Friday 21 December 2007

On being a book's godfather

A correspondent - presumably filled with Christmas spirit - writes to ask what my most unusual experience has been this year. Normally I would have no idea how to respond such a question, but as it happens an event a few weeks ago provides me with an answer.

I was in the small Czech town of Uherske Hradiste, as part of its British film festival. My role was to introduce a series of British films and to give a couple of talks on language in relation to the task of adaptation from book to film. (That's an interesting field, which has attracted very little research, from a linguistic point of view. A couple of examples: Roman Polanski's Tess adapting Hardy's Wessex dialect; Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility replacing Jane Austen's complex and mannered sentences by a modern-sounding elliptical dialogue.)

Anyway, I was in the Hvezda cinema before one of my events. It was the cinema's fortieth birthday, and an illustrated memorial book had been published to mark the occasion. Along with the festival director and one of the sponors, I was invited to be a godfather for the book. I thought something was being lost in translation, for the only concept of godfather I have is to do with baptism. But no, nothing was lost. It was to be a baptism.

We stood at the front of the cinema while a copy of the book was brought on, resting on a tray. On top of the book were three glasses of white wine. After a few words from the director, we each took up a glass and then - poured it over the book.

I have never delibereately poured wine, or any liquid, over a book before. Inadvertently, maybe. But I found it curiously moving. Godfather of a book, eh? I asked what my responsibilities were towards the future well-being of the book. Tell the world about it, they said. So I do. Go, little book...

I have never come across such a ceremony before. Does any reader of this blog know of it in another country?


Anonymous said...

On being a book's godfather.

Bill Bryson in his book on Shakespeare comments on how Shakespeare dedicated his narrative poem 'Venus and Adonis' to the third Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield, Henry Wriothesley.

The dedication says:
Right Honourable, I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your lordship, now how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burden. Only, if you honour seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours till I have honoured you with some graver labour. But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather...

Chris Greenough

DC said...

Well remembered!

Anonymous said...

I also found this site about Literary Patronage in England 1650-1800 through Google :

Regards, Chris.