50 Weird and Wonderful Items at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy
In 1970, science-fiction author and editor Judith Merril donated 5,000 books to Toronto Public Library to found the “Spaced Out Library”. 50 years later, the collection — now known as the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy — has over 80,000 items and is celebrated as one of the top research collections of its kind.
This virtual exhibit offers a peek into the stacks at 50 unique items. Merril Collection staff selected the rare, the weird and the wonderful: first editions, unusual formats, collectors' editions, cookbooks, cassettes, paintings, graphic novels, pop-ups, fanfiction, role playing games and more. These items come from the expansive worlds of speculative fiction, the umbrella term for genres of the “what if?” — science fiction, fantasy and horror.
These items can only be viewed in the reading room of the Merril Collection at our Lillian H. Smith Branch. Due to the Grey-Lockdown category restrictions, the collection is closed for in-person use at this time.
1. A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder
Canada’s first speculative fiction novel, this book tells the story of a lost world located in the Antarctic.
2. The Sailor Moon Role-Playing Game and Resource Book
A tie-in to the popular anime, this RPG allows players to inhabit Sailor Moon’s famous heroes and villains.
3. Edward Gorey's Dracula: a Toy Theatre
Edward Gorey and Dracula are a match made in heaven (or maybe below). This toy theatre replicates Gorey’s costume and set designs for the 1977 Broadway production of Dracula.
4. Little Nemo in Slumberland
This jumbo-sized edition replicates the original experience of reading Little Nemo newspaper comics, faithful to the strip’s size and stunning art nouveau colours.
5. The Palm-Wine Drinkard and his Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Dead's Town
Nigerian novelist Amos Tutuola was inspired by Yoruba legends when he wrote this fantastical story of one man’s search for palm-wine. The Palm-Wine Drinkard was the first Nigerian novel to be published internationally.
6. Murmers of Earth: The Voyageur Interstellar Record
This published set of laser discs includes the sounds and images sent with the Voyager spacecraft (describing Earth and some of its life and culture), and images returned to Earth from the spacecraft's cameras.
7. Game of Thrones: a Pop-Up Guide to Westeros
Based on the series of books by George R. R. Martin, this was designed by renowned paper engineer Matthew Reinhart to be read as a pop-up book or opened into a map with pop-up features.
8. After Man: a Zoology of the Future
A work of speculative zoology, paleontologist Dougal Dixon imagines evolution after homo sapiens’ extinction.
9. The Ship That Sailed to Mars: a Fantasy
William Timlin wrote and illustrated this beautiful book in which an old man, with the help of fairies, sails to Mars.
10. The War of the Worlds
A first edition of H. G. Wells’ science fiction classic. This chilling first-hand account of a Martian invasion of Earth has been adapted to radio, film and television.
11. The 2003 Hugo Award for Best Related Book
Awarded during the 61st annual World Science Fiction Convention to Judith Merril and Emily Pohl-Weary for Merril’s memoir, Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril.
12. Always Coming Home and Music and Poetry of the Kesh
This novel takes the form of an anthropological survey of the Kesh, a people who live in post-apocalyptic California. It was issued with an audiocassette entitled “Music and Poetry of the Kesh”, composed and performed by Todd Barton.
13. The Rhyme Maidens (Broadsheet)
A hand-printed broadsheet by George A. Walker of Biting Dog Press, made in celebration of the wedding of Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer.
14. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Figure Set - 5003 “Woodland Adventurers”
A set of 24 small lead figurines, some hand painted, others unfinished, for Dungeons and Dragons.
15. Codex Seraphinianus
Beautifully illustrated with surreal drawings, this mysterious book appears to be an encyclopedia of an imaginary world, with text in an imaginary script.
16. Le Vingtième Siècle: la Vie Électrique
Albert Robida (1848–1926), a satirist and contemporary of Jules Verne, imagined France in the 1950s with flying cars and a woman president.
17. Dressing a Galaxy
This large coffee table book is sumptuously illustrated with detailed photos, close-ups and sketches of all of the costumes in the “prequel” series of Star Wars movies.
18. My Immortal
This book, beautifully bound by local book artist and illustrator, Julia Periera, is a piece of Harry Potter fanfiction. My Immortal is infamous for its bad writing and uncertain provenance. It has become a cultural touchstone of fandom.
19. Anonymous Untitled Lunar Exploration Painting
An anonymous gouache painting shows an early design for the NASA lunar lander in the background and an astronaut in the foreground. It likely dates from the early 1950s, possibly a potential illustration for a series entitled “Man will conquer space soon!” by Collier’s Magazine.
20. Untitled Painting by Hannes Bok
This Art Deco-style nude with a deer is typical of the style of Hannes Bok, an important figure in science fiction art. Dated 1946, the painting is inscribed “To Judi” — possibly Judith Merril? Both Merril and Bok were members of a community of science fiction writers, artists and fans called “The Futurians” based in New York at that time.
21. The Hollow Grounds: NogegoN
A graphic novel by Belgian artist and architect Francois Schuiten, told in palindrome form. It is the same tale when read from front-to-back or from back-to-front.
22. Brian Froud’s World of Faerie and The Secret Sketchbook of Brian Froud
English fantasy artist Brian Froud’s distinctive vision of faerie was the basis of the Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal films. This cloth-bound portfolio includes an original art print signed by Froud, two lavishly illustrated art books, a resin sculpture of the Green Man, a poster featuring a poem by Neil Gaiman and a DVD of interviews with the artist.
23. Superman: Masterpiece Edition
This tribute was published in honour of the 60th anniversary of Superman, the legendary superhero created by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. The set includes an illustrated history by Les Daniels, a facsimile of the very first issue of Superman and a collectible figurine.
24. Building Stories
American cartoonist Chris Ware spent 10 years creating this multi-volume graphic novel. The boxed set contains an assortment of print formats, including cloth-bound books, newspapers, comic strips and a fold-out storyboard.
25. The Vance Integral Edition
The Vance Integral Edition project was a worldwide collaborative effort to transcribe the corrected editions of the complete works of American writer Jack Vance. The text of all 44 volumes was transcribed by volunteers and financed by private donation. Fewer than 600 sets were printed.
26. The Return of Tarzan
An example of the popular Armed Forces Editions printed by the Council on Books in Wartime between 1943 and 1947 for American soldiers overseas. These pocket-sized books were manufactured in sets of two titles using equipment designed for producing digest-sized magazines.
27. The Road Goes Ever On: a Song Cycle (Poems)
Long before Howard Shore composed majestic soundtracks for the Lord of the Rings films, other musicians experimented with setting the poems of J. R. R. Tolkien to music. This charming songbook contains seven melodies composed by pianist Donald Swann (of the British comedy duo Flanders and Swann). It features decorations by J. R. R. Tolkien and Samuel Hanks Bryant.
28. The Bakery Men Don’t See
What better way to raise funds than to hold a bake sale? This cookbook was published in conjunction with the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award bake sale held at the 1992 WisCon convention in Madison Wisconsin. The award celebrates Alice Sheldon, an acclaimed science fiction writer who published under a male pseudonym. Her works were described as “Ineluctably masculine,” no doubt to her amusement.
29. Gil Kane’s the Amazing Spider-Man: Artist Edition
This volume collects Spider-Man issues 96 to 102 and 121. Issues 96 through 98 are considered infamous as they did not receive the Comics Code Authority approval because of a storyline depicting drug use. Issue 101 features the very first appearance of Morbius. 121 features the death of Gwen Stacy.
30. The Hauntings at Tankerton Park
This delightfully macabre story told in verse is richly illustrated in Reggie Oliver’s style — reminiscent of Edward Gorey. The first edition copy features a slipcase and an original signed drawing.
Nick Sousanis uses collage from comics to explore different ways of seeing taken from philosophy, science, literature, art and mythology.
32. Al Azif [the Necronomicon]
A fictional book, written by a fictional author, in a fictional language. It was first mentioned in H. P. Lovecraft’s 1922 short story The Hound, and there has been a certain amount of intrigue surrounding the title since. This limited edition is #178 of 300.
33. The Grimoire: and other Supernatural Stories
The Encyclopedia of Fantasy refers to Montague Summers as “the major anthologist of supernatural and Gothic literature” in the 1930s. Signed by the editor, this collection compiles various stories including The Vampyre by John William Polidori (1819) considered the earliest work of vampire literature.
34. Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery
Considered to be a rare edition, this was Le Fanu’s first collection of short stories. J. Sheridan Le Fanu was one of the important supernatural fiction writers of the 19th century.
35. Film Fantasy Scrapbook
This second edition copy features a moving introduction by Harryhausen’s longtime friend, Ray Bradbury. Harryhausen was an Academy Award-winner for Visual Effects and pioneer in the use of stop-motion animation effects.
36. The Crow
A re-issue of the original graphic novel, after being out-of-print for several years. The Crow character inspired a cult-classic film of the same name which spawned several sequels.
37. Flash Gordon in the Ice World of Mongo
An early rival of Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon was a character created by Alex Raymond in 1934. His comic book adventures were collected in various forms, including this “Big Little Book” which also features a flip-book “movie.”
38. The Gazette, Vol. V, no., 1, 2 and 3. November 1875
“The Vampire,” a story in three parts by Julius L. Corore, was the first example of vampire fiction to appear in a North American “amateur” periodical.
39. Scoops: Stories of the Wonder-world of Tomorrow, Vol. 1, no.17, June 2, 1934
This short-lived British science fiction tabloid magazine, printed in 1934, contains an early reprint of Arthur Conan Doyle’s story “The Poison Belt.” In it, the Earth passes through a ribbon of noxious gas and is almost destroyed.
40. The World of Null-A / The Universe Maker
From 1952 to 1973 the Ace Book company published hundreds of “double” novels, published in tête-bêche format (head-to-toe, with two different front covers). This is the first science fiction title published as a double. A. E. van Vogt was a Mennonite Canadian sci-fi writer born in Manitoba.
41. Alice in Sunderland
A combination of fact and fiction, this graphic novel explores the wonders of Sunderland, the town where Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland. Bryan Talbot signed this copy when he visited the Merril Collection in 2007.
42. Shadow on the Hearth
This is the first edition of Judith Merril’s first novel, about the lives of a Westchester woman and her two children after atomic bombs are dropped on New York City.
43. Frankenstein or, the Modern Prometheus
This edition of Frankenstein is illustrated with gorgeous wood engravings by Lynd Ward. The Merril Collection also has an original print from the book.
44. The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
When this short story by Edgar Allan Poe was published in 1845, many readers thought it was a true story. But its account of a man put under hypnosis as he dies was fiction. Biting Dog Press’ edition of the tale is bound in brown leather with decorative blind stamping to the covers.
45. Native Tongue, The Judas Rose, and Earthsong
Suzette Haden Elgin was an American science fiction author and linguist. Native Tongue is the first novel in Elgin’s feminist science fiction series of the same name. The trilogy is centered in a future dystopian American society where the 19th Amendment was repealed in 1996 and women have been stripped of civil rights. A group of women, part of a worldwide group of linguists who facilitate human communication with alien races, create a new language for women as an act of resistance.
46. A First Dictionary and Grammar of Laaden
Láadan is a constructed language created by the author in 1982 to test the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis for women, specifically to determine if Western natural languages were better suited for expressing the views of men than women. The language was included in Elgin's Native Tongue science fiction series.
47. Maus, a Survivor's Tale
Art Spiegelman was the recipient of a Pulitzer Letters award in 1992 for Maus, which depicts his father’s experiences during the Holocaust.
48. The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins, a Cornish Man
This first edition of Paltock’s lost world adventure is the oldest item in the Merril Collection, dating back to 1751.
49. Empires of Foliage and Flower: a Tale from the Book of the Wonders of Urth and Sky
Beautifully hand-printed and bound by Cheap Street Press, this 80-page story by Gene Wolfe was selected for publication because of its literary merit.
50. Chronicles of Rodriguez
This vellum-bound 1922 first edition is one of 500 copies signed by Lord Dunsany and his preferred fantasy illustrator, Sidney H. Sime.
More from our Spaced Out celebration, marking 50 years of the Merril Collection: