Lost in the post

from Press News, posted 03/08/2012 - 21:03

For several weeks now, copies of a rather special old-new NIAS book have been available here in Europe (they are still on their way to other regions) but we haven’t even mentioned this.


Because our office copies hadn’t arrived – and in fact still haven’t arrived, despite being despatched from our UK warehouse on 29 January. And with the initial copies printed quickly sold out, we have just sat here looking perplexed.

Finally, a single copy – begged from the author to display at the AAS next week in Toronto – arrived today, and it looks wonderful. So, yes, it’s official: a complete reworking of Baas Terwiel’s 1975 classic study of rural Thai Buddhist society, Monks and Magic, has emerged into the world. It was, I feel, well worth the wait.

Despite its age, this has remained a widely cited text. Briefly, Monks and Magic is an absorbing study of how Buddhism was practised in the early 1970s in a rural community in central Thailand. The book spans the arc of a person’s lifetime, beginning with childhood and adolescence when esoteric spells and magical diagrams (including tattooing) are the main interest. Early adulthood sees many young men ordained as monks and making the first steps towards full ritual knowledge before returning to the secular world where marriage beckons along with everyday concerns like earning a living, raising children, etc. Life experiences and a mixture of good and bad karma accumulate. As death approaches, many men and women draw closer to the monastery and have a heightened concern for merit-making.

The original concept with our new NIAS Classics series, in which Monks and Magic is an inaugural volume, was to rejuvenate out-of-print classic works by digitising the original text and adding supplementary material that placed the work anew in the current scholarly discourse. But what happened here was that ambitions far exceeded the series concept. Yes, the text was scanned but it was then corrected, updated and reset – augmented with new text and illustrations – in what is effectively an utterly new book.

This can be seen here, for instance, in a description of how boys came to study and work in the monastery from an early age. In the original edition, the photos are grainy, the text quite ugly, the Thai transcribed differently than today and generally the book shows its age.

The new text and its layout have a very different, modern feel about them (there’s even Thai script in the text), and the photos are either new or old ones have been “Photoshopped” as much as possible to bring them up to an acceptable quality.

All in all, it was a mammoth job both for the author and the press. We hope our readers are happy with the final result.


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