Libraries and Labyrinths

This is a little disjointed and a little rambling – but then, so are the best libraries and labyrinths…

I am a classic introvert – and that’s one of the reasons I have always loved libraries as well as labyrinths. What do I mean by this? Unwind your ball of thread with me as I take you through the heart of this particular maze.

First off, what is an introvert? It’s nothing to do with what you enjoy or what you may like to do. It is to do with energy. Namely where you get it from – the source, if you like.

If you are the type of person who can go to a big party, meet lots of people and come back feeling buzzed, chances are you are an extrovert. You soak up the interactional energy as a sunflower does the sun and you generally leave happier than when you entered. If on the other hand parties always leave you feeling drained, regardless of how pleasant or familiar the company may be, chances are you are an introvert. This of course is a big over-simplification but I’m not here to discuss the finer points of the two extremes – this is for illustration only.

Take me for example. I’m in my thirties and the last birthday party I remember having was when I was about 10 or so. I have never had one since then – nor wanted one. And while my partner always insists we celebrate the occasion I’d be quite happy to skip it. Have I been to parties I enjoyed? Sure. One or two. But the number from which I have gladly fled at an early hour would I am sure outnumber them.

What’s this got to do with labyrinths and libraries? Well, it’s part of a theory I’m working on at the minute concerning our sense of selves. Keep unwinding that thread, we’re getting there.

Ever since I was old enough to walk I have been going to libraries – at first with my mum and before long under my own steam. To me they have always been magical places full of secrets and mysteries.

Likewise when I was a child, I always found the idea of a good-old fashioned labyrinth exciting. For someone like me, they offered escape from the so-called real world, a chance to lose yourself for hours on end – in exactly the same way you  can with a good book.

You see, I link libraries and labyrinths together – and I associate both with the concept of sanctuary.

I wrote a short story not so long ago about a man who is an avid music collector who stores away his lifetime’s collection in a booby-trapped hotel room with mazes of corridors to navigate to challenge any would-be seekers. As the world crumbles around him, he takes refuge in a safe place and ensures the future of his secrets which will outlast his lifetime. And while the records have formed the core of his lifetime’s pursuit they are also that which is worth preserving – passing on to new hands, safe from the threat of damage or destruction.

I’m not the only writer who finds a link between these superficially disparate ideas. The great Umberto Eco made great play of a labyrinthine library in his classic The Name of the Rose. In it, young Adso the apprentice finds a huge and forbidden collection of books in a hidden part of the abbey in which he and his master are staying. The young man is clearly taken with this treasure trove as Eco (1) tells us:

 “I realised that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.”

This is surely what many of us seek when we take refuge in a good book. The writer who produced it may be long dead but their words live on as do the ideas they convey. And while we may not be able to travel back in time to have a conversation with Shakespeare, Milton or even Agatha Christie we can do the next best thing which is to read their works and commune with them in that way.

It is no accident human societies began to build libraries almost as soon as they mastered the art of producing books or their forerunners, parchment and scrolls. The secrets they contained could be kept safely in a place of security, free from would-be thieves and of course the ravages of time. The ancients clearly knew that if something was worth passing on it was worth protecting.

We introverts thrive on ideas and small, one-to-one interactions. We like to discover things of interest in our own way and to explore them in our own time. That I believe is the key to why libraries and labyrinths seem so appealing to our subconscious. It is as though the process of wandering through winding corridors in search of knowledge is something we cannot help but do. We take refuge from the outside world, with its trials and tribulations as we hide and explore  at the same time.

You could even say this blog in itself proves the point. It is an organic storehouse of ideas and of experiences offering an otherwise shy introvert like me a chance to share them away from the noise and bustle of the outside world. It is both library and labyrinth, a small quiet fortress of solitude which any can find if they are so minded and explore to their heart’s content.

I hope your visit here has resonated with you in some way. And if you have not already begun to blog, I urge you to give it a go. Building your own online library / labyrinth is surely among the best ways you can pay tribute to the power of the ideas it will one day contain.

  1. Umberto, E (1983): The Name of the Rose, Harcourt, Boston MA.









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