Whispering books – inside the Bodleian Library…

I nearly didn’t make it to Oxford today. In the mad rush to get to my platform (which was announced 30 seconds before departure time – thank you British Rail), I spot a small, smug-looking man with an orange umbrella.  And I know what that smugness means in a cattle stampede like this: he knows a short cut to the platform. I follow him round the whole crowd, dipping and weaving my way through the people.  We round a corner, away from the crowd, and then we stop dead. We are standing before the most enormous metal barrier.  If I run at it fast enough I’ll knock myself out – even the BFG wouldn’t stand a chance against this mountain.  I turn round to give Mr Smug a scowl but he’s vanished into thin air. I race back into the crowd and catch the train within seconds of it pulling out.  There is no sign of Mr Smug and his orange umbrella and I am beginning to wonder whether he wasn’t in fact a Time-Sprite (an irritating magical creature sent to steal people’s time).

Bodleian Library

But the Bodleian Library in Oxford is a world away from sprites and blocked up short cuts.  Only Oxford university students are allowed into the Library but moontrug has a very clever sister and gets to go in as a VISITOR.  Oh so smart.  The library was built in 1488 and as soon as I step foot inside it, I hear the pages of the ancient books whispering.  I’ve seen magical books before but these ones blow my mind: gold-leafed books with dark leather spines; waist-high books containing ancient atlases; dark red books bound with velvet ribbons; tanned leather books wider than two outstretched hands; tiny books with writing so small it’s almost invisible; bright orange books with sorcerer’s suns and moons and jet black books with no words at all…

Bookshelf

According to the librarian who is perched at a desk half-way down the spiral staircase like some sort of magical book-goblin, there are 118 miles of shelves in the Bodleian – all full of books.  That’s 7,428,000 volumes and 1,241,000 maps – apparently.  Books with atlases of places only ancient explorers ever visited, books written in languages only a few people in the world can understand, books with mysterious, brooding characters…  No wonder they used this library when filming Harry, Hermione and Ron rummaging through forbidden books at Hogwarts…

Bodleian side view

Ribbon books

Just as I’m contemplating pocketing a very small book laced with golden lettering (the words are shimmering in the sunlight and I can almost hear the characters calling to me), my sister yanks my arm towards the spiral staircase.  We’re heading down, down, down now – past the book-goblin who is lowering two books on a pulley deeper into the ground with us.  Still we wind down until we’re well and truly underground, below millions of magical books.  And suddenly we’re running (moontrugs run everywhere) down a strangely-lit tunnel which connects the library rooms together.

Tunnel

We burst out of the tunnel into another library room which is just as eye-bendingly brilliant as the last.  We stop running (because no one else is running in the library and we’re trying to blend in) and I hear a strange grinding sound.  Seconds later, I realise that students are turning enormous cogs to open up the bookshelves. It’s like some kind of underground safe down here.  And I’m standing in the heart of it.

Cogs

I turn one of the heavy cogs and the bookcase crawls backwards, revealing row upon row of treasured books.  I skim their spines and then settle on the emerald green one bound with old string.  I pick it up and just for a second I close my eyes.  Because I’m holding magic in the palm of my hand now – and this is a moment I want to remember.

Magical book

 

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