Please bear with me in this article; this is not a traditional analysis or review of any author or their works. Over the last decade or so, there has been a renewed interest in classic fantasy and sword and sorcery fiction. The reasons for this are manifold; other than the fact that many of those old stories are immensely readable and exciting, I suspect that many modern fantasy fans have a curiosity in finding out the roots of their beloved genre. Also contributing to this resurgence, the role playing game community, specifically the OSR (Old School Revival) movement has brought many of these older, influential works back into the public consciousness once again. Using Appendix N as a road map, many gamers and non-gamers alike are researching about and rediscovering the classic works of fiction that influenced Gary Gygax in the creation of Dungeons and Dragons. Many of these older works are readily available through various small publishers (DMR Books being one) in repackaged reprints or through several e-book platforms at reasonable prices. The book publisher that I will be focusing on in this article is taking a drastically different approach in presenting and reproducing these works of fiction.
Pegana Press opened its doors in 2009 and is owned and operated by the husband and wife team of Rita and Mike Tortorello. Not only are they reprinting several foundational works of the horror, sword and sorcery and fantasy genres, they are packaging them in exquisitely rendered, handcrafted editions that will send book nerds into jealous fits of rage. The reasons for this are quite simple; these books are produced in very limited print runs at steep price points. Mike is responsible for the selection of the content to be represented, material selection, hand setting the spaces and type and the actual printing. He utilizes a Vandercook SP 15 press and each edition is printed by hand (technically, hand cranked). His partner Rita is responsible for the binding of the books, as they were traditionally, sewn and bound into the hard covers. Named for the Dunsany work, The Gods of Pegana, this publishing company produces boutique editions from a variety of writers. The vast majority of the works published are from the Pre-Tolkien era of fantasy. Several works from Lord Dunsany are presented in handsome, illustrated editions including four volumes of his Lost Tales and The Men of Baldfolk ($280). The three volume Lost Tales boxed set is priced at seven hundred and fifty dollars. The Golden Key ($375) by George MacDonald is lavishly illustrated by Charles van Sandwyk. Hope Mirrlees, author of the classic fantasy Lud-in-the-Mist is represented in Paris, A Poem ($385). H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands setting gets an upgrade in a collection entitled Dark Dreamlands ($375), which contains “Celephais”, “The White Ship”, “The Doom that came to Sarnath” and “Ex Oblivione”, with illustrations by Michael Hutter. “Cassilda’s Song”, from Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow is available as an illustrated broadside for thirty five dollars, printed on high quality paper stock.
If you are a fan of strictly sword and sorcery fiction, this publisher has you covered as well. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser get the deluxe chapbook treatment in The Sadness of the Executioner. Compared to the other titles, this one is inexpensive ($75) and is illustrated by Parisian artist Patrick Mallet. Clark Ashton Smith’s works are present and accounted for as well. Zothique Prism Volume One and Two (both priced at $75) collects “Empire of the Necromancers” and “The Garden of Adompha” respectively, while his Poseidonis setting has The Age of Whelming ($275) and The Age of Malygris (sold out). In addition to these collections, the discerning Smith fan can pick up a broadside of the poem Zothique for twenty five dollars. This publisher seems to have something suited for all tastes and varying degrees of disposable income. These volumes are certainly collector’s items that due to their durability can withstand the test of time and be gifted to the next generation (while exposing them to these fine tales in the process). Pegana Press crafts finely produced and assembled books that are not just enjoyable for their content. The choice of paper stock, elegant type selection and the wonderful accompanying illustrations make these books truly something special. The adage of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts is entirely true in this case. On a personal note, I was floored by Justine Jones’ black and white frontispiece illustration for The Age of Whelming; a thing of beauty indeed. When you browse the publisher’s website, you quickly come to the realization that unlike many items that are mass produced today, these volumes have heft; they are solid pieces of hand crafted works of art. Now that the holiday season is upon us, you have no excuse in not knowing what to get the fantasy or book nerd in your life. Although in all fairness, I certainly can understand how the price point can be prohibitive for many. I count myself in that group that is limited to window-shopping and marveling at their product line. Oh well, maybe one day. But to use the example of a Rolls Royce, craftsmanship, comes at a price. Check out the Pegana Press website https://peganapress.com/ and prepare to be amazed.