WWMWBI - Someone Invented a Printing Press
'Mass Produced Books' was one of the most important shift points in history. This one invention profoundly effected all aspects of life, not only locally, but eventually the entire world.
Before the invention of a printing press, books were copied mainly in monasteries or in commercial scriptoria. In either place, scribes wrote them out by hand. (Apprentice Wizards would have to copy each book they have, taking a year or two of their lives just doing that). These scribes often applied beautiful illuminations to their text. Books were therefore a scarce resource. (Books are just bound scrolls, so the same thing would apply to scrolls.
A printing press expands this. No matter who developed it (Chinese, Korean, or German) it came from a press (used to squish fruit, grapes, olives). Originally pages were cut from single blocks of wood. Each block was good for approximately 10-25 pages, making printing presses faster than a manual process but still fairly slow. The invention of movable type (first of clay, then of metal) speeds this process along. The Chinese/ Koreans invented this process first, but it was of less usefulness given the word/symbol nature of their languages. In Germany the process was re-created independently (though there are arguments about it not being independent). Guttenberg, being a goldsmith before a printer, was able to carefully craft movable type. Given the alphabetic nature of European languages, movable type was vastly more useful.
Once movable type was created, it multiplied the speed of page reproduction by a factor of 50. With advances in paper placement (which was originally done by hand, but later had mechanical assistance), this number increased.
On Earth, book content has been centered on religous texts, either main foci of religious thought, commentary, or support (such as a hymnal). Following a close second is the works required by government or nobility to rule. These two powerful groups Religions and Government have a vested interest in controlling the words printed. By controlling books, they can control ideas, or at least limit their easy disemination.
The supplantation of hand copied manuscripts with printed works was not received with unanimous encomium. The papal court contemplated making printing presses an industry requiring a licence from the Catholic Church, making sure they published works only authorized by the Church. Similar resistance was later encountered in much of the Islamic world, where calligraphic traditions were extremely important, and also in the Far East.
Despite resistance, the printing press spread across the European world quickly once it became known. For the first time, anyone could read the Bible and no longer required clergy to interpret the word for them. The press also allowed the distribution of Bibles in the venacular (local language), further tearing down the clergical control over religion. The press was also key in Protestant Reformation.
The Press also led to the establishment of a community of scientists (previously scientists were mostly isolated) that could easily communicate their discoveries, bringing on the scientific revolution.
Though late in catching up, occultists also published their works. Admittedly it was two centuries after The Church and Science had been doing so, but Occultists have always been an insular and secretive bunch (especially since being an occultist had a death penalty in many places).
In Korea and China, there were no texts similar to the Bible which could guarantee a printer return on the high capital investment of a printing press, and so the primary form of printing was wood block printing which was more suited for short runs of texts for which the return was uncertain.
Some credit the printing press with giving Europe the technological and communication edge over Eastern countries in the end, one of the major questions in world history.
So what would happen if someone created a printing press in your game world?
Kerren has always had the printing press. These presses are manually opperated but have technological advantages that begining manual presses never would have.
In Arth, this is happening right now, as a current Meta-Plot. On Arth, Magic users are the primary producers and consumers of books. One of their own, utilizing the theory that matter was nothing more than magical energy in a different state, applied magical theory to material objects. Ariones MageSmith of Antioch, now known as Ariones Impressor created a number of items before the Guild took action against him. (If his theories were true, eventually there would be no need for wizards or magicians). He developed the theory of optics, improved metallurgy, and created a printing press. The Mage's Guild originally held seige around his workshop, awaiting approval of the Guild Council to take action. In those intervening eight days, Ariones printed 50 manuals of spells of the 8th rank (basic apprentice spells). It would of taken one scribe 64 days to do one basic book. He presented them as a gift to the Guild and presented them with several copies of his Magic Theories: A magical material world. The Guild realizing the advantages of having their works mass produced (more books, more magic users). They also realized the potential revenue to their guild. The accepted Ariones's work as Guild Acceptable. Eventually a new subguild, the Impressors (as in Printing Impressions) is created to take care of bookmaking and developing new items based on a magical material world. On my world, a technical revolution of sorts has begun. It has only been going for about a year at this point.
Of course, magic is a skill based system on Arth. So your religions might be more upset by the possible existance of 'outside ideas' existing; or governments might try to control the
easy access to information'. The existance of cheap books allows information on a number of subjects to be quickly dispersed. Someone could go from ignorant to the local expert on a subject after a day or so of reading.. The printed word will rock your world.
So what would happen on your world?
Truly amazing! I just wrote a report for a local newspaper and the same idea was spinning in my head. Then I opened my browser and behold: MoonHunter had the same idea!
Luckily I'd say, because no one has yet matched his thorough articles. This very article is yet another of MoonHunter's interesting and compelling treatises. Well done!
Well, now that the amazement and admiration has passed, I can explain my thoughts on the subject.
In my setting the printing press has been invented and subsequently prohibited! (With the exception of the Imperial Press which has an imperial permit to prints posters and pamphlets for the imperial warrants, laws and propaganda). The Northern Kingdom of Silmaroth soon followed up with a similar decree.
The Imperial sages theorize that the unbalacing effects on magic would prove too dire and were responsible for the prohibition.
Indeed the first forty spellbooks printed and sold were out of stock after a couple of hours. The consequences were disastrous. Not only were untrained amateurs given far more power than they should have access to, but some critical failures commited by said unprofessionals resulted in the magical plague that haunted the town of Darburg for nearly a year, decimating the population.
Following this incident, the Holy Order of the Hexenjaegers initialized the third crusade against magic and the north was ripped asunder with the Hexenjaegers inquiries and impromptu executions.
At the present the ownership of a printing press is punishable by death, yet there are rumours of a printing press in the ownership of several powerful Covens and Cabals. In particular the Cabal of the Caarthian has provoked several outcries of outrage from the Holy Order which is even now readying their swords and torches.
The churches and temples of the higher powers have all issued a decree that printed books are ungodly. The essence of the divine can only be put to paper through a human intermediary they claim and thus any printing of a holy text is viewed as herecy.
In addition the Imperial sages has recently discussed the balance of essence and magic (Newtonic Magic). They are frightened by the possibility of a future where magic is allowed to run unchecked and some philosophers have already given warning that the printing press is the herald of doom. The free distribution of magic is a sure way to bring about the end of days they claim.
A solid concept.
I have been thinking of introducing a simple 'Copy' spell. It would do what some printers do, 'burn' the paper slightly on the respective places, creating a copy of another image. The image will be of course black-and-white only, and loosing much of the finer details. It is likely the wizards won't consider it very useful, because it produces inferior quality, and is good for temporary notes only.
But if it actually leaves the small circle of mages ignorant to the world... it may have similar results to those you suggest. Thanks for listing the possible consequences.
Actually, China had several books that were printed in numbers, whereas Europe only initially had one. It was this number of classics that made it cost effective to continue wood-carving blocks for each page to be pressed. But on to the actual topic...
Midian is on the cusp of something quite similar to the Renaissance. The issue of printing is something to which I have given some thought. The printing press & personal firearm have been invented, but both are akin to nanotech for us: new & highly experimental, unreliable, and still more in the realm of science fiction than practical use. Movable type has not yet been invented--and may not be for many years. The culture that invented printing has a ideograph-based language, and so does not have an alphabet. The nearby cultures utilise a scripted language, which is even less practical for mobile type.
Magic won't be significantly changed. Midian is very skill-oriented. A spell is the same as a skill, and nearly anyone can learn a given spell. However, the concept of an instruction manual is still not really known, and learning a spell from a book is like learning a martial art from a book. As magic is a tricky thing at best--even if a ritual is performed correctly, it still might not function. Even if successful, it is likely that the mage won't know, as few magics in Midian have an obvious and immediate visual effect.
Those few learned people who know about the printing press tend to fall into two camps. Some feel that it will destroy the artistry and value of books--with the time & effort involved only quality books are copied, and these are often illuminated. The true reason is perhaps that they are concerned over the value of their own personal libraries. The other view, held by many loremasters, is that faster & cheaper printing can only be a good thing as it will help spread the exchange of ideas. Once Pandora's Box has been opened, then the expansion of printing is a matter of 'when,' not 'if.' This will certainly affect the game world.
Printing will spread much faster if it ever becomes used on the northern continent (Norditerre). There, the language is alphabetic, and most of the population follows a common language--with one specific holy book.
Currently, the government of the press-creating culture (Empire of Byzant) has offerred a grant of support to the inventors. The Empire is united primarily by only two things: a common currency, and a common form of writing. The refinement of the printing press will strengthen that nation as it will be able to more efficiently issue decrees, change tax codes, etc.
Interesting topic, one that I had never considered in my own realm, but then again my own realm has highly deviant origins from the general flavor of fantasy found on Strolen. Aterrizar was created by a single person, a human from of all places, Northern California. He was a powerful mage in the modern day, but quickly tired of his conflicts with mages of opposing ideologies (Some of you may recognize the basic plotline of Mage, from White-Wolf.) He was very powerful, and sought a way to escape the increasingly hostile technological world of the Earth, as well as creating a haven for his beloved, a one time amateur musician turned vampire.
Aterrizar was inhabited by Terrans, primarily from the United States, also a sizeable number from Egypt, Asia, and Europe via connections with the mage. Following the creation of the poicket realm, soon magical creatures began to populate it, along with natiuve flora and fauna imported by another more biologically minded mage. Technology could exist, but at a level limited to the Renaissance era, with more advanced technology refusing to work, or even exploding if attempted.
The printing press was a quick re-invention, with many books, both from earth and new texts being produced. In my realm, books are common, though some cannot be reproduced via mechanical means, primarily spell books and texts dealing with magic, as their must be comprehension in the transcribing and cannot be done by the untrained, or machines.
This comment on another post shows how long it takes to make a book.
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? Responses (6)-8
I don't have a world *yet*, so I can make an expanded comment. The impact of the printed word really can not be underestimated. The moment it comes into being, the world begins to change.
This was my absolute favourite among the WWMWBI threads. Well done Moon "Gutenberg" Hunter (You write like a human printing machine)
Nicely informative. I did not know about the Catholic Church's attempt to require licensing in order to control what was printed. Reminds me of some of the recent efforts to hand control of the Web to media companies through draconian legislation (SOPA/PIPA.)
I agree with the sentiment expressed elsewhere that the World Wide Web is causing a shift just as great as that of the invention of the printing press. More than ever, the barrier against each person having a voice is shrinking (for good and ill.) This site alone is proof of that. And just like with the printing press of old, the power of the long-entrenched is being challenged.
Perhaps a magical equivalent to the Web rather than a printing press could be used to evoke similar upheavals in a fantasy world.
A great article and great commentary. The press is really one of those gateway technologies which define eras.