The Big Idea: Jim C. Hines
It’s no surprise that authors love books. But it might surprise you, in the context of Libriomancer, Jim C. Hines‘ newest novel, how the author’s love of books so directly shaped this particular novel. Or, perhaps, knowing authors, it might not surprise you at all.
JIM C. HINES:
There are two truths at the heart of Libriomancer. First, books are magical. And second, magic is awesome.
The former should be evident to anyone who watched bookstores throughout the world prepare for the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, or saw schoolkids gathering together to talk about the new Hunger Games book. Older readers might recall the way The Lord of the Rings swept through the United States when it was first published in this country.
As I wrote about Isaac Vainio, he began to epitomize that love of books. He was the part of me that read every book he could get his hands on. Even before he discovered the art of libriomancy, Isaac read every book in the SF/F section in his northern Michigan library. And then he discovered interlibrary loans, and there was no turning back. Like so many of us, he explored Middle Earth and Narnia and Neverland. He traveled by warp drive and tesseract and TARDIS.
I made that love of stories the key to Isaac’s magic. It’s what allows him to do what so many of us have dreamed of, to reach into the pages and create the things described within. To use the daydreams and the fantasies of other readers, all layered together and bound to those books. Libriomancy can create anything from magical flaming spiders to disruptor pistols (perfect for use against vampires) to winged sandals to a laser sword from a galaxy far, far away whose official name we won’t use because I tried very hard not to get sued while writing the book.
What I love about this idea is the way it engages our sense of wonder. Our need to ask “What if…?” There are so many possibilities to magic. There are limits too, of course. Isaac can only create things that would fit through the pages, so there’s no real way to build a shuttlecraft and fly to the moon. There are dangers as well. Intelligent minds can’t handle the transition from fiction to reality, so if you pluck a Smurf from the pages, it’s going to end badly for everyone. And then there’s the risk of reaching into a book like Twilight and either accidentally or deliberately infecting yourself with vampire venom. Suddenly you have sparkling vampires running through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
But Isaac loves it all. He loves magic. He loves the potential. At one point, he encounters a manananggal, a creature who literally rips herself in half, allowing the upper part of her body to fly about in order hunt and feed on blood and organs and unborn children. Isaac’s reaction isn’t terror or disgust, but delight. He’s amazed by the magic that lets the manananggal separate and reconnect her body, and wonders how such power might be used for magical surgeries and other purposes.
Even when running for his life, a part of Isaac will always be studying and admiring the creature trying to kill him.
So much of what I read these days feels dark and grim. There’s nothing wrong with that, but after a while I start to ask myself what happened to the joy? What happened to the awe and hope and discovery? Libriomancer, and Isaac in particular, is my love letter to that sense of wonder. To the part of our imagination that says, “If I were Harry Potter, I’d don a spacesuit and apparate to Mars, just to see what’s out there!” The part that pretends to use the force every time the elevator doors open, because for that one moment, the magic can be real.
Where would we be without that drive to explore and discover? Without that need to poke sticks into the dark corners or tug at the frayed edges of what we think we know? Some of my favorite scenes in the book are when Isaac stumbles across magic he thought was impossible. Because even when that magic is trying to destroy him (which happens far more often than he likes), it proves that the universe is bigger than he knew, and nothing makes him happier.
There’s so much I enjoyed about writing this novel. I got to write Smudge the fire-spider again. I haven’t even mentioned my butt-kicking dryad, or the psychiatrist who fights an uphill battle trying to keep the libriomancers sane, or the kidnapping of Johannes Gutenberg, or the vampire day care center.
But one of the best parts was getting to share Isaac’s joy, to rediscover the love of books and magic, and to remember that it is indeed awesome. And if I can share that love with readers, I consider that to be every bit as magical as anything Isaac does.