Letters of the alphabet have always held a strange magical power. Each symbol represents a sound that when arranged in the proper sequence creates a new sound that unlocks the code to produce a meaning that is understood by only those familiar with the language. It is something that we all take for granted, this incredibly complex system of communication. The Alphabetic Labyrinth examines the strange history of this familiar tool: Plato saw the letterforms as reflecting ideas, Pythagoreans assimilated them to number theory, Romans made them monumental and an instrument of power, Judaism gave rise to the complex theory of the Kabbalah, Christ became the alpha and omega, the Middle Ages gave them magical powers to be used in spells, divination and occult practices; through to the emergence of Renaissance humanism and the invention of printing, which finally began to rationalize the alphabet. Theories of its divine origin and mystical significance continued into the 18th and 19th centuries but became more involved with nationalism and revolutionary political theory.
Drucker presents a well-researched and -illustrated book that compares the alphabets of many languages throughout the ages. Each one borrowed from another, but continued to pass the torch to allow the letters and language to evolve. The amount of thought and concern that our predecessors put into the development of different alphabets and the powers associated with them is sometimes strange, but more often amusing. The last chapter provides some of the more unique interpretations of the alphabet including one based on the Atlantis myth put forth by G.F. Ennis in a 1923 publication, The Fabric of Thought. “He suggested that in the nonsense syllables of a single nursery rhyme were preserved the sounds and symbols of an original human language. This rhyme, full of racist bias, he gave as: 'Ena Dena Dina Do/Catch a Nigger by the Toe/If he hollers let him go/Ina Mena Mina Mo.' Through elaborate charts arranging the letters in rows, squares, and columns, Ennis demonstrated that the nonsense syllables spelled out a primal code, each letter of which was the name of a god or king and filled with profound significance. As the English version of the rhyme was so close to the original language it proved that England was very close—geographically and spiritually—to the old Atlantis… Children and rustics, he concluded, were the true guardians of culture, and thus the continual repetition of this rhyme in the mouths of school children perpetuated the 'wonder of the code and the glory of life and death.'”
Publisher: Thames and Hudson
Paperback: 328 pages