The labyrinth of dreamin.., p.11
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       The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books, p.11

           Walter Moers
 

  And third, that all Ugglies seem to possess a common aura. This renders them a collective organism that goes around in many individual incarnations, so to speak. If you see one Uggly, you always see them all.

  So this was an Uggly, but not the most important Uggly in my life. Why did I feel so relieved? I ought really to be feeling disappointed that it wasn’t Inazia. My memories of her were predominantly good, for I owed it at least partly to her that I was back in Bookholm safe and sound. All the same, dear friends, there’s something about Ugglies. No matter how friendly your relations with them, a certain uneasiness always persists. Imagine being married to a scorpion! There’s an old Zamonian proverb that very aptly summarises the problem in a single sentence: I need that like an Uggly in my bed.

  ‘She’s an Ugglian Bibliomancer.’ Ovidios’s whispered remark roused me from my reverie. ‘Stop staring at her like that, or she’ll be all over you!’

  ‘Eh?’ I said absently, turning to him. My visit to the Fumoir had unexpectedly become a veritable journey into the past.

  ‘Bibliomancers foretell the future from books,’ Ovidios explained. ‘Elsewhere, the future is foretold from playing cards or the entrails of dead cats; in Bookholm from books. Bibliomancy is sometimes regarded as a science, but it’s hocus-pocus. It has as much to do with science as astrology does with astronomy. Total humbug, but sadly as widespread as warts on a warthog. Bibliomancers claim to be able to take any newly acquired book and foretell the buyer’s future from it.’

  ‘A brilliant business concept!’ I said. ‘The streets of Bookholm are teeming with such customers. Every other person has a newly acquired book under his arm.’

  ‘Exactly. And with practice any books can be made to yield a few fragmentary oracular pronouncements. There are Ugglian soothsayers, Hellrazorish stichomancers, oracular rhymesters from the Impic Alps, Watervalian syllaboprophets … There are Moomy women in Bookholm market who’ll tell your fortune from boiled spaghetti letters of three different flavours. Any old Turniphead can come along, call himself a qualified Bibliomancer and prophesy the money out of pea-brained tourists’ pockets. That’s how things are these days. Toleration also has its price. We can’t fence the city off.’

  I cast another covert glance at the Uggly, who was now completely wreathed in smoke again. I wondered where Inazia was now. Still in Bookholm?

  Ovidios sighed. ‘Ugglies are still reputed to make the most accurate predictions and be thoroughly respectable and reliable. But why should I be interested in things to come? It’s enough of a burden to cope with the present and past. I don’t have to know what awaits me in the future.’

  I nodded. ‘I’ve had my own experience of Ugglian prophecies,’ I said. ‘They can be surprisingly accurate, but I’ve no need for a second helping.’

  I glanced over at the Uggly for the last time, but there was nothing in the place where she’d been sitting a moment ago save swirling tobacco smoke. She had disappeared.

  ‘Well,’ said Ovidios, ‘I’m afraid we’ll have to call it a day soon. We’re running out of Biblios.’

  ‘Hang on,’ I protested. ‘Not now, just when it’s getting interesting.’

  ‘But we could go on for ever,’ Ovidios said with a laugh. ‘There are as many Biblios as there are Bookholmers. Biblionists, Bibliodromes, Biblionnaires, Biblioclasts, Bibliologists, Bibliodonts, Bibliogoths, Bibliospasts, Bibliots, Biblioklepts, Bibliometrists, Bibliogants, Bibliomants, Bibliophasts, Bibliophants, Bibliogomes, Bibliobiles, Bibliophages, Bibliogames, Biblio—’

  ‘All right,’ I exclaimed, ‘I’m shameless. I’ve taken up enough of your time. I doubt if two Lindworm expats have ever spent so long talking.’

  ‘You could well be right. You know, it’s important to discover what Biblionism means to one – what sort of Biblio one is oneself. You should use your stay in Bookholm to find that out.’

  I adjusted my cloak in readiness to get up and take my leave. Only one question was still on the tip of my tongue.

  ‘Tell me something, Ovidios: What sort of Biblio are you?’

  He gave me a long look of mingled bafflement and perplexity.

  ‘No idea,’ he said with a laugh. ‘I’ve never given it any thought.’

  I made to get up, but before doing so I scanned the Fumoir for the last time. It was largely deserted now, but a few scattered figures were continuing to smoke in peace. My survey ended in the furthest corner of the room. Someone was still sitting there. I hadn’t spotted him before, doubtless because he’d been obscured by another smoker who had since left. He might also have escaped my notice because he looked more like an inanimate object than a living creature. This was probably also due to his clothing, which was better described as a suit of armour. He sat at his table, motionless as a discarded doll. I was overcome by an old and very familiar fear inspired mainly by the helmet he was wearing. It served him as a mask and resembled a gun turret in miniature. All in all, the sinister fellow looked like a walking fortress.

  And now at last he moved. With slow, mechanical movements he picked up a manuscript lying on the table in front of him, rolled it up and stowed it beneath his cloak. Rising to his feet with an effort, he stiffly strode out.

  ‘That looked like a Bookhunter,’ I said in a tremulous voice. ‘It can’t have been, though. Bookhunting was prohibited here after the fire. I’ve seen similar figures in the city. What are they, a stupid stunt to put the wind up tourists?’ It was my turn to become agitated. Bookhunters are no joke to me.

  ‘That was a Biblionaut,’ said Ovidios. I could tell he felt rather uneasy about the subject. ‘And that one over there,’ he went on hurriedly, ‘is a—’

  ‘One moment,’ I broke in. ‘What the devil is a Biblionaut?’

  ‘He eyed me gravely. ‘A shame our conversation has to end on such an unpleasant note,’ he said. ‘But you’d have found out sooner or later. Besides, I can relieve you of your worst fears.’

  ‘What does that mean? What fears? Are you telling me he really was a Bookhunter?’

  ‘Yes and no. Well, I’d best give you the bad news first. Around a dozen years ago, the authorities permitted Bookhunting once more.’

  ‘What?’ I said dully. That was bad news indeed.

  ‘They didn’t publicise the fact, and they don’t call it Bookhunting any more. It’s termed Biblionautics, as if it were a literary method of trawling for fish, and today’s Bookhunters are now called Biblionauts.’

  ‘But why? Everyone was so relieved when Bookhunting was abolished! Nobody missed those fellows.’

  ‘I must go back a bit further,’ said Ovidios. ‘It’s rather like the Bibliocists or the Bibliocrats. People aren’t particularly fond of them, but sometimes they’re glad they exist. Like dentists.’

  ‘Who on earth welcomes the presence of Bookhunters?’ I growled. I was more agitated than I would have cared to admit.

  ‘I told you, they’re called Biblionauts these days. You must learn to make the distinction. I know you can’t accept the situation yet, but look at it this way: Biblionauts are a necessary evil.’

  ‘That’s what people used to say about the Bookhunters.’

  ‘Well? Wasn’t it true? The city made money out of them. The authorities keep quiet about that today because it smacks of complicity. You’ll have to say goodbye to your former fears sooner or later. The Bookhunters are dead – have been for two hundred years. They live on only in your nightmares. The Biblionauts are quite another kettle of fish.’

  ‘Bookhunters, Biblionauts – what’s the difference?’ I insisted. ‘They look just as martial and menacing as those criminals of old.’

  Ovidios sighed. ‘But they aren’t dangerous any more. Not to us, at any rate. They’re an entirely new generation – they operate in accordance with a strict code of conduct and the methods espoused by Colophonius Regenschein. They don’t bump each other off down below. They don’t kill or injure anyone except the dangerous creatures they have to deal with in the catacombs. They’v
e retained the martial attire because it’s essential in the Labyrinth, as a deterrent and for personal protection. They venture far deeper into the catacombs these days. Areas are being explored in which no one ever set foot in the old days. Those who are bold enough to enter them need more than just audacity. They need the heart of a Bookhunter.’

  ‘Bookhunters have no heart,’ I said coldly. Ovidios had no idea what he was talking about.

  ‘I meant to say they need the heart of a Biblionaut. I still keep mixing up those terms myself.’

  ‘Perhaps you should simply start again from the beginning,’ I suggested. ‘Since when have you believed that Bookholm can’t get by without Bookhunters – or Biblionauts?’

  ‘It was a gradual process. You never saw it, Optimus, but please try to visualise the streets of Bookholm without any Bookhunters. That might sound a welcome state of affairs from your point of view, but it’s also rather boring, isn’t it? Something would simply be missing. I experienced it for myself. I didn’t know what I was missing on my walks until one day it dawned on me: walking through Bookholm after the Bookhunters had disappeared was like visiting a zoo devoid of wild animals. They were as much a part of Bookholm as thunder and lightning are of a storm. They supplied the drama in our city. The kick. The salt in the soup and the sugar in the coffee! At least admit that their costumes were great!’

  I naturally understood what Ovidios was getting at and he was right. But he would never persuade me to say a good word about that gang of professional cut-throats. He hadn’t come up against them in the catacombs. I had.

  ‘The municipal authorities thought up a remedy. They engaged clowns from Florinth and mimes from Grailsund. Brass brands, too. Can you imagine it? Ludicrous, made-up buffoons and brass bands as a substitute for Bookhunters! Imagine Florinth without its museums! Ironville without its rivers of mercury! There was a dramatic drop in hotel bookings and sales in the antiquarian bookshops stagnated. Worst of all, however, there were no discoveries of books on the Golden List, because these had traditionally been made by the Bookhunters. And without any fresh Golden List discoveries the really affluent customers stayed away – people like the book-collecting biblionnaires and industrialists who used to come to Bookholm to bid at Golden List auctions and nonchalantly bought up whole bookshops or city blocks. The really big money stopped coming. We suddenly lacked the crowd pullers that had lent the book trade its glamour. And we also, shameful though it was, began to realise how important to us the Bookhunters had been. Bookholm was threatening to become a city like any other. And then a miracle occurred! All at once, from one day to the next, they were back.’

  ‘Who were?’ I asked slow-wittedly.

  ‘Why, the accursed Bookhunters! Or the Biblionauts, as they now styled themselves. It was like a dream. As if conjured into being overnight or sprung up like mushrooms, heavily armed, mask-wearing figures in bizarre suits of armour stalked the city’s streets once more! Awesome beings from a darker, deeper world, none resembled any other. It was initially assumed that they were a trick on the part of City Hall: that they were simply costumed actors hired to reactivate the tourist trade – and indeed, plans of that kind did exist. But then some Golden List books suddenly turned up – in substantial numbers, what’s more. Biblionauts would march into up-market antiquarian bookshops and plunk a copy of The Yellow Almanac down on the counter, say, or Wimpersleake’s long-lost, handwritten diary of his boyhood! Things of that kind! It truly did seem like a miracle and the Biblionauts were hailed as saviours.’

  Ovidios leant forward.

  ‘Of course, their new professional name was only a little subterfuge, which the Bibliocrats at City Hall were happy to go along with. Even though Bookhunters had been banished from Bookholm, it wasn’t forbidden to go around there in bizarre suits of armour or search the catacombs for rare books. Business picked up again within a few months.’

  Ovidios gathered his smoker’s paraphernalia together and prepared to leave.

  ‘And that’s all there is to the Biblionauts – or the latter-day Bookhunters, if you prefer. Not a very edifying story, I grant you, but I’m afraid you’ll have to come to terms with it, because they’re still very popular in Bookholm. And now I fear I must take my leave – the family calls, you understand. I enjoyed our conversation – perhaps we can resume it some time soon. Come and see us.’

  Having handed me a card bearing his address, he rose and walked out with measured tread.

  ‘Like a king in exile,’ I thought as I watched him go. It was nice to have met him again and to see that he was prospering.

  Then I myself set off. I was genuinely the last to leave the Fumoir, which was empty apart from me and swaths of toxic fumes. At the door I paused, suddenly aware that I’d forgotten something of great importance. I thought for a moment, then it came to me. I had forgotten the real purpose of my visit: I’d omitted to smoke my very last pipe.

  Book Wine from Bookholm

  ANYONE WHO HAS already visited a tavern or two will know what I mean. You’ve propped up the bar for hours and indulged in some heavy drinking, but you still feel comparatively sober. Then you emerge into the open air and – wham! – that’s when the alcohol utterly unexpectedly takes full effect as it mingles with the oxygen in your blood. You’re suddenly as drunk as you deserve to be.

  That was more or less what happened to me when I left the Fumoir. Although I’d drunk no alcohol, my lungs had semi-involuntarily absorbed vast quantities of intoxicating substances, some of exotic provenance. All at once, I could hardly keep my feet. I lurched out into the street and came to a brief, swaying halt. The ground tilted first to the left, then to the right, as if I were aboard a ship in rough weather, and the stars were whirling overhead. The stars? Yes, night had fallen during our conversation.

  I tottered along unsteadily for a few steps and clung to a wall, feeling sure I was about to pass out. Instead, my circulation and sense of balance stabilised themselves, and I was overcome by a surprising feeling of happiness – indeed, of absolute euphoria. The state of intoxication I’d acquired in the Fumoir was probably unique in its way. Where else could one try out such an unpredictable and experimental cocktail of drugs without – at least in my case – really meaning to? This was probably the secret of the Fumoir’s obvious popularity. You didn’t go there to smoke at all, but to be surprised by what the others had to offer. The most significant feature of my condition was that I couldn’t have described how I felt. I didn’t even know a word for it.

  Once I had more or less regained control of myself, I looked around. The nocturnal streetscape glowed with unreal colours, almost like a painting by Edd van Murch, the great exponent of Grailsundian Devil-Painting. The buildings were swaying gently to and fro, and the air was filled with the sound of countless whispers. None of this alarmed me; on the contrary, I found it entertaining. When I tried to catch the ethereal voices in the air, I saw I had ten claws on each paw, but it didn’t dismay me, it made me giggle stupidly. The paving stones beneath my feet felt soft and warm, almost hot, which also amused me. I’d never found walking so interesting! I felt I was taking giant strides across an endless feather bed on grotesquely long legs, like a gigantic stork. The people who passed me were transparent, their only response to my humorous remarks being wholly unintelligible quacking sounds. I felt I was in an echo chamber that multiplied every sound: my footsteps on the pavement, the rattle of horse-drawn vehicles, the slamming of doors. Perhaps I’d left the Fumoir by the wrong exit and was walking through another dimension in which everything was more vivid and interesting – and funnier!

  Heavens alive, how thirsty I was! My throat was so dry, my tongue was cleaving to my gums. I simply had to have something – anything! – to drink, so I strode on through the darkened streets in search of a tavern, continually shaken by uncontrollable paroxysms of laughter. Was I feverish? Yes, but in a delectable way! If this was a symptom of some disease, I never wanted to recover from it! I firmly resolved to visit every
Fumoir in Bookholm regularly from now on, one after another.

  In these streets there were numerous shops full of souvenirs: cheap tourist trash such as snowstorm paperweights containing city sights, poor copies of books on the Golden List, coloured postcards bearing greetings from the City of Dreaming Books and the inevitable puppets resembling famous authors in appearance. This junk amused me as immensely as everything did at that moment and, although my thirst was urging me on, I paused in front of every other window, sometimes roaring with laughter. I passed one window whose display was hard to make out in the darkness, but I spotted something out of the corner of my eye that struck me as familiar and captured my attention. Looking more closely, I discovered that the window was full of Booklings!

  I stood rooted to the spot. A sign hanging above the door of the shop announced that it specialised in Literary Sculptures, in other words, carved, sculpted or modelled bookends, paperweights, authors’ busts, or scale models of printing presses. But the window itself was exclusively devoted to miniature effigies of Booklings of the highest quality. I was amazed. The artist had succeeded in making his miniature figures so incredibly lifelike, he had to be intimately acquainted with the Booklings. This greatly surprised me, because very few people apart from me had ever been privileged to see this subterranean species in the flesh. Or had that, too, changed since my last visit? I found one group sculpture particularly admirable. It represented two Booklings engaged in printing, complete with a scale model of a press and printed pages lying around.

  Yes, that was just how the Booklings looked in the bowels of the Labyrinth. I had witnessed such scenes with my own eyes. Then I discovered a small handwritten notice in the window. It read:

  Tears of emotion sprang to my eyes. If an artist who had never seen any Booklings himself could portray them in such a natural, lifelike fashion with the aid of my descriptions alone, those descriptions couldn’t be too bad. Well, yes, but at that time the Orm had still been pervading the convolutions of my brain with some intensity! I was reminded of the reason for my trip: I had received a letter from the catacombs – more specifically, from the Leather Grotto, the Booklings’ subterranean home! This was now only a few miles away, directly beneath my feet but separated from me by the dark world known as the Labyrinth of Dreaming Books.

 
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