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Mosi Mynn

Libraries in fiction

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Inspired by this https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/31/top-10-libraries-in-fiction-jrr-tolkien-borges-game-of-thrones I wondered what everyone's favourite fictional libraries are?

For me it's all about the librarians.  So the guardian of Terry Pratchett's Unseen University library is just wonderful (I can see why he wanted to stay an orangutan). And I've always liked Privet from the second Duncton Trilogy by William Horwood, who is both a scribe and a librarian.

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professor derrida tells us that our notion of an 'archive' derives from greek arche, both commencement and commandment: "initially a house, a domicile, an address, the residence of the superior magistrates, the archons, those who commanded” and whereat “the official documents are filed,” giving the archons “hermeneutic right and competence.” it commingles an “archontic dimension of domiciliation” with an “archic, in truth patriarchic, function.” it follows that “a politics of the archive is our permanent orientation […] there is no political power without control of the archive.”

that said, i prefer the one in the breakfast club, if we're measuring it by its function as a literary setting (but cf. RSB's library scene).  as measured by the contents, all of the private collections of esoterica in perez-reverte's club dumas--though the same principle is at work in all fictive collections, from HPL forward.

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The latest library in fiction I visited was the Bottomless Library in Josiah Bancroft's Books of Babel.  The librarian is a cat, you ask it  for a book title and it will lead you to it.  Remember to pack plenty of food and water, for you and the cat, as you don't know how many hours or days the journey to your book will take.

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Posted (edited)

The variety of libraries, collections and archives in Byatt's Possession are terrific, especially as everybody is fighting for possession of books and manuscripts in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons.

The Reading Room of the British Museum is featured in more books -- starting back in the 19th century already -- than can probably be listed.

Quote

 

The British Museum Reading Room, situated in the centre of the Great Court of the British Museum, used to be the main reading room of the British Library. In 1997, this function moved to the new British Library building at St Pancras, London, but the Reading Room remains in its original form at the British Museum.

Designed by Sydney Smirke and opened in 1857, the Reading Room was in continual use until its temporary closure for renovation in 1997. It was reopened in 2000, and from 2007 to 2014 it was used to stage temporary exhibitions. It has since been closed while its future use remains under discussion.

 

The Ashmoleon at Oxford, comes to mind most lately in Harkness's Discovery of Witches.

Not to mention The Library in The Magicians!

My favorite though, hails back to childhood, a juvenile novel set at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century in the Midwest, in which the protagonist visits her local lending library, always in search of a new title by Louisa May Alcott.  That her favorite title has been borrowed by someone else helps that that person to become a close friend.  I don't recall the title of the book or the author's name though.  Authors didn't mean anything to me back then.

Edited by Zorral

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Marquis, I cried when the library of Gormenghast burned.

I was aghast when the library of Alexandria burned in Colleen McCulloughs book in the Roman historical fiction series.

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Posted (edited)
23 hours ago, sologdin said:

professor derrida tells us that our notion of an 'archive' derives from greek arche, both commencement and commandment: "initially a house, a domicile, an address, the residence of the superior magistrates, the archons, those who commanded” and whereat “the official documents are filed,” giving the archons “hermeneutic right and competence.” it commingles an “archontic dimension of domiciliation” with an “archic, in truth patriarchic, function.” it follows that “a politics of the archive is our permanent orientation […] there is no political power without control of the archive.”

that said, i prefer the one in the breakfast club, if we're measuring it by its function as a literary setting (but cf. RSB's library scene).  as measured by the contents, all of the private collections of esoterica in perez-reverte's club dumas--though the same principle is at work in all fictive collections, from HPL forward.

Sauglish or the Sareotic Library?

 

See also, Borges' Library of Babel

Eta: ah, the 'archons' suggest Sauglish over the Sareotic Library, though I suppose a case could be made for both.

Edited by larrytheimp

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Posted (edited)

i wasn't thinking of sauglish, though the principle is the same, agreed.  each collection is connected with the origin and authority of its respective state's jurisdiction; the sareotic's rule to permit copying of manuscripts inures to the benefit of its conqueror, as i recall it.  sauglish happens to connect directly to the arche component, a step in the archaeology.  but both are counterpoints to the breakfast club--even if all three involve destruction of books (is that libricide? bibliocide violates classical compound rules).

Edited by sologdin

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I found the monastery library in The Name of the Rose interesting.

Also liked the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

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- Eco: Name of the Rose, which is of course a huge hommage to Borges

- Wolfe: Book the New Sun, dito

- Pratchett: Discworld

- Walter Moers: The City of Dreaming Books

- There is (at least) one MR James ghost stories that uses the Bodleian Library or a fictionalized variant as (part of) the setting

- I had a Jack Vance story in mind but apparently what I thought of is actually a museum (in "Guyal of Sfere", the last story of the first Dying Earth book)

 

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On 8/3/2019 at 8:05 PM, Jo498 said:

I had a Jack Vance story in mind but apparently what I thought of is actually a museum (in "Guyal of Sfere", the last story of the first Dying Earth book)

Ah yes. The sum of all human knowledge... but no index.

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So this is actually from a television episode of Doctor Who, but they do make a lot of Doctor Who stories into books so maybe this could count; in the episode Silence in the Library the Doctor finds himself on a planet that is entirely a library housing all the literature in the galaxy. We mostly get to see the inside of just a few rooms, but there are a couple of shots of the outside and it's pretty rad. I mean an entire library planet?! Yes please.

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8 hours ago, Joey Crows said:

So this is actually from a television episode of Doctor Who, but they do make a lot of Doctor Who stories into books so maybe this could count; in the episode Silence in the Library the Doctor finds himself on a planet that is entirely a library housing all the literature in the galaxy. We mostly get to see the inside of just a few rooms, but there are a couple of shots of the outside and it's pretty rad. I mean an entire library planet?! Yes please.

Great library! It's just a shame that flesh-eating shadows tend to ruin the library experience.

 

 

 

 

 

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21 minutes ago, Wall Flower said:

Great library! It's just a shame that flesh-eating shadows tend to ruin the library experience.

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah that’s the one problem haha.

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On 8/1/2019 at 4:43 PM, Astromech said:

The Library at Mount Char

If you break the Librarians rules you will be PUNISHED. 

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The strange thing about libraries in fiction is that there are often more books around than there plausibly are people who can read them, or for that matter, have written them in the first place. Take Discworld's Unseen University, where a couple hundred wizards have lived and worked for a few thousand years. If every wizard writes ten books during a sixty-year career, and all those numbers have been stable for six thousand years, it works out to a couple hundred thousand books provided every book is preserved. Give them 5 cm of shelf space each, that's 10,000 shelf-meters. Divide by five books in height, that's 2000 meters of bookshelves. It's a lot, but it's a number you can increase by a couple orders of magnitude before you get to a library so vast you need to prepare for a multi-day expedition to find the book you're looking for (at which point indexing them starts to become a real problem too, which The Kingkiller Chronicles went into in a little more detail). The library at Hogwarts faces the same issue, with a total magical population in Britain the size of a small town (I think the number 3,000 was floated around somewhere), few of which ever write books. Yet Hogwarts still has a vast library of exclusively magical nature.

Or consider magical libraries filled with all conceivable books, every book ever written or every book ever not written. Finding anything of real value in those would be a futile task. Even the index detailing which rooms hold the shelves full of indexes of book indexes would by definition be infinitely long. Any given title pulled from the shelves could be a version of some book that for some reason has a page printed upside down somewhere. You'd come across vast sections of user manuals for Javascript version 1997. Poorly written fan-fiction. Notebooks filled with gibberish. Books written in languages nobody ever spoke. Assembly instructions for discontinued IKEA furniture. Phone books from long-since-lost cities. The Sears catalog, anno 1938.

Magical libraries sound so enticing in theory, but once you start running the numbers few of them ever make sense. Then again, it tends not to be important unless you're making a meta-discussion on fictional libraries.

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