THE LESSER BOOK
OF THE
VISHANTI


A Companion to
the Dr. Strange Comic Books


compiled by catherine yronwode
with nagasiva yronwode

CONTENTS | PROLEPSIS | INTROIT | VOLUME ONE | INTERMEZZO | VOLUME TWO | APPENDICES


PROLEPSIS

The History and Format of This Manuscript

Credits

The History and Format
of This Manuscript

The original manuscript of The Lesser Book of the Vishanti was written out by hand in an antique ledger book in 1977, while i was living with my daughter Althaea in a tiny house on Little Creek, near Mountain Grove, Missouri,

How tiny was the house? It had four rooms and was built in 1910 by a man of normal height whose wife was a dwarf. Althaea, then 5 years old, could stand at the kitchen sink and wash the dishes; i had to crouch to do so. We had no telephone and no indoor toilet, and we heated the house and cooked on a wood stove, but for the first time since arriving in Missouri five years earlier, we had electric lights. There was no running water -- greywater from the kitchen sink simply drained outside into a downhill trench -- but there was a stone-lined hand-dug well of sweet water outside, and Little Creek, which was of fairly good size despite the name, ran through the back of the property. The water was always cold in Little Creek, and we swam naked, so to avoid cringing with shock, we would jump in quickly and as we did so, we would shout, "No Steve Gerbers!" in reference to a comic book writer who didn't look as if he swam naked very often.

Althaea and i were living at Little Creek because my partnership with her father Peter had just broken up and we had left our former home, a commune in Birch Tree, Missouri called the Garden of Joy Blues. Peter had gone off to Lousiana to work on an oil rig, and was not paying child support, so i was temporarily on welfare. I was 30 years old. I could not drive and the nearest town was ten miles away. My major contacts with human beings aside from Althaea (who had started school and was gone most of the day) came through the mails in the form of comic books and comic book fanzines.

The "dwarf house" was owned by a dairy farmer named Jim Scott, whose home was up the hill, about half a mile away. He didn't charge me any rent, and in exchange i kept an eye on his stock as they wandered my portion of his acreage. The hill up out of Little Creek was so steep that the school bus could not navigate it; every morning i walked Althaea a mile up the hill to wait for it; in the afternoons she walked downhill alone, terrified of the Holstein cows.

Little Creek was so isolated that in the winter, while Althaea was at Peter's during her holiday school break, a heavy blizzard hit the region and cut off all contact with the outside world for two weeks. I caught pneumonia and almost died. My two cats did die. I was saved when my friends Nick Spaeder and Ulrich Arrow Ross -- former residents at the Garden of Joy Blues -- decided on a hunch to check up on me. By that time i had a fever of 105 degrees and was delerious. I did learn one thing from that experience -- those Victorian novels i had read as a child in which a female character catches a fever and then suffers the loss of her hair were based on fact: my hair came out in bunches about two weeks after my fever spiked. The hair grew back immediately, but my lungs have never been the same since.

Although we were on welfare during that year at Little Creek, i did not want to be a drain on society. I decided that the two hundred dollars per month i received was "pay" for a job of my choice -- and what i chose to do was to pick up litter along the roadsides and to create a topical index to the entirety of my favourite comic book series, Strange Tales and Dr. Strange. Within the fictional world of these comic books, there was a grimoire or spell-book called The Book of the Vishanti, and so, in homage to two famous real-world grimoires, the Key of Solomon and the Lesser Key of Solomon, i called my project The Lesser Book of the Vishanti.

In 1978, shortly after completing the index, i met a man named Denis McFarling, the brother of Peter's new lover (now his wife) Paula McFarling. Denis worked as a printer in Kansas City and he was also a comic book fan. We teamed up for a while in the Ozarks, living in a big log cabin deep in the forest near Willow Springs, Mssouri, where i began work on The Spirit Checklist. While indexing The Spirit, i also began publishing thermographic reproductions of some of the hand-lettered pages from the Lesser Book of the Vishanti in a zine called Return from Reality, which was distributed through APA-I, the amateur Press Alliance of [comic book] Indexers. In 1979, Denis and i briefly moved to Kansas City, where the two of us hired on at his father's print shop, Blue Valley McLitho. That got me started as a typesetter, a career i have held off and on ever since.

The first thing i did with my free time in the print shop was typeset one chapter of The Lesser Book of the Vishanti: "Deities, Powers, and Forces." Denis drew a lovely cover for it and we printed 177 copies with purple ink on cream vellum paper and bound it in lavender leatherette index stock imprinted with a bronzed image of the Eye of Agamotto that Denis had drawn. On the front cover the publisher was listed as Alibeck the Egyptian, Memphis, 1577, in double-reference to the Grimorium Verum, which is self described as having been published by Alibeck the Egyptian in 1517, and to my own manuscript's creation in 1977. Because the paper and ink were "liberated" from Blue Valley McLitho, the printer listed on the back cover was Fly By Nite Grafiks ("Our Motto: Integrity"), with an image of a bat flying over a bag of money. I sent copies to everyone i knew in the comics business and to all my friends in fandom. This gave rise to some additions and comments by other fans, notably Lou Mougin and David Cuccio.

Returning to the Ozarks after my Kansas City adventure, i continued to publish further sections of The Lesser Book of the Vishanti in APA-I under the zine name Return from Reality. By that time Althaea and i were living in comparative urbanity on the outskirts of the small town of Willow Springs, in another four-room house, this one with electricity and running cold water in the kitchen sink, but no other indoor plumbing. Peter had begun to share in Althaea's financial support and i had picked up sufficient freelance writing gigs to allow us to leave the welfare rolls. The local library had one of those newfangled photocopying machines, so i just ran off sections of my original Vishanti manuscript without bothering to typeset it. During this period i also wrote two fanzine articles about Dr. Strange -- "Evolution of an Enchantress", an article on Dr. Strange's female companion Clea that appeared in Steven R. Johnson's zine The Heroine Showcase #15 in 1978, and The One and Future Dr. Strange, a rant comparing the atrocious Dr. Strange TV movie of 1979 with the comic book version that was published in Instant Gratification #1.

In 1983, i returned to my birth-state of California, and the APA-I publication of the Lesser Book of the Vishanti continued for a while under the zine name "Discrete Little Items." In 1984 my participation in APA-I was put aside as i went on to other projects.

Although the Lesser Book of the Vishanti remained only partially published, it was pretty well known and respected in fandom by that time, and i was immensely gratified when one after another, various Marvel scripters and editors who worked on the Dr. Strange series asked for copies of the portions that were available. Even more gratifying was the fact that the fictive speculations i had made about the personae of the Vishanti were eventually used to create "canonical" stories that became part of the Marvel Universe. Specifically, my fannish suggestion that the Vishanti were actually Agamotto, Hoggoth, and Oshtur, first published in 1979, was eventually made part of the official Marvel mythos in the 1980s, by the scripter Peter Gillis.

In 1986, i was living in Guerneville, California, and working for Eclipse Comics, when the Russian River and its tributary Hulbert Creek flooded and converged, putting my house under eight feet of water. I lost my five file copies of the beautifully printed chapter of The Lesser Book, but two good people, Eluki XXX and Barrance C. Lespine , supplied replacements, for which i am very grateful. My original ledger book manuscript escaped the flood by virtue of having been stored in a loft above the water line.

The Lesser Book in its present form draws upon both my original 25-year-old hand-lettered version and the cleaned-up chapter that i typeset in Kansas City. The antique ledger book in which i wrote the original manuscript was one of those artifacts that have an unexpected effect upon their users: The pages were sequentially numbered from 1 through 64, followed by a section of alphabetically tabbed A - Z index pages for addresses, and then another 64-page run of numbered pages -- and this led to the present format of two internal "Volumes" (The Art and The Science) plus a section called "Intermezzo" (The Religion). The page numbers -- htmlized here in large font size -- are those that were printed at top right or left of the original pages of the ledger book. They are meaningless in the world of html and active links -- but i have retained them here as a visual reminder of the book's past history, when Althaea and i listened to the rooster crow on the radio at six a.m., followed by the hog report, and i scribbled away the long hours in a cabin built for a dwarf.

-- catherine yronwode
forestville, california, 2002

Credits

Dr. Strange was created by Steve Ditko and is a trademark of Marvel Comics. The artwork for the published second chapter of the Lesser Book of the Vishanti, reproduced here, is by Denis McFarling. Artwork in the original ledger book was drawn by me.

This online version of the Lesser Book of the Vishanti was key input and htmlized by my husband nagasiva yronwode in 2001-2002, a labour of love that astounds me. He too is a fan of Dr. Strange and he not only typed out my index, he compared every line of it against the comic books themselves -- and he plans to bring the indexing project past the date that i left off. His editing of my text appears in {{double-brackets}}; any text within [square brackets] represents my original hand-lettered notes or notes i have added in subsequent years.

I carried my indexing from Strange Tales (1st Series) #110, published in July 1963, through Dr. Strange (2nd Series) #35, published in 1979. Additions were submitted by David Cuccio (for Dr. Strange 36 - 44) and Lou Mougin (for the Marvel prose novel Nightmare). All indices to subsequent main-line chronology stories and cross-overs were produced by nagasiva yronwode.

Appendices to The Lesser Book include the brief explanatory notes i supplied to APA-I in 1978-79 when reprinting some of the text, a chronology of Dr. Strange's appearances within the greater context of Marvel Universe Chronology from his birth through the events chronicled in Dr. Strange 2nd series #36) which was written by Lou Mougin for APA-I, plus my two fanzine articles mentioned above.

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