student will admit that they have to read and learn Brontan’s ‘Cargos, the rights, duties and legal quandaries inherent in third party carriage.’ They have seen it; it amounts to four hundred pages.
“Ah,” says the epitomator, “But my epitome covers only a hundred pages and contains all the necessary details, omitting as it does the preamble, post-amble and Brontan’s seventy-three page rant on the sordid nature of commerce. It contains everything you need to pass the exam and it could be yours for a mere four alars.”
Ignoring the fact that he could pick up a good second-hand copy of the full work for a quarter of that sum the student hunts frantically through their pockets until finally the requisite coins are produced and the epitome purchased.
For the hero of this tale, Damazand Rallwit, there were a number of disadvantages to this business model. Firstly you had to read Brontan’s ‘Cargos, the rights, duties and legal quandaries inherent in third party carriage’ before you could write the epitome. Secondly there were plenty of epitomators out there who have already written their epitome and have it ready to sell. So he needed a new market, a new field of endeavour, new worlds to conquer.
It was Nilsia, his mistress, who suggested his obvious course of action. Nilsia is a charming lady, if a little erratic in her dress, who used to entertain him by setting his epitomes to music and singing them to him. It was she who pushed him to epitomising novels. Personally I think she’d come to the conclusion that there was a limit to what she could do with Damazand’s epitomes of Gulluck’s “Book of Hells”, or Blod’s, “Surviving a War with Profit.”
Damazand didn’t rush into anything, but did his research. He discovered what most poets already know. Nobody actually reads novels. Not the proper ones anyway. Yes they’ll read adventure stories, bodice rippers and similar. They’re a pleasant way to pass an evening. But nobody reads proper novels. Or if they do, they read them to talk about them knowingly to their friends. Thus they can display their erudition.
So he started quietly and produced an epitome of Var Prast’s novel, ‘In search of mislaid chronology.’ He was happy with sales. He discovered that although people weren’t willing to spend as much as a desperate student will, there were still people willing to pay for the kudos of being known as intellectuals who had read Prast’s work. Especially if this meant that they could avoid the tedium of actually reading it.
Unfortunately, he did get some complaints. Although his epitome was barely a tenth of the length of the original, it was still boring. To be fair to Damazand this was hardly his fault. The original novel contained enough action and drama to fill three pages. Although he kept it all, it still didn’t go very far, even in the epitome.
Again it was Nilsia who came up with the bright idea. Again to be fair to Damazand, to produce the epitome he had actually had to read ‘In search of mislaid chronology.’ It may have temporarily weakened his intellect. But still it was Nilsia who made the obvious (in retrospect) suggestion, “Just add some more interesting bits.”
The more Damazand pondered this, the better an idea it seemed. After all he need never read the book again; he could work from his own epitome. Starting with that he could tailor the new epitome to the interests of the client. A genuinely bespoke service and one he felt he could charge a little more for.
So the next patron who came looking for the epitome, Damazand took to one side and interviewed. A week later the patron was delighted to discover she was the owner of a personalised epitome. The patron was even more delighted when they read the work to discover that there was a tender love story which brought tears to their eyes.
For a year or more, Damazand was kept busy producing new, personalised, epitomes. A discerning clientele kept him busy. Some even asked for a sequel. Damazand and his mistress were enjoying a degree of honest prosperity rarely found in the literary world.
Now whilst he might not have realised it, Damazand was being watched. Publishers don’t normally deign to notice epitomators, but in this case the sales figures were compelling. Prast’s publisher had a junior hunt down copies of Damazand’s epitomes and during a quiet week several people sat together and read them. After the exercise was completed, they were so stunned by what Damazand had done that they sat in total silence for an hour before they made their way home.
Next morning Baladat, the father of the business, had made a decision. He had his junior collect all the new bits and instructed her to work them into the text of the original novel.
Galfan, the junior, opened Prast’s original, read three pages and fell asleep. Then she had a moment of revelation. Rather than start with the original, why not start with the epitome? This she did, adding in all the new material and weaving it into the story. Then from the original she added the preface and introduction, because they were the only bits everybody had read. This made her version of ‘In search of mislaid chronology,’ almost as thick as the original, but still she felt it was a superior product.
Old Baladat read her manuscript and agreed, and gave orders that it was to be printed as the second edition. Now you might wonder what Prast thought about all this. To prevent complications the publishers neglected to tell him. After all, publishers never send an author a complimentary copy of subsequent editions, and never in the history of literature has an author ever purchased a subsequent edition out of their own pocket. Baladat was confident that Prast would never discover what had happened.
Indeed the second edition was probably out for a year or more before Prast even learned that it existed. He was grimly encouraged but thought no more about it. Then people came up and congratulated him on it. People enthused about it in his presence. In bars where he was unknown, overly muscular gentleman with no literary pretensions would nod respectfully to him, and sometimes would even speak to him. One grasped his hand with the words, “Cracking tale lad.”
The final straw came when Prast got his half yearly royalty payment. It was an order of magnitude larger than anything he had ever earned before. He allowed the coins to run through his fingers and clink together comfortingly. Unfortunately the consolation he had received from the money was soon lost when other members of the literary establishment started to shun him. Some even mocked him for ‘selling out.’ He saw himself referred to as a ‘genre writer’ in one of the literary journals. Finally, with his own money, his face concealed by a broad brimmed hat and the upturned collar of his coat, he purchased a second edition of his book.
He poured himself a glass of wine and sat down to read. Half an hour later, the wine forgotten, he was reading avidly. The episode with the pirates had swept him into the story. The hero’s unrequited love for the heroine, which he had somehow missed when he first wrote the book, wove through the very fabric of the tale. The escape from the bandits, the heroine’s dressing in her brother’s armour and following the hero to the wars, the fight with the sea serpent, all had him gripped.
Indeed it was five hours later that he turned the final page, the book finished. Tears still glistened on his cheeks from the last tragic death scene. His heart, already wrung by the death of the hero’s dog, was broken by the tears of the heroine as her destrier perished having carried her to safety through a terrible climactic battle.
Finally, his head reeling, he put the book down and sat with his head in his hands for a long time.
Next morning he had made his decision. He made his way through the streets of Port Naain, his head sunk into his coat collar. Finally he arrived at the door of our hero. It was Nilsia who opened the door and let him in. She seated him in the salon, poured him coffee and then ran to warn Damazand that Prast had arrived.
Damazand entered the salon a little hesitantly. Whilst he had written most of the second edition of Prast’s work in one way or another he couldn’t bring himself to regard it as his work.
Prast stood as Damazand entered, and as the epitomator stood before him, he pulled a copy of his other major work, ‘Fulfilment and existence’ from under his coat and thrust it at Damazand.
“Master Damazand, could you please see what you can make of this book for me?”
As an aside, I’d like to mention that there is a collection of tales, told by Tallis Steelyard, but recently published. In deference to his wishes we have not hired an epitomator but have left them entirely in his words.
Should you wish to purchase this volume it is available at
Also available is the much sort after and profusely illustrated work,