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Novels with giant, possibly magical, libraries (charlieharrington.com)
25 points by whatrocks on Feb 7, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 41 comments

"I'm the disreputable dog. I'm your friend" <3

- Discworld is an obvious thing here.

- Anathem has a distributed network of libraries of most knowledge with an interesting time-limited distirbution scheme.

- Snow Crash has A Librarian -- and also a hypercard knowledge system.

- If On A Winter's Night, A Traveller by Italo Calvino features books and libraries prominently. They're not exactly magical, but they're not...not magical, either.

edit: it's not a novel, but the library in the sands in Avatar is another fine example of this trope.

Discworld definitely, though none of the books focus really specifically on the library, the whole concept of L-Space and the related plots are wonderful.

Not to mention the librarian :)

Thanks -- I'll be adding all these. Can't believe I forgot the Stephenson examples. The Calvino book looks great.

And.. the Disreputable Dog. I'll always be her friend, too.


"I have quoted this line in full because it is the last example on record of a bad sentence by Italo Calvino."

If you haven't yet, check out the audiobooks of the Abhorsen books. Tim Curry makes an excellent snarky cat with mysterious powers...

"instead of making myself write the book I ought to write, the (“neo-realistic”) novel that was expected of me, I conjured up the book I myself would have liked to read, the sort by an unknown writer, from another age and another country, discovered in an attic."


oh, hell. Sandman. Dream of the endless has a library full of all the books their author's didnt' write. Like Marlowe's "The Merrie Comedy of the Redemption of Dr. Faustus", or Wodehouses' "Psmith and Jeeves".

How'd i forget that one...


Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep has a "dataset", basically an educator PDA for a child (covered in fake fur, IIRC) that contains a nearly bottomless amount of information. It's captured and used by an alien race to get a technological advantage in a local war.

I really like the idea that even a kid's toy would have petabytes or exabytes of data, just because it was easy for the designers to include it.

That book also had the archive at Relay, and the archive in the low beyond, the subset of the archive that the Out of Band II carried.

I think that another of his books in the series, A Deepness in the Sky had a broadcast library, a set of core information that was repeatedly broadcast throughout the galaxy, at least that's what I seem to remember.


I was going to list a lot I could think of, but I figured it would be easier to link here. Not linking to TVT because I started this fork, no ads, and less censorship.

Also missed the late, great Terry Pratchett's library of The Unseen University [0].

[0] https://wiki.lspace.org/mediawiki/Library

Somehow I've never picked up any Pratchett books but, after reading this, I'm in:

  *The Library has endless shelves (some of which are Mobius shelves)*
Which one(s) should I add to the list? And, more importantly, where should I start reading?

I would start with "The Colour of Magic" which is the first book and gives an overview of "Discworld"[0]. After that there are quite a few guides relative to the preferred order and you'll have to make your own decisions based on your personal preferences [1].

[0] https://www.terrypratchettbooks.com/discworld-reading-order/

[1] https://www.discworldemporium.com/content/6-discworld-readin...



Thanks! I'll pick up "The Colour of Magic" this weekend. I'm now remembering that I've read "Good Omens" that he did with Neil Gaiman, and I made a note back then to start exploring Discworld, but never followed through with it. Time to fix that.

As an alternative, I might suggest starting with "Guards! Guards!" since it's one of the good plot arc beginnings and actually directly involves the library and L-Space.

I'm also a bit less fond of "The Colour of Magic" since I think his writing style was weaker in his first few books and since his characters were not well established. Both "The Colour of Magic" and "The Light Fanstastic" are very fun books but not quite at the same quality level as his later ones once he found his rhythm and built up his world.

Fully agree.

I wouldn't start with "The Colour of Magic", it is - by far - not the best of the Discworld novels, and tbh I find Rincewind a tad annoying.

I personally find any novel in the Witches arc a lot more enjoyable, starting with "Lords and Ladies". Other good ones: "Carpe Jugulum", "Equal Rites".

Another very enjoyable set is the night watch arc. Both "Guards, Guards" and "Night Watch" are excellent.

[edit]: oh yeah, and how could I forget: "Small Gods". Hilarious even if it stands a little aloof of the rest of the discworld stuff.

That is great if you're planning to read the whole series.

But he didn't hit his stride for a few books, and there are many sub-series to read. For a good stand alone, my favorite is Small Gods. You could also read Equal Rites or Mort. Another great story arc starts with Guards! Guards!

Agreed on Small Gods being the best.

Good Omens is actually a retread of the plot of a Discworld novel, Sourcery.

The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco) surely? The tantalizing sense of loss as rare texts are censored and erased for ever, leaving as their only trace suggestive references and mentions in other works gets me every time.

Came here to mention this one :)

I particularly love it because so much of the library was forbidden knowledge guarded by a religious sect... those words almost always mean a good read is ahead :P

Umberto Eco has said he came up with the idea of the library (and some spoiler-related things) before coming up with any of the characters or premise.

Don't worry, that's on the list! Completely agree. I was devastated over lost books after reading this one.

He missed Rainbows End [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbows_End

Oh, good call! Forgot about that one. I'll add it to the list. I am huge fan of his Zones of Thought books.

Given the mentions of the word throughout the article, I was entirely expecting to see Palimpsest by Charlie Stross[1] in there somewhere. It does feature a very large library, although the plot is more time-travel (and temporal engineering).

[1] https://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/palimpsest-intr...

That sounds almost too perfect - I'll add it to the list (as well as my near-term reading list).

Genevieve Cogman's Invisible Library series features a library that connects to multiple parallel worlds, with the portals anchored by books in its collection that are variants unique to that world. e.g. an original edition of Grimm's fairy tiles with extra stories. The library is big enough to have an internal transportation network.

Probably Ink and Bone should be on there [https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/317174/ink-and-bone...]

I'll add it to the list! I've been on a middle grade / YA tear lately, and this looks excellent.

Thanks for the list but you forgot one of the best series of all times that contains many libraries: A Series of Unfortunate events. I'm slightly ashamed to say I saw it on netflix, rather than reading the books. But, i hear the books are great too.

Borges gets extra points for having infinitely long books in his magical libraries. If you ever flip from a page, you will effectively never see that page again.

The library in Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun has always stuck with me.

Greg Bear's The Way books have a fairly wondrous library which is central to the plot of the first book

Larry Niven's Protector also has a huge library that played a key role in that book

Topical is The Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges. After all, the distinction between a whole library and a single book is rendered meaningless once infinity gets involved!

I don't read much. But movies and TV shows (and Anime) have tons of mysterious libraries.

* Terry Pratchet's Discworld -- `nuff said.

* The Pagemaster (90s film about kid getting trapped inside of adventure books)

* Beauty and the Beast -- The library was the only non-magical part of the enchanted castle, ironically.

* "National Treasure" movie has a few important library scenes

* A Certain Magical Index -- Anime / Light Novel: the female lead "Index" is literally a character who had a library implanted inside of her.

* The Mystic Archives of Dantalian -- Anime / Light Novel: Another one where the female lead is a library of sorts. She's more bookwormish than Index, and actually hangs out at a normal Library most of the time.

* Read or Die -- Another anime with library / paper themed superpowers

* Harry Potter -- So many shenanigans happen in the Hogwarts library, I don't even know where to start.

* Full Metal Alchemist -- The librarian was instrumental to the plot. Its mostly an action show, but there was a period where they had to research some stuff at the Alchemist's library.

* The Ancient Magus' Bride -- I wasn't too fond of the show in general, so I haven't seen it all yet. But there was a very memorable magical library episode. Effectively, the magic library was a trap which can only be escaped if the human receives something from inside. The lead character kept returning to the library (her personal life sucked, so she needed an escape), while the Librarian would continuously give her something so that she could escape each time. When the Librarian ran out of things to give her, he rips up the magical library card (hoping she never returns again). Unfortunately, the lead character is adept in magic and finds her way back even without the library card, to a disastrous consequence.

* The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- A classic, is it not? I guess its a single book that they're working with, but the singular book is magic-space tech that has all the information you could ever need. So its basically a library.

* Ender's Game -- Honorable Mention. Ender's video game with the giant that he plays by himself effectively functions as a library. Its where Ender has self-reflection, and where the malevolent forces push Ender towards one direction of his psyche. Its as much of a "Library" as the "Pagemaster" was IMO.


EDIT: Apparently 'The Pagemaster' is a book in of itself, and is listed in the article. I didn't know that. Harry Potter was also on their list.

Speaking hyperbolically, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood might be the best content across any medium that I've consumed in years. Speaking somewhat less so -- if you're thinking about trying out anime, start here, it's amazing and hilarious with great characters and an intense storyline.

Its hard to beat Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood in general. Its kinda got something for everyone in my experience. A huge variety of people I know like it.

I would argue that there were better anime out there, but they are difficult to get through and may require a good understanding of "anime culture". Ex: When they Cry, or Madoka Magica I would argue are superior.

When they Cry requires a general understanding of visual-novel harem style stories, while Madoka Magica requires a strong understanding of the typical Magical Girl plotline (Sailor Moon, Cardcaptors, Lyrical Girl Nanoha are pretty much required watching BEFORE you watch Madoka Magica)


In contrast: FMA: Brotherhood is self-sufficient. You can enter the show without knowing anything about anime and enjoy it. The only "risk" I have with the show is the chibi-styles / super-cartoony that they push randomly.

Its otherwise a very serious plot, with some quite dramatic moments. So a lot of people feel it to be bipolar since it also uses "cartoon physics" on occasion.

  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy... has all the information you could ever need
It's entire content about Earth was just two words. And that's after Prefect doubled it.

The Doctor Who episode "Silence in the Library" features a library that literally fills an entire planet.

New-Who has some fairly questionable episodes, but this one, the first of a two parter, is actually quite good.

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