Saturday, April 4, 2015

My Favorite Literary Libraries - Part 1 - Dangerous Libraries

This idea has been rolling around in my head for a while now. I love books and I love libraries. And by "love" I mean that I am enamored, besotted, passionately entranced. I have worked in libraries, and now find myself in a position where my work, although not in a library, focuses on libraries and books. I'm in a sweet spot. None of which has much to do with this post, other than to give you an idea of the level of affection I have for big buildings filled with books.

I have an idea that lots of other writers feel the same way, given the number of books that contain reference to, or even more delightfully feature, libraries as a key element of the story. So, since this is my blog and I am the expert on all things me, here is a list of the best literary libraries I've ever come across.*

*Your experience may vary.

Part 1: Dangerous Libraries

1. Lirael, by Garth Nix

This is one of the best libraries I've ever encountered. Room after magical room, spiraling deep down into a glacier and guarded by the Clayr, an enclave of women united by their gift of seeing the future and their dedication to preserving their orderly society. The lower the level the more dangerous the books.

Librarians wear vests, color coded to show their experience and status and stiffened to protect them against dangerous magical outbursts. Their keys are a encoded into a bracelet with seven stones, as a new stone is activated it offers access to more rooms, because it takes skill and experience to go up against a truly powerful book. Other tools include a magical, mechanical mouse who can run for help, and a whistle, to call if they get into trouble, because Garth understands that although librarians are solitary adventurers, everyone needs help sometimes.

I would happily encase myself in a glacier if I could go to work here every day.

2. The Unseen Academy - Discworld Novels by Terry Pratchett

Okay. Let me just say this. Terry Pratchett is, hands down, one of the best writers ever. And I don't mean just in the fantasy genre. I mean EVER. His Tiffany Aching novels (a sub-series within the Discworld series; Wee Free Men, Hatful of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight) are four of the best coming of age novels I've ever read.

That being said, he has also written a fantastic magical library, housed on the campus of the Unseen University (for Wizards) and presided over by an orangutan, who used to be a magician until his unfortunate accident. He may no longer be human, but he's still a damn good librarian.

Pratchett is another writer who understands the dangerous power of many books piled in one place. When the books in his library rub up against each other, magical forces are unleashed. It takes steely nerve and unflinching confidence to wrangle this library. Plus he works for bananas, always a plus in the sometimes skin-flint world of academics.

3. Inkheart - by Cornelia Funke

I know, I know. You thought I was going to say the Hogwarts Library. But no, for me, when it comes to dangerous libraries, it has to be the library that belongs to Mo's wife's Aunt Elinor in Inkheart. First of all, Elinor, who so fiercely guards her precious library. Her's is a true calling. She worships her books and hoards them. She is a woman who has allowed herself to be altered by her love of the written word, which is, in and of itself, a dangerous thing.

And second, Ms. Funke touches on the dangerous nature of the books themselves. What, in fact, could be more dangerous that being sucked into a story as it's being read to you? With the right voice it could happen to any of us. It happens more than you think, but Ms. Funke has taken it from a relatively harmless state of mind to a delightfully dangerous reality. As much as we might wish to live in the world of books, actually doing so could be quite dangerous.

So that's it for part 1. Part 2 - The Library as Adventure.

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