Relatively few written works from the 20th century survive, thanks to their preparation on cheap pulp paper bound with cheaper acidic glue into a crude codex. Those that survive are highly prized as sources of ancient knowledge and windows into daily life before both the Deluge and the Picotech Revolution. Most are quite mundane–texts on chemistry, myths collected by the latter-day Ovid known as James Patterson, books on how to achieve a body shape that would appease the goddess known as Jennycraig, and so on. But one book has remained a puzzle to scholars ever since it appeared in a rare book dealer’s catalog in 3077 A.C.E.

The Gygaxian Manuscript.

A few things can be intuited from the thick volume. It was not originally one work, being rather 5-10 shorter books that were bound together at a later date, with their original front and end matter town out. This probably accounts for their preservation, as the resulting binding was high-quality, acid-free, and bore no title or title page. The author is identified in the damaged first pages, added in the rebinding process, as Gary of Gygax. This adds to the mystery, as no such nation or principality existed during the 1970-1980 D.C.E. date established by carbon dating. Soem have argued for an origin in Galicia or Greece, but the manuscript is written entirely in Middle Modern English, seemingly discounting this.

Far more puzzling are the contents, which explain the flora, fauna, and proscriptions for life and (especially) war in a world that bears only a tangential resemblance to our own. Fantastic creatures, some of which appear in earlier works but many of which are wholly unknown, are described in fantastic detail. Their strengths, weaknesses, and how many axe blows they take to kill are described in such detail that Gary of Gygax must surely have had some real-life analog to draw from. Yet no fossil evidence or contemporary accounts support this.

More puzzling still is the manual of arms, which seems to reduce martial combat to pure mathematics, a feat which even modern kinetics cannot manage. Many have toiled to find the constant that Gary of Gygax includes in his calculations, d, but none have succeeded thus far. Though many have claimed to solve some of the equations like d12+10 or 2d6, none have yet stood up to careful scrutiny.

Nevertheless, even with its mysteries unresolved, the Gygaxian Manuscript continues to excite curiosity, admiration, and horror among scholars of ancient papers.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

“At one point does one give up? At what point does one concede that screaming into the void, no matter how eloquently, is still futile?”

That short note, on hotel stationary, was the only intelligible writing found in the hotel room of Abigail Stearmann when her body was discovered. Her body was found in bed, her death having occurred not more than four or five hours before its discovery, and the coroner ruled it a suicide inasmuch as there was no evidence of foul play. Indeed, Stearmann was found to have died of dehydration despite being not ten feet from a working faucet with potable water.

The more compelling mystery was what Stearmann had apparently been working on in her six months’ residence at the hotel. She had regularly gone out for paper and ink, and those that knew who she was assumed that the author had at long last begun her second novel or second short-story collection.

Instead, investigators found 10,983 pages of…markings. Some have described them as scribbles, some as glyphs, but all agree that there was absolutely no meaning to be had from them to the casual observer’s eye. “It was as if someone had rewritten the Voynich Manuscript in the very messy cursive of a medical doctor,” said one of Stearmann’s closest associates at Southern Michigan University.

The author’s notoriety—increased tenfold after her strange death—led to a number of increasingly sophisticated attempts to find meaning in her last writings. An early attempt, in 1985, was touted as a “lost” Stearmann novel. It was generally ridiculed at the same level as The Tragedy of Anne Boleyn that Elizabeth Wells Gallup claimed to have found in cipher among Shakespeare’s plays. The most sophisticated effort, a computer-aided statistical analysis published in 2012, found no meaning in the whole but allowed for the possibility of a representational cipher in some places.

An equal number of people saw Stearmann’s supposed suicide note as explanation enough. In the throes of a depression so deep, so all-consuming that she had considered not just her writing but all writing to be insignificant on a grander scale…what greater cosmic joke could there have been than to bequeath gibberish to posterity?

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!