50 Weird and Wonderful Items at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy

December 11, 2020 | Nicole

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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. 

An aisle of compact shelving in the Merril Collection showing hundreds of books on either side
A treasure trove of speculative fiction. A fraction of the Merril Collection's 80,000+ items.


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.

A closed cloth-covered book features a cartoonish sea monster emerging from water, holding a copper-coloured cylinder in its mouth.
A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder by James De Mille, 1833–1880 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1888).


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.  

Book cover with Sailor Moon at centre, surrounded by four other characters from the manga series.
The Sailor Moon Role-Playing Game and Resource Book by Mark C. MacKinnon, Mark C., (Guelph, Ontario : Guardians of Order, ca. 1999).


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. 

Paper cutouts of characters and set pieces feature Edward Gorey's distinctive pen-and-ink drawings.
Edward Gorey's Dracula: a Toy Theatre by Edward Gorey, 1925-2000, (Rohnert Park, CA : Pomegranate, 2002).


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.  

A small boy in a white, polka-dot clown suit stands out on a black book cover.
Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay (Palo Alto, Calif. : Sunday Press, 2005).


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.  

A book cover with a modern abstract design in black, white and orange.
The Palm-Wine Drinkard and his Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Dead's Town by Amos Tutuola (New York : Grove Press, [1953]).


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. 

Contents of the boxed set feature planetary images. .
Murmers of Earth: The Voyageur Interstellar Record with contributions by Carl Sagan, 1934-1996, (Burbank, CA: Warner New Media, ca. 1992).


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. 

The snow-covered wall from Game of Thrones is depicted 3D in paper.
Game of Thrones: a Pop-Up Guide to Westeros designed by Matthew Reinhart ([San Rafael, CA]: Insight Editions, [2014]).


8. After Man: a Zoology of the Future

A work of speculative zoology, paleontologist Dougal Dixon imagines evolution after homo sapiens’ extinction.

Book cover with surreal, imaginary long-necked animal with bird-like feet walking through shallow water. 
After Man: a Zoology of the Future by Dougal Dixon (Scarborough [Ont.]: Nelson Canada, 1981).


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. 

Select illustrations from The Ship That Sailed to Mars: a Fantasy by William M. Timlin, 1892-1943, (London: George G. Harrap, ca. 1923).
Select illustrations from The Ship That Sailed to Mars: a Fantasy by William M. Timlin, 1892-1943, (London: George G. Harrap, ca. 1923).


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.

A simple cloth-bound edition with embossed title. 
The War of the Worlds by H. G. (Herbert George) Wells, 1866-1946, (London: William Heinemann, 1898).


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. 

A wooden, mounted Hugo award looks like a bronze spaceship bisecting a maple leaf.
2003 Hugo Award for Best Related Book: 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. 

Box set with audiocasette. The book cover with pastoral landscape.
Always Coming Home and Music and Poetry of the Kesh by Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929-2018, (New York: Harper & Row, ca. 1985).


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.

Poem featuring embossed blue lettering and a woodcut illustration of a bride and groom as skeletons.
The Rhyme Maidens (Broadsheet) by Neil Gaiman, printed by George A. Walker, ca. 2012. Limited edition broadsheet, signed by Gaiman and Walker. #21 of 250.


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. 

Miniature painted figurines.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Figure Set - 5003 “Woodland Adventurers” (Grenadier Models, ca. 1980).


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. 

Inside title page with illustration of mysterious contraption and a rainbow over a hilly landscape
Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini, (New York: Abbeville Press, 1983). First American Edition.


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. 

Book cover with illustration of inventor with flying machine and city silhouetted in background
Le Vingtième Siècle: la Vie Électrique written and illustrated by Albert Robida, 1848–1926 (Paris: A la Librairie illustrée, 1893).


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. 

Book cover with photograph of Queen Padmé Amidala in gown and headress with two cloaked figures
Dressing a Galaxy by Trisha Biggar (New York: Insight Editions in association with H.N. Abrams, 2005).


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.

Open book with interior title page
My Immortal by Tara Gilesbie, (Toronto: Julia Pereira, 2015, c2006).


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. 

Matted unframed painting of astronaut in silver spacesuit front of early design for the NASA lunar lander
Anonymous Untitled Lunar Exploration Painting.


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. 

Framed painting of nude female figure with a deer
Untitled Painting by Hannes Bok.


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. 

Cover of woman in futuristic garb standing on rubble
The Hollow Grounds: NogegoN by Luc and Francois Schuiten, (Hollywood, CA: Humanoids Pub., c2000).


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. 

Open box set showing components including art books, art print and small resin sculpture of the Green Man
Brian Froud’s World of Faerie and The Secret Sketchbook of Brian Froud (San Rafael, Calif.: Insight Editions, c2007). #769 of 1,500 copies. Inscribed by author. 


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.  

Superman: Masterpiece Edition set open to show cover with full-page illustration and collectible figurine
Superman: Masterpiece Edition (San Francisco, Calif.: Chronicle Books, 1999).


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. 

Building Stories box set open to show wide assortment of print formats 
Building Stories by Chris Ware, (New York City, NY: Pantheon Books, 2012). First edition.


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. 

Stack of hardcover volumes from The Vance Integral Edition with "The Book of Dreams" at top.
The Vance Integral Edition by Jack Vance, 1916-2013, (Oakland, Calif.: Vance Integral Edition, 2002).


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.  

Book cover for The Return of Tarzan in small rectangular format
The Return of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1875-1950, (New York: Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., c1915, printed 1944).


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.  

Book open to page of musical notation for poem "The Road Goes Ever On"
The Road Goes Ever On: a Song Cycle by J. R. R. Tolkien, 1892-1973, music by Donald Swann, with decorations by J. R. R. Tolkien and Samuel Hanks Bryant (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967).


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. 

Black and white cover of The Bakery Men Don’t See cookbook with illustrations of bread and pie
The Bakery Men Don’t See. [Madison, Wis.] : [SF3], [1991].


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.  

Book cover of Gil Kane’s the Amazing Spider-Man: Artist Edition
Gil Kane’s the Amazing Spider-Man: Artist Edition by Stan Lee, Stan, 1922-2018 (San Diego: IDW Publishing, 2012).


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.  

Detailed pen-and-ink illustration of a mansion
The Hauntings at Tankerton Park by Reggie Oliver (Düsseldorf, Germany: Zagava Press, 2017).


31. Unflattening

Nick Sousanis uses collage from comics to explore different ways of seeing taken from philosophy, science, literature, art and mythology. 

Book cover for Nick Sousanis' Unflattening
Unflattening by Nick Sousanis (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2015).


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.  

Interior sparse title page for Al Azif
Al Azif [the Necronomicon] by Abdul Alhazred (Philadelphia: Owlswick Press, 1973).


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. 

Interior title page for The Grimoire
The Grimoire: and other Supernatural Stories edited by Hablot Knight Browne, 1815-1882 and Montague Summers, 1880-1948 (London: Fortune Press, 1936).


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.  

Blue and gold embossed cover of Ghost Stories
Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, 1814-1873 (Dublin: J. McGlashan; London: W. S. Orr, 1851).


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. 

Book cover of Film Fantasy Scrapbook illustrated with four film stills
Film Fantasy Scrapbook by Ray Harryhausen, 1920-2013 (South Brunswick: A. S. Barnes, 1974).


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. 

Book cover of The Crow with illustration of person in trench coat with white face in front of large industrial wheels
The Crow by James O’Barr (New York: Pocket Books, 2002, c1981).


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.” 

Book cover of Flash Gordon in the Ice World of Mongo with illustration of characters in spacesuits fighting with figures dressed in fur
Flash Gordon in the Ice World of Mongo by Alex Raymond, 1909-1956 (Racine, : Whitman Pub. Co., 1942, c1939).


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.  

Front of three issues of The Gazette
The Gazette, Vol. V, no., 1, 2 and 3. November 1875.


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.  

Front cover of Scoops periodical. Cover illustration shows ray gun aimed at the moon.
Scoops: Stories of the Wonder-world of Tomorrow, Vol. 1, no.17,  June 2, 1934.


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. 

Book cover of World of Nulla. Illustration shows a battle in foreground with futuristic city in background.
The World of Null-A / The Universe Maker by A. E. van Vogt, 1912–2000, (New York: Ace Books, 1953, c1948).


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. 

Book Cover of Alice in Sunderland. Alice look back from the White Rabbit on a stage.
Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot (Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse, 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. 

Three hardcover books including Shadow on the Hearth, Daughters of Earth, and England Swings 
Three titles written or edited by Judith Merril including  Shadow on the Hearth (left) by Judith Merril, 1923–1997 (Garden City: Doubleday, 1950).


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.  

Interior title page of Frankenstein with wood engraved illustration
Frankenstein or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, 1797–1851, illustrated by Lynd Ward, 1905–1985, (New York: Harrison Smith and Robert Haas, 1934).


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.

Leather-bound cover of The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar with stamped illustration of skeleton.
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe, 1809–1849, hand-printed and illustrated by George A. Walker (Toronto: Biting Dog Press, 2012). Number 17 of 60 copies. Signed by George A. Walker. 


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. 

Covers of Native Tongue, The Judas Rose, and Earthsong
Native Tongue, The Judas Rose, and Earthsong by Suzette Haden Elgin, 1926-2015 (New York: Daw Books, 1984).


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.

Spiral-bound Elgin Dictionary and Grammaer with audiocasette
A First Dictionary and Grammar of Laaden by Suzette Haden Elgin, 1926-2015 (Madison, Wis.: Society for the Furtherance and Study of Science Fiction, c1985).


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.

Book covers and box set for two volumes of The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins, a Cornish Man
The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins, a Cornish Man by Robert Paltock, 1697-1767, (London: Printed for J. Robinson and R. Dodsley, 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.  

Interior title page of Empires of Foliage and Flowers
Empires of Foliage and Flower:a Tale from the Book of the Wonders of Urth and Sky by Gene Wolfe (New Castle, Va. : Cheap Street, c1987).


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.  

Chronicles of Rodrigues open to interior title page and signature by Sidney H. Sime
Chronicles of Rodriguez by Lord Dunsany, 1878-1957 (London: G. P. Putman, 1922).



More from our Spaced Out celebration, marking 50 years of the Merril Collection: