The Long-Lost Friend: Indexing

I’ve gone back to do some more work on The Long-Lost Friend.  Right now, I’m working on the index.  This is quite a challenging task, especially as it’s the second index I’ve ever written (the first being that for The Necronomicon Files).

Indexing is work, but it’s not boring, if you’re doing it right.  Sure, you could use software to do the grunt work, but that would never be as good as an index created with knowledge of the text and the readership.  It actually constitutes a series of questions to the author about what’s important in the text.

For example, one recent trend has been for books of magic to have multiple indices for the names of spirits, purpose of spells, and the like.  I thought about this and rejected it.  Sure, specialized indices might be useful, but one has to figure out if the book has the desired index and where it is in relation to the back matter.  If you have one index, you’re still paging though the back matter, but at least it’s alphabetical.

Then come the questions.  Let’s see…  Though the Christian God shows up in the book, it’s far too often for an index entry for “God” to be of any value.  On the other hand, Jesus shows up from time to time, so that might be of interest.  Ingredients should definitely be in there, as should personal names.   Place names might be fun, especially if I want to sell the book to a PA audience.  How about strange variant spellings?  If I’ve got a heart of a bat, should I have an entry for “heart,” or “bat”, or both?  If I’m detailing charms, should I also include gestures such as stroking the patient, walking about, or striking?  (I decided against it, as each term would have too many variants, even though I think it’s an important aspect of magical practice that deserves more attention.)  At every stage, I’m trying to guess at what a potential reader might find interesting, and feeding that back into the process.

I’ve made my way through the text of the book in this manner, and today finished the first 150 footnotes.  If you have anything you’d find valuable in an index to a book, please chime in.  It’s not the sexiest part of writing, but it’s one on which I know people have some definite opinions.

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Published in: on May 9, 2011 at 7:40 pm  Comments (3)  

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  1. A tricky business. Some of the terms people might expect to find in there aren’t actually prevalent in the most common available version of Hohman’s text – “hex” or “hexerei”, “brauche” or “braucherei”, even “pow-wow” is absent aside from the title page.

    Those who would know to look for such things would probably appreciate pointers to “SATOR Square”, “Abracadabra”, “Rehmeyer, Nelson” or “Rehmeyer’s Hollow”, “Albertus Magnus” or “Egyptian Secrets”, “Apprentice to Murder”, “Wellman, Manly Wade”, etc. – naturally, whether you include these kind of things depends entirely on how much you’ve commented on them.

    Some things that people might not expect but would stand out might be “Gypsy”, “himmelsbrief”, or the mention of any prominent authors/scholars whose work you’ve called out, either to praise, expand on, or counter (such as Don Yoder).

  2. “How about strange variant spellings?”
    Include these under the main entry (e.g. “batte”, to make up an example, under “bat”). If there are variant spellings that seem significant, consider placing them in parentheses in the index entry, e.g. “Bat (batte, batt) …”

    “If I’ve got a heart of a bat, should I have an entry for “heart,” or “bat”, or both?”

    Both. However, I’d suggest sub-dividing ‘heart’ into ‘of animals’ and ‘human’, or some sort of useful categories at least.

  3. […] If you’re interested in more about the book, you can read my posts covering such topics as the background of the author, Saint Lawrence, the Egyptian Secrets of Albertus Magnus, German hymns, beer, the rheumatism letter, running water, the use of the devil’s name – or lack thereof, in the book, and indexing, […]


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