Places: The Great Library of the Clayr

“She knew the general layout well.  The Library was shaped like a nautilus shell, a continuous tunnel that would down into the mountain in an ever-tightening spiral.  This main spiral was an enormously long, twisting ramp that took you from the high reaches of the mountain down past the level of the valley floor, several thousand feet below.

“Off the main spiral, there were countless other corridors, rooms, halls, and strange chambers.  Many were full of the Clayr’s written records, mainly documenting the prophesies and visions of many generations of seers.  But they also contained books and papers from all over the Kingdom.  Books of magic and mystery, knowledge both ancient and new.  Scrolls, maps, spells, recipes, inventories, stories, true tales, and Charter knew what else.

“In addition to all these written works, the Great Library also housed other things.  There were old armories within it, containing weapons and armor that had not been used for centuries but still stayed bright and new.  There were rooms full of odd paraphernalia that no one now knew how to use.  There were chambers where dressmakers’ dummies stood fully clothed, displaying the fashions of bygone Clayr or the wildly different costumes of the barbaric North.  There were greenhouses tended by sendings, with Charter marks for light as bright as the sun.  There were rooms of total darkness, swallowing up the light and anyone foolish enough to enter unprepared.”

“Aside from the inaccessibility of the most interesting parts, the Great Library met most of Lirael’s hopes.  She was given a small study of her own.  Barely wider than her outstretched arms, it contained nothing but a narrow desk, a chair, and several shelves.  But it was a refuge, somewhere she would be left alone, secure from Aunt Kirrith’s intrusions.  It was meant for quiet study, in Lirael’s case, of the set of texts of the beginning librarian: The Librarian’s Rules, Basic Bibliography, and The Large Yellow Book: Simple Spells for Third Assistant Librarians.”


This post is a Place Description quoted from Garth Nix’s Lirael.  I intend no slight to the author in using this excerpt, in fact I recommend that you visit your nearest library or bookstore and get your hands on the real thing.

The fact that the first 350 pages of this book take place in The Great Library of the Clayr is one of several reasons its on my all time favorite book list.  This book glorifies the idea of a library – it turns research into an adventure story.  But libraries are almost always amazing places.  They have a wonderful capacity to be both public and private space – as the passages above show.

The bulk of this particular library is dedicated to the collected record keeping of an entire culture over centuries (possibly millennia).  It is held in common for the community and curated by a team of librarians.  Theoretically anyone can use it.  Actually there are levels of restricted access which only the very senior (or very determined) can enter.  At the center is a reading room where anyone can congregate and which librarians use to socialize with each other.  At the same time the library contains private spaces.

Lirael’s study is her dream come true – a private space in a very communal life.  Even though it is tiny it gives her everything she needs – a separate place-of-her-own where she can work out who she is and who she wants to become.

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