From the bookbinder's bench: the Lay of Lirazel
Updated: Oct 3
This post may contain affiliate links, and I may recieve compensation for any purchases made. All opinions are my own. A book for Glass Hammer's Steve Babb; an ancient binding for an ancient tale:
Steve Babb's epic poem The Lay of Lirazel found its way into my hands in the format of a paperback copy with lovely haunting cover imagery one day at Sound Resources Recording Studio.
But the vision that Steve has for art creating more art knows his richly inspired poem in human hands and on bookstore shelves will continue its creative energy. From the painters and poets who began the inspiration, to Glass Hammer's own lyrical song and epic poem, Lirazel continues her creative wake within this new binding.
Lirazel began as a haunting song on internationally famed progressive rock band Glass Hammer's album Inconsolable Secret. The title of the album comes from a C.S. Lewis essay titled the Weight of Glory. He says, "In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
This longing for the far off country embodies the sentiment we are all constrained by at times of inexplicable longing unsatisfied by anything in this world. If we follow the lineage if Lirazel back further, we find that she was inspired by another maiden sentenced to a life of longing and never fully perceiving the object of her desire.
In the painting by John Waterhouse of the Lady of Shalott, based on the poem by Tennyson, the lady of Shalott is sentenced to never look upon Camelot with her eyes, but to see by means of a mirror's reflection and to weave what she sees into a tapestry. The same is depicted in I'm half sick of shadows.
The theme of 'seeing through a glass darkly' runs in and out of the songs, the poems, the paintings. Steve Babb used these works as inspirations and followed their ideas into an epic poem of his own making called The Lay of Lirazel. Amy Sturgis writes: "An Edenesque garden, a haunted tower, a forest shrouded in twilight wherein dwell Centaurs, Elves and a myriad of creatures fantastic and mysterious; this is the setting in which Babb’s “Lirazel” comes to life and where the tragedy of her life must unfold. Her doom is fixed, deadly, unavoidable and all the more tragic because of the choices Lirazel makes as she spurns wisdom for folly in a desperate gamble for love."
As a bookbinder, I couldn't wait to make The Lay of Lirazel into a hand bound medieval book, worn and weathered is if it were her own moth eaten diary locked in the tower with her.
It called for an epic binding, and here I'll lay before you parts of the process of converting the original printed book into a hand bound leather covered version.
I've been able to make many blank books from scratch through the years, but had never yet re-bound a printed book. The starting product was a machine bound glued paperback book, and no fold in the pages for me to sew through. I removed the cover, and broke the book into four sections. I stacked them again, stabbed holes through the book block, used those for sewing a modified Japanese stab stitch, and re-glued the spine, and also the margin of the pages between the four sections. My book block was complete, but I wasn't happy with how the sections were not completely even anymore.
I sanded the top and fore- edge, and ultimately decided to age the edges with a candle flame. Knowing what I do now about plowing book edges, I may have done that differently but I am happy with the weathered-in-an-ancient-tower look.
I borrowed the cover image from the original book...
...and reduced the size of the image of the beautiful sleeping Lirazel, laid a clear version of it on foil to appear as a mysterious and darkened mirror, and fit it into a gothic mirror frame from Fallen Angel Brass. It was important to me that Lirazel would be looking at her image as 'through a glass darkly'. I recessed the whole thing into a one of the layers of book board. The weathered and flexible leather for the covers was from an old coat, and molded nicely over the layers of bookboard. The spine ridges get their shape from strips of leather used to mimic the ancient practice of sewing onto cords.
I fit the book block into the covers and began my favorite part of the completion of the process- choosing the end pages. What I chose here is a black and cream French hand marbled paper.
The long and slow way that a story comes into being, the way that any act of creation takes careful, thoughtful, joyful work reflects the process of creating a hand bound book. Each detail of a bound book has gone through its own process and story, and can more fully bring to life the history and making of an epic tale.