Thursday, August 11, 2016

the library serpent

Imagination, it may said, is the spark that sets the soul on fire. When children have had their minds filled with wonder and imagination, they grow into adults with a desire to know, to understand and to make. They do revolutonary things that change the world forever, like discover gravity, invent fire, or cure AIDS. It's a sacred duty of every parent to see that spark lit and to fan it into flame whenever possible.

So yesterday, as we headed over to friends' house for dinner, I told my youngest daughter just how amazing, how epic and how utterly mythic the city library is. In many ways it is the embodiment of the Elder Edda and all its stories of the Norse gods.

"Did you know there's a giant snake who lives at the library?" I told her. "He's called the Ouroboros. He's so big that he goes all the way around the foundation of the library, and he devours his own tail."

"Really?" she asked. "Why don't I ever see him?"

"Ah, well, he's an underground sort of snake," I said. I briefly considered explaining that the snake makes books fall off the shelves in the library when he moves, but decided against it. "He stays in the ground and doesn't bother anyone."

Middle Daughter, who has exprienced this thing herself in the past, merely sat in her chair and listened without comment as the whopper grew ever larger.

"Does he ever come up?"

"Well," I said, recalling the great battle between Thor and Jormangandur at the end of Walt Simonson's run on "The Mighty Thor," "there is going to come a day when he'll rise up out of the ground and threaten the children's room. The entire library will begin to shake, and the librarians will spring to action."

"What happens then?"

"Well,the library staff will make sure the children and all the other adults will get out, and the children's librarian will grab a hammer they keep safe for that day, and she'll go out and fight the Ouroboros. For nine days they will battle, until she finally kills it. Then she'll take nine steps, and" -- I hesitated, because Thor dies from Jormangandur's poison breath, and I wouldn't wish that on any of the librarians we've had, even the unpleasant one from a few years ago, but something has to happen! -- "and she'll collapse and need to go to the hospital in an ambulance."

Thank goodness there are two hospitals in the city, not that far from the library.

"When is all this going to happen?" she asked.

"Ah," I said, "no one knows. They keep the hammer nearby, and train every new children's librarian in how to use it, in case it happens while they're there." I paused, and then after a moment's inspiration, I grounded the story once more in something she knew: "That's why the library is closed on Sundays in the summer. So the children's library staff can train with the magic hammer."

Concerned that she might be worried for herself or the other children who use the library, I reminded Youngest that none of the children would be in danger during the battle, since the library staff will have got everyone safely out of the building and to a safe distance. Maybe they'll be at the sustainable foods co-op across the street, eating vegan cookies or something. She was a little concerned when I mentiond that the library would collapse in the fight, but relieved when I also shared that there would be an even better one built to replace it. (She also suggested that any books that were checked-out at the time the library was destroyed would be hers to keep, since there would be no records left of who had borrowed what. I confess I had no answer to that.)

The story went over well. Youngest was impressed by the idea of a giant, tail-eating serpent that circles the foundation of the library, and she was especially impressed by the hammer.

So impressed, in fact, that when we came to the library today, she asked the children's librarian if she could see it.

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