(Old) An Afternoon in the Archives

(Originally posted on February 17, 2012)

For my final project in my manuscript class, I’m doing a publication history of Ian Serraillier’s edition of Havelok the Dane (published as Havelok the Warrior in the UK). (Ian Serraillier is also the author of The Silver Sword/Escape from Warsaw, which is what initially got me interested in researching his stuff–I remember really enjoying that book.) I’ll be looking specifically at the differences between the US and UK editions, correspondence with his publishers, etc. This means I spent a lot of time in the archives pouring over Ian’s letters, notes and typescripts (Ian and I are on first name basis because his last name is really long and too much effort to type/write repeatedly).

There were a lot of parenthesis in that paragraph. (Oh well.)

Here are some observations from spending approximately 6 hours with Ian’s stuff so far:

    • So far I have found seven typescripts of the manuscript, and none of them are dated. I am probably going pull some manuscript expert moves to try to figure out when they were drafted, and in what order.


  • I only found out in my last few minutes there that the manuscript was originally titled Cross of Gold, and I have a sneaking suspicion that there’s a whole other box full of stuff about that.



  • How the heck do authors keep all these notes?? Who collects this stuff and donates it to archives? He even kept the receipts from his mailings.



  • Jane Serraillier (guess: daughter?) sketched on the back of Ian’s notes. Or else he wrote notes on the back of her sketches.



  • Ian often would write replies to his publisher’s letters on the same paper that his publishers sent. Whenever he handwrites something on his own paper, it’s pretty much as flimsy and cheap as tissue paper (which makes the pencil scribbles even harder to read).



  • He and his publishers were on quite friendly terms. They exchange remarks about their holidays. There’s even a remark from Ian saying that he hopes his publisher likes California, he’s heard it’s beautiful out there, though a bit shady in LA. I was amused.



  • Ian was quite picky about the illustrators for his books.



  • One of the illustrators, Floyd, sent a letter about research for costumes. At the end he says he’s in the hospital with his wife, who is way overdue to give birth, and he’s quite worried so he has to run. I looked but found no follow up. I want to know what happened!



  • There’s a book with a translation of Havelok the Dane from Middle English. Ian wrote all over it, and as I was reading I was confused. He’d cross out a work like “makes” and write in the margin “made”. It wasn’t until I was reading his letters that I realized he was working from his own translation for the novel. Seems he was correcting this guy’s translation!



  • In a folder about Havelok and another story, Hercules the Strong, I found a tiny letter from a twelve year old kid. I meant to transcribe it because it was so adorable, but I ran out of time. It’s something like: “I have read everything you published and I like it so much and I really really really think you should do a retelling of Hercules because that would be amazing!” The kid didn’t date his letter, but I know Ian started working on Hercules in 1966 at the request of Pat Johns (I think an editor or publisher, who he later dedicated the work to). The letter is sitting right by a telegram congratulating Ian on publication, so I like to think that the kid wrote just before it was published and got a published book as his answer.


I need to get a hold of first editions of the American and British version of the book. Apparently interlibrary loan is ridiculously complicated here.

At the moment, still not sure what I’m going to do with all this stuff. But it will be interesting…! It’s fun to think no one has worked with this material before.


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