Nostradamus — The 1994 Annual Almanac by V.J. Hewitt. Random House, $15.95
This book explains an approach to interpreting the French “prophet” Nostradamus’s predictions. It is the culmination of 16 years research by an English woman, V.J. Hewitt. She has invented a system of decoding his quatrains using anagrams — and not just the sort that you get in cryptic crosswords, but huge, French ones. She takes a Nostradamus quatrain, mixes up all the letters, removes the letters of the subject she is interested in (and it could be anything from soccer hooliganism to an air traffic controllers’ strike), adds the date, and then rearranges the remaining letters to produce the prophecy that Nostradamus had clearly intended. What’s more she does it in French.
Here’s a New Zealand version of what she does. Take the first two lines of our National Anthem: “God of Nations, at thy feet, in the bonds of love we meet. ” There are, in this dreary verse, many hidden prophecies which V.J. Hewitt would extract like this…
Remove the word “fish” because we want to see what the future of fishing is in this country. Mix up the remaining letters and you get: “Too many boats net the food we love. Ten get fined.” What could be clearer than that? On the other hand — and this is a little confusing — another anagram gives: “Eels need to have fatty food, gin. None wet bottom.” This could be disqualified by the grammatically pedantic on the grounds that it should be “wets” rather than “wet.” But Hewitt is a little flexible herself — in one prediction she is forced to change Phillip to Philip in order to get the anagram to fit the prediction comfortably.
Hewitt explains how unique and successful her system is, reminding me of the Spike Milligan line: “My uncle was a great man. He told me so himself, and you can’t argue with facts like that.” She is realistic enough to admit in her closing lines that she is “vulnerable to criticism unless and until each prediction is fulfilled.” Unusually for this sort of book, she is foolish enough to tie the events to reasonably definite dates. Most soothsayers pronounce woolly sooths but are cunning enough not to cite dates. She should have learnt a lesson from the “End of the World is Nigh” brigade — they tend not to pinpoint “nigh” and most of their placards seem to be made of fairly durable material.
What will happen of course is that Christmas shoppers will buy this book, be enthralled by the forecasts, and then forget it, until…in April 1994 Nelson Mandela actually does become the President of South Africa. Then they’ll say: “Didn’t Nostradamus predict that somewhere? Doris, go get that Hewitt book — I think it was written in there. There it is on page 48! Extraordinary!” No mention of similar predictions of political scientists world-wide nor, more importantly in terms of this publication, any mention of the fact that Nostradamus also predicted on page 47 that at the end of May (only a week or two before) two female Yeti would be found in the Himalayas, presumably out on a Sherpa-capturing expedition.
Large anagrams are funny things. You start with real creativity and freedom — there are a lot of letters to play with — but as you get near the end and all the “e”s have gone, there’s a “q” and no “u” left, and “Qantas” doesn’t suit a prediction on the return of Maggie Thatcher, so you juggle and end up with a small, three or four-letter word. It may take a lot of imagination to tie this in with the substance of the text. But like most Nostradamus students, Hewitt has a fertile mind. She is particularly motivated by the discovery that her very own name is mentioned in the 16th-century verses. Having been chosen as the official Nostradamus interpreter for the 20th Century, I suspect nothing will divert her. (It should be noted that when I solved the relevant quatrainal anagram the name I came up with was not “V.J. Hewitt” but “J.T.V. White,” who just happens to be my old maths teacher).
So we will continue to be presented every year with the V.J. Hewitt Annual Almanac regardless of the previous year’s inaccuracies, and it doesn’t take much of an anagram to predict quite a useful income for her from the New Age bookstores. This sort of book is a waster of time and forests, a ramble down one person’s “spiritual” cul-de-sac. Ingenious or ingenuous, it will still probably outsell Carl Sagan.