Sunday, February 28, 2016

Imaginary Libraries

Libraries of imaginary books delight us because they allow thus the pleasure of creation without the effort of research and writing.  But they are also doubly disturbing--first because they cannot be collected, and secondly because they cannot be read.  Theses promising treasures must remain closed to all readers.  Every one of them can claim the title Kipling gives to the never-to-be-written tale of the young bank clerk Charlie Mears, "The Finest Story in the World."  And yet  the hunt for such imaginary books, though necessarily fruitless, remains compelling.  What devotee of horror stories has not dreamt of coming upon a copy of the Necronomicon, the demonic manual invented by H. P. Lovecraft in his dark Cthulhu saga?  According to Lovecraft, the Al Azif (to give it its original title) was written by Abdul Alhazred  c. 730 in Damascus.  In 950 it was translated into Greek under the title Necronomicon by Theodorus Philetas, bu the sole copy was burnt by the Patriarch Michael in 1050.  In 1228 Olaus translated the original (now lost) into Latin.  A copy of the work is supposed kept in the library of Miskatonic University in Arkham, "one well known for certain forbidden manuscripts and books gradually accumulated over a period of centuries and begun in colonial times."

Not all imaginary libraries contain imaginary books.  The library that the barber and the priest condemn to the flames in the first part of Don Quixote;  Mr. Casaubon's scholarly library in George Eliot's Middlemarch;  Des Esseintes's languorous library in Huysman's A Rebours;  the murderous monastic library in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose . . .  all these are merely wishful.  Given money enough and time, such dream libraries could find a solid reality.  

from The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel, pp 283-84.


Stephen said...

I find it interesting when an imaginary book is defictionalized, the way reference books mentioned throughout the Harry Potter series have been made real ("Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them", for instance).

It doesn't happen a lot, though.

James said...


That is certainly fascinating. Harry Potter seems like fertile ground for this sort of thing.

Brian Joseph said...

This is a great subject for a post James.

The Necronomicon is such a fascinating literary creation. Indeed I would love to leaf through a copy.

James said...


I hope to explore this topic further along with more selections about fictional characters reading.