Ink on His Fingers
post written by Emma Filbrun
Title: Ink on His Fingers
Author: Louise A. Vernon
Major Themes: Bibles, Johann Gutenberg, Printing
Synopsis: Hans Dunne thinks his dream of learning to be a scribe and copy the Bible died when he had to leave the monastery school after his father’s death, but when he became apprenticed to Johann Gutenberg he found another way to fulfill his dream.
I remember reading Ink on His Fingers many years ago, long before I was married. I always enjoyed Louise A. Vernon’s books, and they made certain historical characters very memorable. I’ll never forget Johann Gutenberg’s dilemma when he couldn’t pay back his debts.
Hans Dunne wants to become a scribe and copy the Bible. He has been attending the monastery school, but now his father has died and Banker Fust has just informed Hans’s mother that his father owed a lot of money. Hans also finds himself involved in a mystery; as he came out of church he stumbled over a large bundle and saw a boy running away. When he meets the boy, they discover a pouch of metal-tipped sticks with letters on the ends. What is going on?
A few days later, Hans finds some mysterious papers in his father’s things. They all have the same passage from the Bible on them, printed perfectly and identically. No scribe could possibly do such a perfect job, and what scribe would copy the same few verses three times? When the boys find identical papers stuck into the big Bible in the monastery, the mystery deepens.
Ink on His Fingers is a memorable introduction to Johann Gutenberg and the invention of printing. I was fascinated by the monks’ objection to printing. They believed it was from the devil; that God wanted His word to be copied exactly as it had been for a thousand years, by hand, one copy at a time. Gutenberg, however, wanted to produce the Bible much faster. He ran out of money, though, and had to deal with creditors, including the grasping Banker Fust who apparently wanted to set up his own rival printing press. This story really brings Gutenberg’s vision and challenges to life.
WARNING: Something to discuss as you read: Chapter 10 mentions people believing that a picture of St. Christopher would protect them from death, and chapter 11 describes a mob wanting to “exorcise the devil.”
Read Aloud—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12, Family Read Alouds
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12
Links to buy Ink on His Fingers:
AbeBooks: View Choices on AbeBooks.com
Book Depository: Paperback
Keywords: Bibles, Johann Gutenberg, Printing