Font therapy, as discovered by Jeramy Dodds in Northern Finland
Font therapy was used in ancient scriptoriums to treat severe malaise. Even though communication of any kind was strictly forbidden in many scriptoriums, some scribes invented faintly-inked, coded fonts which were passed around on scraps of vellum. It often took newly anointed scribes years to talk to anyone or to figure out what was happening. X-ray diagnostics of marginalia in a number of ancient texts have revealed important examples of therapeutic, coded font, however, without a conversion key, many of these fonts have remained indecipherable. No conversion keys were ever put to print; rather, scribes mentally created their own keys. These keys were often so distant from that of the original meaning that communication lapsed. However, these placebo conversations were enough to dramatically lower the boredom that plagued scriptoriums.
In Snorri Sturluson’s Icelandic scriptorium (~1200 CE), it is said that after 85 percent of the scribes stationed there died from an outbreak of disinterest. Only one scribe remained who held the key to the font his tall neighbour had once created. The remaining scribe passed coded, vellum notes to the replacement hires for two whole years. These notes detailed his entire life and grotesque sexual habits, but they also included spells and important medical breakthroughs that were far before his time. One such breakthrough was the cure for polio. None of the new, young scribes had experienced font therapy before and just thought the old scribe had been sent by the old gods to destroy them. The new hires burnt him alive and dismembered him one night shortly after Easter.
One example of font therapy, or what Mervyn Peake has called “whisper writing,” has been recreated here. It was pieced together from sherds of vellum found in an ancient and extremely nasty midden pile in Northern Finland, a place of great beauty. Part of what makes this font, known as MP10x-SUOMI-T2, so incredible, is its simplicity. Its feral flourishes are mimics of the natural world and the font’s design talks as much about what is outside as it does inside. I cannot, due to a legal battle with my ex-patron, describe the details of the forensic deciphering techniques my team has used. I can say that it took years of research and archaeological fieldwork while living in Northern Finland.
(Editor’s Note: Below are Dodds’ recreations of font therapy discovered in Northern Finland as well as the phrase, “Be Brutally Honest.”)
“Be Brutally Honest”
Jeramy Dodds grew up in Orono, Ontario. His poems have been translated into Latvian, Hungarian, Finnish, French, Swedish, Icelandic, and German. He is the winner of the 2006 Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award and the 2007 CBC Literary Award for poetry. His first collection of poems, Crabwise to the Hounds (Coach House Books, 2008), was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize, the Gerald Lampert Award, and won the Trillium Book Award for poetry. His most recent publication is a translation of the Poetic Edda (Coach House Books, 2014) from Old Icelandic into English. He is a poetry editor at Coach House Books and currently lives in Montreal, Quebec.