Bibliofantasies: The Secret Lives of Books

August 3, 2021 | Isabel

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Libraries are finally open for browsing! Celebrate books and libraries at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy with our current exhibit, Bibliofantasies: The Secret Lives of Books. Discover the great power of books and those who guard them. This exhibit is open from July 19 to October 9, 2021 in the Merril Collection, on the third floor of Lillian H. Smith Branch.


Everyone knows that books are magical, mysterious things. They must never be judged by their covers and are much more than the physical objects they appear to be. Yes, they are made of sheets of paper, and are filled with words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters... but, more importantly, they are filled with ideas, whether fictional or not, and ideas are very powerful things. In the Merril Collection, our books are full of strange worlds and endless possibilities. Each book here has its own special secrets.

The Arimaspian Legacy

The Arimaspian Legacy by Gene Wolfe

Some books are the heroes of their own stories, containing powers that bewitch or bedevil their readers. In "The Arimaspian Legacy" by Gene Wolfe, a collector finds a book that teaches him all the secrets of life but comes with a terrible price. This short story was first published as a chapbook, hand-printed and bound by Cheap Street press. You can also read it in the short story collection Starwater Strains (available at the Merril Collection) or online

The Strange Library

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

Some books live in libraries, which themselves contain untold mysteries and menacing threats. In this book, a young boy becomes trapped in a surreal maze within the library after asking for books about tax collection in the Ottoman Empire. 

Doc Savage and Renny in Doc's Library
"Doc Savage and Renny in Doc's Library" by Joe DeVito.
Commissioned and donated by David Cohen. Used with permission.

"Doc Savage and Renny in Doc's Library." Oil painting by Joe DeVito.

In this painting, Clark "Doc" Savage Jr. and Colonel John "Renny" Renwick face down a threat in the library of Doc's headquarters. Doc Savage first appeared in pulp magazines in the 1930s and 1940s as a near-superhuman action hero, dedicated to doing good. 

In the House of the Seven Librarians

In the House of the Seven Librarians by Ellen Klages

Librarians themselves often have secrets of their own. It is a great honour and a serious responsibility to guard the power of books. In one of our curator Myrna's favourite short stories, an old Carnegie library has been closed but its seven long-time librarians refuse to leave. Locked in and hidden by a magic forest, they are undisturbed until the day a very overdue book of fairy tales is left in the book drop, along with an unexpected fine payment. You can also read this short story in the anthology Firebirds Rising

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Many stories show us that libraries and the love of reading will persist against all odds. Ray Bradbury’s classic novel, "Fahrenheit 451," shows us what our world could be like if books and libraries were no longer part of our lives. In a totalitarian future, firemen start fires instead of extinguishing them and are responsible for burning censored books. A fireman begins to question his role, when he meets a woman willing to burn rather than surrender her forbidden library.

The Door to Lost Pages

The Door to Lost Pages by Claude Lalumière

Like libraries, bookstores can be powerful places, the settings for great adventures. In this Canadian novel, a young runaway is chased by primordial monsters into a bookshop called Lost Pages. There she finds a surreal realm of warring supernatural entities and, oddly, strength and refuge from her troubles.

Lost in a Good Book

Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Some books are themselves magical doorways into other worlds, through which people can come and go. In this book, the second in the Thursday Next series, literary detective Thursday Next learns the art of bookjumping in order to enter fictional works while in search of her missing husband.


Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Meggie is an avid reader like her father Mortimer, a bookbinder who can magically bring storybook characters to life by reading them aloud. A certain battered green book in their collection is the source of many mysterious adventures.

The Binding

The Binding by Bridget Collins

In some cases, we ourselves might become books. In The Binding, book binders have a special power. They can free people from unwanted memories, binding them into books. Those who have been bound have no recollection of the binding, but their memories live on between the pages.

Some books blur the lines between reality and fiction.

Codex Seraphinianus

Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini

Created by author, architect and artist Luigi Serafini, the "Codex Seraphinianus" is an encyclopedia of an imaginary world. Written in an indecipherable invented language, it hovers on the verge of intelligibility. Its strange script and whimsical illustrations bring to mind mysterious encrypted books like the Voynich Manuscript.

Venus on the Half-Shell

Venus on the Half-Shell by Philip José Farmer

Written by Philip José Farmer as Kilgore Trout, the fictional author frequently referenced in Kurt Vonnegut's books. Venus on the Half-Shell was first mentioned in Vonnegut's novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, in which there were also excerpts of the nonexistent book. Using those excerpts, Farmer spun a full story to bring this fictional book to life.

These books and more are on display in Bibliofantasies: The Secret Lives of Books from July 19 to October 9, 2021 in the Merril Collection, on the third floor of Lillian H. Smith Branch.


Writing originally by Annette Mocek. Additional content and edits by Isabel Fine, Kim Hull and Myrna Scully-Ashton.