Libraries represent a world of open opportunities, the ability to not only learn but to immerse yourself in any number of worlds fictional or not. The library is a magical place and often it is within fictional worlds that this is demonstrated the most. Fictional libraries are often depicted as either realistic spaces in which characters retreat to learn or they are majestic and magical beings.
The libraries that are featured within this list have been taken from a number of sources, ranging from films, television shows, books and even poetry. The libraries discussed within are huge and humble, magical and mundane, but what they all have in common is they all have a powerful presence. The libraries within this list all represent what is so wondrous about books and the libraries that house them. However, as with modern libraries, books are not all that lie within their shelves, there is so many possibilities within the buildings themselves. It is this potential that often sees fictional libraries held at a highly esteem, often at a magical and other worldly level.
So without further ado, here are my top five fictional libraries.
• Coming in at number five is: Belle’s Library from the Beauty and the Beast.
The library that The Beast presents to Belle is not only large but it is so incredibly beautiful. Within its walls are writing space, a fireplace and numerous spaces to just sit and read. The shelves that reach to the ceiling and the three levels and staircases used to access the books are so stunning. The amount of natural light and the soft blues of the decorating all combine to create a simply beautiful library. The fact that is a private, albeit royal, library makes it even more amazing.
There is a wonderful meme floating around that follows that while some children wanted the Prince, the library was what hooked people. For me, this could not have more true. While the film was not my favourite Disney film growing up as a child (Little Mermaid has that honour), Belle was the character I was most drawn too. ‘Her nose stuck in a book’ is something that strikes very close to home for me, so naturally the revelation of such a massive and beautiful library is one that created envious feelings. Indeed, in the idea of my perfect house, a library such as this was, and I will admit still, features quite heavily.
• In fourth spot is The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
The 2011, American short film tells the story of Mr Morris Lessmore as he finds and interacts with a magical library of flying books. Directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, the film demonstrates the powers of not only books but that of storytelling. The Academy Award Winning piece is one that has made it onto this list because of its adorable depiction of a library populated by flying books.
Mr Morris, transported to the mysterious world by a hurricane, looks after the needs of the flying books all the while writing within his notebook. A lovely part of the short film is when other people of the world visit the library and take home a book; they go from being black and white characters, to multi-coloured, fleshed out ones. The books within the library literally colour and illuminate the people who read them. It is often the contents of a library that defines it, just as a special collection can become a defining feature of a library, so too is Mr. Morris’ library defined by its adorable flying books.
• Coming in at third is: The Library from Doctor. Who.
In episode eight of the fourth season, the Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate – who I would argue is the best companion – please don’t kill me Dr. Who fans) visit the greatest library in universe. Within the planet sized library is a copy of every book ever created; in addition to the largest hard drive that holds not only the index of the library but a digital copy of every text. The sheer size of the library grounds is only trumped by the rich story telling that happens within the many library buildings.
Without giving away the whole plot of the episodes, the library is not only a glorious one but it is one that holds many secrets and dangers. The library is the largest in the universe, boasting a copy of every text ever created but it is also strikingly beautiful. Within many fictional library representations, the buildings themselves are described and represented as things of great beauty.
• In second place is the rather unusual, Library by Albert Goldbarth.
More of a metaphysical library than a ‘real’ fictional library (if you can even claim such a thing) the library in question is comprised simply of lines from a poem. Each sentence within the list poem, Library, begins with the line, ‘This book.’ Following this repeated line are a wide range of sentences that describe an even wider range of, one hopes, non-existent books. Each line and each new book described within the poem are what are used to create and make up the library of the title.
The very first line of the poem starts off as, ‘This book saved my life,’ and then continues to list many other books. The books included within the poem and ‘library’ range from the humourous (‘This book smells like salami’), to narrative based snippets (‘This book I stole from Cornell University’s Olin Library in the spring of 1976. Presumably, its meter’s still running. Presumably, it still longs for its Dewey’d place in the dim-lit stacks’), to the downright beautiful (‘This book poured its colours into my childhood so strongly, they remain a dye in my imagination today’). Not only is the poem an enjoyable read but each individual book and snippet featured within the poem are enough to create an immerse and diverse library.
• In first place is The Great Library featured within the Thursday Next books by Jasper FForde.
Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series is an experience. The word creation and depth that the stories create is staggering. Set in an alternate universe, the protagonist Thursday Next finds herself at the mercy of a number of fictional issues. The whims of a villain, issues concerning space and time and the need to police the literary world are only the tip of the iceberg that is the world Fforde has created. Within this entire universe however is the Bookworld and within this world is The Great Library.
Run by the head-librarian, the Cheshire Cat (although now known as the Cat Formerly Known as Cheshire) the Great Library is described as having 52 levels, 26 upper and 26 lower levels (It should be noted that a Great Library exists for every language). Not only does the library house every manuscript ever published but it also housed every manuscript ever created
What sets the Great Library apart from other fictional libraries are the lower 26 levels. This area is known as the Well of Lost Plots and is where the unpublished manuscripts are kept. The abandoned novel of yours hidden safely away in your bottom drawer is in fact a living breathing world, occupied by the characters you have created. Not only does the library house this special collection but it often serves as the base of operations for the JurisFiction. The operation and operatives, Thursday Next herself included, police the activities and narratives of literature, making sure that plots are not changed and characters continue to perform their proper roles. Not only is the Great Library number one on the lost but the entire series comes highly recommended as they are all highly entertaining and vastly imaginative reads.
The libraries featured within this list are all ones that embrace the importance of libraries, with each one displaying different nuances of the purpose of libraries. Where The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore shows the transformative powers of libraries, Goldbarth and Fforde show the playfulness of such sites, indeed the Doctor Who library shows the immersion that can occur within library walls. However the libraries within the list exhibit a certain beauty and majesty which, seen primarily in Belle’s library, is something that all the fictional libraries within the list share. Just as libraries hold an important place within fictional works, so too do libraries hold a significant and important place within the world today.
Honourable mentions: The Pagemaster, Harry Potter, Unseen University Library from the Disc World series.