On a cold drizzly day in November, I spent a warm hour, exploring the exhibit De monstris: An Exhibition of Monsters and the Wonders of Human Imagination, at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in Toronto. The exhibit explored the concept of ‘monster’ as it has appeared in literature, from medieval encyclopaedias through to modern paperbacks, curated by Fisher Librarian David Fernandez.
The library is located in the heart of the University of Toronto campus, and I had a pang of ‘good lord, I’m an adult!?’ as I navigated the crowds of young students moving in and out of the main university library. The Fisher is a separate wing of the main library in a building that looks like a proud peacock from the outside, (It really does. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture, and I’m not going to steal one from the interwebs, so you can go here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robarts_Library to see for your self) and 70’s sci-fi/the future is good, but keep one eye open, on the inside.
After the hustle and bustle of the main library, it was a shock to enter the Thomas Fisher. The silence was immediate. There was a quiet hush, like that of a high-end air conditioner, and that was it. No chatter, no chairs scraping, just quiet. The entryway was softly lit and sat at a desk was a lone man who bore a striking resemblance to Legolas.
I was in book lover heaven, and I hadn’t even seen the books.
Legolas informed us that we were permitted to view the exhibit, and take our phones (I was determined to get pictures, and nodded a touch too enthusiastically when Legolas said no flash photography), but our bags and coats needed to be stored in lockers. Guys… I didn’t think I could get more excited, but putting my stuff in a special locker, in a special room, so I didn’t damage the special books… I was vibrating.
So we do the thing, we lock up our coats, we check back in with Legolas, and then we head into the exhibit. This is what I saw:
I had zero idea this is what it looked like inside. I thought I was going into a small dark room, not a beautiful church of books right out of a movie! I had to sit down for a moment and take it in. After a few deep breaths, I got up and began to explore the exhibit.
The first floor featured the oldest books. Here are few medieval pieces that spoke to me (not literally, although if you thought that, you know me pretty well). I was honestly in such a happy daze that I forgot to take pictures of the info cards that accompanied the pieces, but there is a free audio guide for the exhibit on Soundcloud, I’ll link to it at the bottom.
The modern books were on a lower floor of the library, the view was just as intense.
I love this story. The first novel I can remember reading all by myself was a ‘kid-friendly’ version of this book. Although I’m not sure how the story was made kid-friendly, I still had nightmares, buuuut I’ve always had nightmares so what do I know?
Dracula: another story I was obsessed with. I was the perfect age to dive deep into vampires since I was in high school when the Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Interview with a Vampire movies came out. Sometimes I still think about Antonio Banderas…
For some reason, this picture made me want to cry. Yes, it’s beautiful, but there’s something more here that I still haven’t figured out.
Did you watch Penny Dreadful? Or see The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Sigh, I need to read this book.
If you are a lover of books and in the Toronto area, make a trip to the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library. It is worth it. And did I mention it’s free? I know. Crazy.
Do you have a favourite library, either for its architecture, catalogue or emotional-you’d-rather-not-say-stop-pressuring-me-Sarah-reasons? : ) Let me know in the comments, I’d love to check it out.
Ps. Here’s the Soundcloud link for the audio tour: