Pet Book Report #6: The Dragon Prayer Book and the Anonymous Scribes

This week we focused on reprinting and piracy, yet it was one passage about anonymity from “‘Fugitive Verses’: The Circulation of Poems in Nineteenth-Century American Newspapers,” by Ryan Cordell and Abby Mullen which reminded me of the Dragon Prayer Book: “Far more poems circulated anonymously, semi-anonymously, or uncertainly attributed… ‘literary and cultural scholars have tended to regard anonymous publication as a stop along the way to professional authorship, as a mark of inconsequential or ephemeral literature, or as only a puzzle to be solved.’” Among the other missing information about the Dragon Prayer Book, the names of the scribe(s) who created the book are still unknown. There is no colophon that we have been able to find in the book, no names included in the pages we have read through besides those of saints. For now, the scribe(s) of the Dragon Prayer Book remain anonymous. But should the prayer book be considered illegitimate because the scribe(s) didn’t sign their work? I think that it is much easier to consider an anonymous poem, rather than a fully bound (now rebound) book, a “stop along the way to professional authorship.” Unlike a poem published in a paper amongst other authored pieces, the prayer book stands alone as a two-dimensional object, its bindings and decorated pages engaging the reader like a familiar author’s name.

Though not written in the Dragon Prayer Book (as far as we know), the identity of the scribe(s) could still be found within the book’s pages. By looking at how the prayer book was made, it might be possible to decipher who made it. True, we have considered the book “a puzzle to be solved,” but the name of the scribe(s) who ‘authored’ the prayer book has never been the most desired piece of the puzzle, and the question of professional authorship has never arose whilst studying the prayer book. Can scribes be considered authors? Or were they just compilers? Still, printers would sign their work, so why didn’t scribes? Like the 19th “fugitive verses” that have “for the most part, been ignored by twentieth- and twenty-first-century critics and literary anthologies,” the Dragon Prayer Book was not studied or recognized. But was this because the prayer book has no clear author? Certainly prayer books created by notable monasteries have more weight in museums than those by unknown authors, yet the mysteries surrounding this book only draw the reader in closer, as our anonymous scribes hold the identities of both the famous and the obscure.  

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