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Top 10 Secret Libraries of all time

October 18, 2017

The Greatest Magical Librarians!

What could be more exciting than magical books in a secret library? (All the more so with hundreds of public libraries under threat.) A library of dark magic is hidden inside the Royal Society of Magic in the third part of my children’s trilogy Archie Greene and the Raven’s Spell (Faber & Faber, June 2017).

I wrote about my Top Ten Secret Libraries for the Guardian – so here are my pick of magical librarians.

I have to start with Pongo pongo, the librarian at the Unseen University Library — a pastiche of Oxford’s Bodleian library from Terry Pratchett’s brilliant Discword series. A native of Bhangbhangduc and nearby islands, he was a human wizard until a strong wave of magic transformed him into an orang-utan in the second novel, the Light Fantastic. The other wizards were far too busy to help him get back to his human form and he quickly discovered that having opposable toes was useful to a librarian because it comes in handy for climbing bookshelves.

Going the extra mile, too, is Sourdust the librarian from Mervyn Peake’s classic fantasy series Gormenghast, who gave his life in the line of duty.  Sourdust (brilliant name!) is Master of Ritual, responsible for the various arcane ceremonies that make up daily life in Castle Gormenghast. Sourdust even came to resemble a book. “His beard was knotted and the hairs that composed it were black and white. His face was very lined, as though it had been made of brown paper that had been crunched by some savage hand.” Sadly, though, he perishes in the Library Fire, and his son Barquentine replaces him.

Rupert Giles is the librarian and authority figure in Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Primarily a Watcher, working for the Watcher’s Council, a British organisation overseeing the actions of the Slayer, Rupert serves as a surrogate father to the eponymous heroine Buffy Summers. From childhood, Giles was expected to follow the family tradition and become a Watcher, but as a teenager he rebelled (as all good librarians should) dropping out of Oxford to dabble in dark magic and rock music.

No roll call of magical librarians would be complete without Madam Irma Prince, the formidable librarian at Hogwarts School of Wizardry. The Hogwarts Library is located off a corridor on the first floor of the castle and houses tens of thousands of books about magic. Madam Prince also guards the Restricted Section, a part of the library closed off by a rope, where the books containing powerful Dark Magic never taught at Hogwarts are kept. Madam Prince is a stickler for the rules. The library closes at 8.00 pm sharp and no chocolate is allowed inside.

The last pick is hard. Contenders include Jocasta Nu, the female Jedi Master and Chief Librarian of the Jedi Archives in the Star Wars series.

But my final place goes to the real life character Dr. John Dee. The enigmatic Dr Dee (1527–1609) has been called Queen Elizabeth I’s court magician and was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s character Prospero, the sorcerer in the Tempest. Dee scoured Europe to assemble the most remarkable private collection of books in England at the time. Sadly, the library and his laboratory were ransacked whilst he was away traveling in Bohemia, but some of his books ended up in a recent exhibition at the Royal Society of Physicians.

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