P.O. Box 1333
Merchantville NJ 08109, USA
Publisher Hopes to Restore Traditional Values by 'Reclaiming' Literature
by John Moorehouse
National Catholic Register
9/14/03, Page 3
BRISTOL, Pa. — Move over, Harry Potter. Make way for Niamh and the Hermit.
Niamh and a lot of other characters are trying to make thier way onto the American cultural scene. They're coming out of a place called Arx.
That's Latin for "fortress" or "citadel." And it's the name of a new publishing company founded by two Catholics who hope their efforts will impact the culture.
Claudio Salvucci and Tony Schiavo named their Bristol, Pa.-based publishing venture Arx because they thought they could provide "a bastion for authors and works whose high literary style, subject matter and values often are at odds with prevailing popular culture."
Arx Publishing is their response to what they consider ugliness, vulgarity and banality of much modern literature.
Founded in 2001, Arx hopes to provide great stories that are well told. It's classical in inspiration, but its program is "dedicated to the blending of modern genres like the fantasy, farce, science fiction or action-adventure novel with more ancient forms such as the epic, allegory or classical history."
Their list includes titles such as Niamh and the Hermit, an "exploration and exultation of the classic fairy tale" written by Emily C. A. Snyder; The Mask of Ollock, a "grand alliterative fantasy epic" by Robert F. Kauffmann; and Dream of Fire, an adventure novel penned by Nicholas C. Prata.
Prata has also written Angels in Iron, a historical novel about the Knights of St. John military order (the Hospitalers) and the defense of "the Gates of Christendom against the Turkish armies of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent."
Salvucci himself contributes The Laviniad, an "epic poem based on an ancient Roman legend."
Arx's attempt to marry the modern fantasy with religion and classical themes of good and evil might elicit the kind of controversy that trails the Harry Potter series—on whether it indoctrinates kids into witchcraft. Salvucci, who has not read the J. K. Rowling books, nevertheless noted that today's cultural climate warrants extra vigilance on the part of parents.
But fantasy has been used by such Christian authors as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, he said. Arx is engaged, to some extent, in reclamation of the genre.
"We want to rehabilitate it," Salvucci said. In fact, Arx is billing its most recent publication, Niamh and the Hermit, as a Potter alternative.
Salvucci and Schiavo met at St. Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia, where they acquired their love for classical literature through a rigorous four-year Latin curriculum. Each got into publishing after college—Schiavo worked for two European houses with North American offices, while Salvucci learned bookbinding and set out to self-publish. The Laviniad. Doing the layout, printing, and binding, Salvucci learned the nuts and bolts of publishing and gradually moved into nonfiction as well with the beginning of the linguistics imprint Evolution Publishing in 1994.
Schiavo, meanwhile, who had planned to start his own business, became increasingly uncomfortable with the secular nature of the books published by his employer. His nights and weekends assisting Salvucci with the business side of things gradually grew into a full-fledged partnership, and Arx Publishing was born.
Asked about the most difficult aspect of starting a publishing business, Schiavo said he thought the big he was just to "stay around" and "get recognition as a small publisher." Salvucci mentioned "finding a market" as one major challenge. Toward that end, Arx is focusing more and more on youth-oriented markets.
Arx refuses to publishe anything "blasphemous, morally ambiguous or immodest." Instead, it look[s] for stories that can teach important lessons about the virtues of heroism, piety, self-sacrifice and honor without being heavy-handed," and regarding its fantasy list, it writes that "religion and mythic elements need not be explicitly Christian but cannot be hostile to Christian morality."
Salvucci and Schiavo describe the current fantasy-publishing scene as mission territory. "We do a lot of low-intensity evangelical work at sci-fi/fantasy conventions," Schiavo noted. "We look at part of our mission as trying to put our books into the hands of people who otherwise wouldn't touch them."
Asked about their success as evangelists at the conventions, Schiavo said it's a mixed bag.
"We try to get on the religion panels; we're usually the only Christians to do so," he said. "Often the panels are just an excuse to bash traditional Christianity, which is ironic because [Christianity] is where fantasy literature comes from."
Not Just Books
Though primarily book publishers, Schiavo and Salvucci also have undertaken a number of other ventures with the goal of reinvigorating the American cultural scene. One such project is the publication of The Tarpeian Rock, a free periodical featuring essays, short stories, poetry and comics.
Arx also distributes books for home schoolers, including Bethlehem Books titles and The Starman Series, a collection of sci-fi adventures that harks back to "the great series books of the 1950s and 1960s."
Furthermore, the press' educational efforts also include a more scholarly endeavor: Evolution Publishing seeks to "further the study of American language and history by republishing long out-of-print primary source material . . . focusing on Native American-related and early colonial-era works."
Salvucci notes the "American flair" of Arx Publishing and says that, though the company doesn't offer any titles dealing with specifically American topics through its literary catalog at the moment, it is actively working on and seeking such manuscripts.
Though not an exclusively Catholic or even religious publisher, the "capital-C" Catholicity of the press is reflected through the inclusion in its catalog of a series of devotional booklets centered on the North American martyrs, while its "small-c" catholicity is perhaps best expressed through its attempts to meld the old and the new and its hope that its offerings "will appeal to a wide audience: from fantasy and sci-fi enthusiasts to students of classical and medieval literature to the general reader seeking a respite from the ususal mass-market offerings."
Pope John Paul II has repeatedly emphasized the "priority of culture." Schiavo and Salvucci take him at his word.
"You come to the realization that the culture is what is causing the problems politically," Salvucci said. "People are voting based on what they see and read. If you don't provide an alternative, then people are going to take the culture and make erroneous political decisions."
Regarding their role in the restoration of traditional values in America, he said, "This is how we're going to do it, by reclaiming literature."