“Top Ten Tuesday” is a feature started by “The Broke and the Bookish”, though now hosted by some artsy reader girl in which people list their top ten books that match some given criterion. It changes every week, and happens on a Tuesday. Lots (a frankly ridiculous number) of bloggers take part.
This week, the theme is “Bookstores/Libraries I’ve Always Wanted to Visit”. Off-hand, there’s only one real-world library that I long to visit, and that’s the Library of Alexandria. Because some total bastard burnt it down thousands of years before I was born, and because I still haven’t got around to learning Ancient Greek, that dream withered a while back.
Instead, here is a list of fictional books and libraries that I would be extremely interested in reading/visiting. It is in no particular order, and I am taking advantage of the implied “up to” at the start of “top ten”.
1. The Wizard’s Book – C.S. Lewis
Half-way towards the end of the world, in a house filled with agreeable invisible dwarves, there is a book of spells. It’s more than a simple spell book though – it’s a book that recognises you and tempts you and admonishes you and teaches you all at once. And the final spell is a story that is so incredibly beautiful that it becomes the thing to measure all other stories by in the future, even though you can’t remember what actually happens.
I have not read The Voyage of the Dawntreader since I was very young, but I can still remember – almost word-for-word, the description of that story.
2. The Black Library – Warhammer 40,000
In the darkness of the 41st millennium, there is only war. War against, amongst many, many other things, the ruinous powers of chaos that seek dominion over and destruction of the galaxy. The Black Library is an entire world storing knowledge of Chaos and the demons within it. The only surviving store of information that could save the universe or damn it eternally. It’s so forbidden that almost no one is allowed to know anything about it, let alone know its location or visit it. It’s so forbidden that the smartest species in the galaxy is focused on its protection more than anything else.
3. The Library of Babel – Jorge Luis Borges
This library contains all the books. Not all the books available, or all the books ever written, but all the books, the ones that are and the ones that could possibly be. It contains a book that tells the total truth of everything, but also an infinite number of books purporting to be that book, some of which are nothing but lies and others of which differ in a single letter.
I would like to visit, briefly and with an escape available. It is not a place where you can find answers, but you could easily waste eternity searching for them.
Interestingly, despite the impossibility of it all, someone has actually created a working model of such an infinite library. I wrote about it previously here.
4. L-Space – Terry Pratchett
Books contain knowledge and knowledge is power. It follows logically that a sufficient quantity of books in one place is magic. L-space is a strange dimension accessible through any library or over-stuffed bookshop. Every time you’ve turned a corner in an antique bookshop and found a small, book-filled room that doesn’t seem like it should fit inside the observed dimensions of the building, you have stumbled into L-space.
L-space, like the Library of Babel, contains all books. All books that were, are, will be, could be, or couldn’t be. Naturally, this includes books that shouldn’t be, and even mustn’t be. The Unseen University has a Reader in Invisible Writings whose job is to catalogue L-space and find any useful knowledge amidst the infinite.
5. The Book of Names – Derek Landy
The Book of Names is basically just a list of names. What makes it interesting is that, in addition to listing the normal, everyday names of everyone in the world, it also lists the True Names of everyone – the names that give you power over their owners. If you were to find your own name, you would have near-limitless power.
I would just like a quick look.
6. The Key of Solomon
You can buy a bunch of books called The Key of Solomon, or variations upon that title. The very oldest date back to the 14th century. I don’t want to read any of those, because none of them are the real thing.
King Solomon, wisest and most favoured of all mortal kings, knew great and secret magics that are lost to us. He could talk to all animals, command Djinn to complete impossible feats, and so on. The Key of Solomon allegedly contains instructions for how to call and bind spirits to your will.
7. The Great Library – Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell
As is fitting for a world with only one city, the Edge has one library – one single repository of all knowledge of the earth and sky. Generations of brave librarian-knights have ventured out into a hostile world in search of new secrets, writing scrolls that are stored in a bizarre and arcane filing system. It’s a priceless resource, frequently attacked and endangered, often by the people charged to protect it. Despite war, natural disasters, and supernatural threats, the Great Library clings on to existence, in one form or another.
8. The Necromonicon – H. P. Lovecraft
Very little is known of the Necronomicon, mostly because reading it draws the attention of vast and formless things to which our reality is as fragile as a soap bubble, and also because simply knowing of its existence tends to lead to screaming insanity.
It was written by Abdul Alhazred, the mad Arab. Its original title was Kitab al-Azif, and it has been translated into at least Greek. It is not known where any copies may be found. Allegedly, it is bound in human skin, although that always struck me as a bit shoddy for cosmic horror. Supposedly, it contains knowledge of the Old Ones, but again, the whole insanity thing means there are no reliable reports of the contents. Possibly, this couplet by Alhazred is from it:
That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.
I don’t exactly to want to read it. I am curious about it though, which I believe is the starting point of everyone who gets their hands on it, before reality itself shatters and they are lost amidst unknowable stars.
Looking back at my list, it’s clear that I have a thing for forbidden knowledge and probably shouldn’t be allowed to read anything without it being carefully checked first for apocalyptic potential. Of the eight things on my list, six would give me terrible power, and five would probably destroy me. I guess it is good to know such things about oneself.