Fantastic Books: the Codex Seraphinianus

I want to start talking about a different class of book than your standard paperback novel, the kind of book that almost defies description.  They’re almost always art books, and works of art themselves, with incredible printing, binding, and interiors, things that were designed well above and beyond the simple container for the words of a long-form story.  For lack of a better term, I’ll call these Fantastic Books.

IMG_2064The first fantastic book I want to show you is really the fantastic book: Codex Seraphinianus. This massive art book was penned by architect Luigi Serafini and published back in 1981. It’s essentially a large dictionary filled with surreal images and what appear to be definitions written in an alien language. It’s eleven chapters, each one describing things like flora, fauna, bizarre machines, and physical transformations. All of the abstract drawings are incredible, satires of reality morphed together in totally grotesque ways.  It looks like an encyclopedia you’d pick up and page through during a dream on Indian cough medicine containing strong amounts of codeine.

Linguists have gone nuts trying to figure out a system or secret meaning to the writing. Serafini claims the book is asemic writing, the product of 30 continuous months of automatic writing. The page numbering system has been cracked, and is a base-21 system. Some of the alphabet has also been deciphered. And there’s an entire chapter on the history of the writing system, but of course you need to read the writing to figure it out, so good luck there.

The Codex isn’t a book you sit down and read from cover-to-cover. It’s more like something you pick up and get lost in, turning to random pages and staring at the drawings. It’s other big draw is that it’s traditionally been hard to find, and although poorly-scanned PDFs float around the internet, the used copies of the hardcover were exceedingly rare, and would fetch big bucks on the secondary market.

Book Cover

Luckily, the book was reissued recently. The new redesign also includes a small zine-sized booklet with an artist’s statement and a few new pencil drawings that add to the already deluxe edition.  It’s still not cheap, but with the large size, thick art paper, and beautiful printing and binding, it’s totally worth it.

Check the book out over on Amazon. I grabbed a copy right away, because I’m sure it won’t be in print for long. It’s a $125 list price, but they sell it for $80 now, and I’m sure it will go back up to the $250 level again. At any price, it’s an incredible book, and very easy to get lost in for hours.