Fantastic Fictional Libraries

Libraries are magical places, and I don’t just say this because I’m a huge library nerd. Besides, I’m in good company being one; Sir Terry Pratchett, in his Science of Discworld (Vaughan doesn’t have our own copy, but you can borrow Overdrive books from our partner systems using your VPL library card) books says, “There is no higher life form than a librarian.” I’m one of those, too, mainly due to my love for libraries and what we do. Where else can you come to borrow free books/movies/games/any of the so many other collections we have without paying a dime*1? We’re a place to cool off on hot days or warm up on cold ones, and there’s no pressure to buy anything. Do you need access to the internet or even a whole computer? We’ve got you covered! And all of this isn’t even touching on our programming and staff expertise. There’s a reason that a TV aardvark*2 once sang that “Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card.”  But while all this is magical, it’s also ever so mundane. Our dragons, unicorns, robots etc., are all contained within the pages of the books on our shelves*3. Some books contain even more magic than others, for described on their pages are libraries whose magic is far more than mundane. Dragons*4 stalk their halls, the books they store come to life and attempt to escape, and if you travel far enough and know the way, you can even use them to travel through time itself. If libraries have always seemed to be mystical places to you, these books will help reinforce that feeling.

Have you ever had a book mysteriously vanish? You were sure you’d put it on your bedside table last night, but now it’s nowhere to be found. Nobody you live with has it*5; there’s no torn paper anywhere indicating that the cat got to it; it’s just gone without a trace. That book might have been snatched by an agent of the Library, an extradimensional… library*6 that uses unique stories to anchor itself to various worlds. Librarians from this place are trained to use the Language, which changes the world around it if you know the proper grammar. And I don’t mean that metaphorically; the Language alters reality, shattering glass, opening locks, and creating portals; a creative user can find myriad uses for it. The Invisible Library introduces readers to the place and our protagonist, Irene, who’s tasked with retrieving a unique version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, containing a story not told in any other world, from a steampunk Victorian London. Along the way, readers meet more of the series’ mainstay characters, including a sherlock expy*7, a mysterious apprentice Librarian, a lascivious Fae, and an eldritch horror of a major villain. It’s a delightful first taste of the fast-paced action interspersed with interdimensional politics that makes up the bulk of the eight-book series.

Irene visits mortal realms during her adventures, but has anyone considered the reading habits of human souls? The dead deserve a library too, and in The Library of the Unwritten, there’s a network of libraries peppering the realms of the afterlife, and each houses a unique collection. The Unwritten Wing resides in Hell*8, and its contents are books (and other art forms) that have not yet been written (or created), or if the author is already dead, never will be. These books have the troublesome habit of trying to escape the library and galivant off to earth to connect with their authors and get themselves written. Books aren’t the most mobile of physical forms, so they accomplish this by forcing a character out of their pages to represent them. It’s head librarian Claire’s job to keep the books quiet and orderly, which she does alongside her assistant Brevity, a failed Muse. Things start innocently enough, with the pair heading off to Earth to track down an escapee. The stakes for their mission ramp up sharply when an angel tracks them down, convinced they’re really after some powerful artifact that comes straight from Lucifer himself. Despite being a conflict between literal and literary, Heaven and Hell, there’s plenty of moral greys for our characters to wade into: human souls get the afterlife they feel they deserve, not what is decreed for them by a higher power. Beings of the realms have their own motivations beyond their heavenly or hellish mandates. Heck*9, Heaven and Hell aren’t even the only afterlife options, but I’ll leave it to readers to find out which other paradises and damnations pop up.

The Unwritten Wing and the Library may come from different authors and have unique ways of connecting to their worlds, but what if I said that L-space, aka Library-Space, connects even these disparate branches? If you remember the intro or keep up with the footnotes, you may know where this is going*10. Sir Terry Pratchett’s satirical Discworld novels*11 give us the magical library of the Unseen University and its rather unusual librarian. Like most of the rest of the university faculty, he only goes by his title: the Librarian*13. Unlike the rest of the faculty, he’s in fine shape: that of a 300-pound sack of potatoes with arms longer than his body; yes, he’s the orangutang mentioned in footnote #4. Being transformed into something else is an occupational hazard for UU staff and students, but the Librarian enjoys his new form and resists all attempts to change him back. Long arms and prehensile toes are handy when dealing with books on high shelves, both magic and mundane. A body more formidable than a human being’s is also a bonus when the books in his care could cause widespread destruction if left unchecked, and that’s not only the magical books, as Sir Pratchett rightly notes:

People were stupid, sometimes. They thought the Library was a dangerous place because of all the magical books, which was true enough, but what made it really one of the most dangerous places there could ever be was the simple fact that it was a library. (Guards! Guards!)

It’s those books, both magic and mundane, that make L-space possible. To paraphrase Sir Pratchett: Knowledge = Power = Energy = Matter = Mass and mass distorts space. Gather enough knowledge in one place, and it starts to fracture dimensions into L-space. Any repository of knowledge large enough can do this, and all of them are connected. So, while The Library, the Unwritten Wing, UU’s library, The Starless Sea, The Midnight Library, all of Vaughan’s Branches, and indeed any library in any universe from any time period are all separate entities, if you listen closely or read between the lines, you may just make out a faint “Ook ook”, as the Librarian tracks down a missing book.

*1: Beyond taxes. Let’s be honest: libraries need funding.

*2: Now retired.

*3: Or are up decorating our walls, acting as mascots, or promoting our Summer Reading Club.

*4: And possibly an Orangutang.

*5: This time, at least.

*6: Call a spade a spade.

*7: If you’re unfamiliar with TvTropes, I’m sorry. If you are familiar with TvTropes, you’re probably already ten tabs deep and not even reading this, so that an apology would be pointless.

*8: Yes, that Hell.

*9: Or can that be Hell? How important is the context?

*10: Or you may be stuck in a TvTropes binge, as previously discussed.

*11: If you think I have a lot of footnotes*12

*12: Sorry. Again.

*13: So, The Librarian doesn’t work for The Library, but The Library has Librarians that work for it. Maybe I should have picked titles with less confusing nomenclature.

About Adam

Adam is a Digital Creation Specialist - Children who never has enough shelf space for his board game collection, wall space for his photographs, or stomach space for his baking. Once he’s got a book in his clutches (preferably a fantasy, or humorous non-fiction one) absolutely nothing else is getting done that day. Working in a library is a blessing and a curse to his free time.  |  Meet the team