How can anyone not love footnotes? A book without them is like a boat without the sea, or like the sea shore without rock pools. I love the way that the text flows on relentlessly above, while down below there are little pools of facts, translations and references. I have happy memories of books in which the footnotes took up as much space on the page as did the main narrative or argument; and even happier ones of books in which quotations in the original Greek or Latin – or even Arabic – are included for our enlightenment. And i don’t read any of those languages.
Endnotes are an acceptable alternative if they occur at the end of chapters, but not if they’re chucked to the back of the book – and definitely not if, as in many such books, they’re so poorly labelled that it takes a near superhuman effort to find the note you’re looking for. Often it’s a struggle to even identify the chapter.
Whether you opt for footnotes or endnotes let them be real notes – not just dry lists of titles, authors and dates. Avoid ibid., especially in excess: it turns a forest into a desert. Include references to obscure books, always cite foreign literature under the original title and if necessary reference your references. If you are still unsure how to proceed, i suggest “The Vampire”* by Montague Summers. Some of my favourite endnotes** from this book include:
6 The night-fiend idlu lilî is the male counterpart of the Night-wraith, ardat lilî. Idlu is the word used for a grown man of full strength
48 This belief seems mainly confined to Elis. Curtius Waschmutt, Das alte Griechenland im Neuen, p 117.
55 I have used the “Nouvelle édition revûe, corigée and*** augmentée par l’Auteur.” 2 vols., Paris, Chez Debure l’aîné, 1751.
13 About £20
68 Occasionally attributed to G. W. M. Reynolds, who, however, more than once denied the authorship.
1 Πορευεσθε άπ’έμου, κατηραμέυοι, είς τό πυρ τό αίώυιον τό ήτοιμασμέυον τψ διαβόλψ καί τοις άγγέλοις αύτου****. Discredite a me maledicti in ignem aeternum, qui paratus est diabolo, et angelis eius.
How could you not love endnotes like these? Of course it’d be even better if they were footnotes…
* The most wonderful book on vampires imaginable (ISBN 1-85958-073-4, Senate).
* *Taken from different chapters of the book; hence the jumbled numbering.
*** This ‘and’ is in the original!
****The ‘Greek’ text is probably gibberish as i had to recreate it using the Greek alphabet symbols in Microsoft Word. Some of the letters weren’t easy for a non-Greek speaker to distinguish.
— For ‘B’ —