Thanks to the 400th Anniversary of the King James Version, the venerable classic is getting an unaccustomed amount of media attention, spearheaded by a selection of new histories recounting the origin story of the translation. All this has inspired readers who wouldn't ordinarily consider ploughing through the thees and thous to take a second look. The KJV gets a bad rap on two counts: the archaic language and the out-of-date scholarship. In both cases, the difficulties are exaggerated. If you're reasonably literate and not prone to basing wild interpretative assumptions on unfamiliar English usage, you should do just fine.
The question is, which KJV to read? We are truly spoiled for choices. Since the KJV was the standard translation until relatively recently, it is available in an extraordinary variety of editions, including vintage ones printed on paper rather nicer than what is typically available today. For that reason, there is no one recommendation to make. I've written about many KJVs in the past, and I'll be highlighting more this year.
Above: The KJV Long Primer in Atlantic Blue Calfskin (color accurate).
One of my personal favorites is the KJV Long Primer from R. L. Allan, which is now available with a limited edition Atlantic Blue calfskin cover. I first wrote about the Long Primer back in May of 2008, when the only color option was black, and mentioned it again after the latest printing, which introduced some aesthetic refinements and added a brown goatskin cover option. The blue calfskin edition has been produced in a limited quantity of 400 in honor of the KJV's anniversary.
When I heard about the plan to offer a blue Long Primer, I was intrigued. I have a soft spot for colors other than basic black. For some people, I realize, the Bible ought to be as black as a puritan's doublet on a particularly dark night. They subscribe to the Henry Ford school of consumer choice: any color you want, so long as it's black. If you don't happen to agree, then the recent revival of color in Bible binding recently is a wonderful thing. The alternatives I'm particularly partial to are browns, tans, and reds. But I've written in the past about blue Bibles, too.
Above: Like other Long Primers, this one comes with three thick ribbons
and gilt lines around the inside edge of the cover.
The question in my mind was, "How blue is Atlantic Blue going to be?" Instead of the deep, dark, saturated blue I imagined, it is actually a lighter slate blue, a very calm and refined shade. The calfskin displays plenty of grain, and compares favorably to Allan's goatskin covers in terms of limpness. All the styling cues are consistent with the black and brown Long Primers: three ribbons, gilt lines running around the inside edge of the cover, and art-gilt page edges (though with a difference, as we shall see).
In the photograph above, you can observe the "difference" I mentioned. Instead of red-under-gold page edges, the Atlantic Blue Long Primer comes with blue-under-gold page edges. From some angles they appear very gold, from others there's a powdery blue tint. When the Bible is open and the page edges settle, the edges appear bright blue, as below:
From the outside, the slate blue cover gives off a serene vibe. Opened flat, with the bright red ribbons and the bright blue page edges, this edition makes a loud statement. It reminds me of a sober business suit with a flashy lining underneath. Here are two more views to illustrate the variations:
Like the other Long Primers, this one is printed in the Netherlands by Jongbloed on acid free paper, and includes the licence granted to R. L. Allan & Son to print the KJV, signed by the Lord Advocate. This detail makes the Long Primer particularly apt for those wanting an anniversary KJV for nostalgic purposes. This one is authorized indeed.
One of the things I have always appreciated about the Long Primer is how limp and flexible the covers are, which contributes to the book's ability to open flat, even at the beginning. There's nothing stiff or uncooperative about this edition. It doesn't need to be "broken in." From the start, it feels like an old friend in the hand, ready to be read at length.
Above: A well-made, flexible edition.
Above: The Long Primer (bottom) compared to a Cambridge Pitt Minion (middle)
and an REB vest pocket New Testament (top).
If there is any drawback to the KJV's aura of tradition, it's the straightjacket this perception tends to put on page layout. While there are exceptions, most settings of the translation are very old fashioned in appearance: double columns, every verse starting on a fresh line as if it were a paragraph all on its own, apparatus cluttering the text. Often font choices are archaic, the assumption being that people reading an old version want it to look old. I won't belabor the point. If you've read much of this blog, you know where my sympathies are.
Having said that, some old fashioned layouts are better than others. I find the Long Primer to be one of the most readable. I don't know if it's the font choice or size, the overall proportions, or what, but the columns are relatively uncluttered. If you want to have the "classic" KJV reading experience, the Long Primer offers that -- with one exception. The translators had the idea that each English word in the text would stand for its equivalent in the original, and that any additional words that needed to be added to flesh out the sense in English would be rendered in italics. The Long Primer doesn't follow this convention.
The purist in me is confounded by that decision, but I have to admit it probably contributes to the Long Primer's harmonious flow. I'm no linguist, so I'm not going to get into the implications of italicizing the "supplied" words, except to make two observations. First, having grown up with the KJV, it was not uncommon for people in church to mistakenly believe that the non-italicized words were the inspired ones, and the others were second-tier. I remember people who tried skipping over the italicized bits in an effort to get the unmediated "pure" Word. The absurdity of this, from a common sense standpoint, is hopefully apparent. Second, no one translating a book from one language to another would follow this convention now. In other words, I'm not going to get bent out of shape about the absence of the italics, but I can understand why you would prefer them.
Above: If the sermon runs too long, there are pretty maps to study in the back.
There is lined notepaper, too.
Above: The blue Long Primer (second from bottom) compared to tan ESV Reader's Edition (bottom)
NIV single column rebound by Leonard's (second from top),
and crimson ESV Personal Size Reference (top).
Above: An updated stack of blue editions! From the top: marbled indigo Cambridge Cameo KJV,
aquamarine water buffalo calf Cambridge NEB, Oxford/Cambridge NEB New Testament,
Atlantic Blue calfskin Long Primer, and Oxford NRSV hardback.
If you like what you see and want to pick up one of these Long Primers, they're available from R. L. Allan & Son in Glasgow via their website at Bibles-Direct.co.uk, and from the good folks at Evangelical-Bible.com, too.