Book: The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books

So if you’ve been following me for a while, you’d know that I found this wonderful, imaginative German author, Walter Moers, some time last year. I devoured all of his books and promptly got lost in the wonderful land of Zamonia. I can safely say that I never left that place and have waited impatiently for the next foray into this amazing country.

The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books

The Labyrinth of Dreaming books is the sequel to The City of Dreaming Books. Set 200 years after the events of the first book, my biggest gripe with it was the fact that it was left uncompleted. Now, I have to wait for the third book before I am able to find out what happens. And it leaves off at a cliffhanger, at the apex of a climax. I usually don’t read or watch things that are uncompleted, and it really irks me. He does however post a really cute postscript to explain why the book ends the way it does.

And here my translation ends. Only my translation, though, because Yarnspinner’s story in the Labyrinth of Dreaming Books naturally continues.

Much to my regret, I have been compelled to divide the novel into two books because of its length and complexity. This is mainly to do with the massive cuts I have once more had to make – an almost invariable task in the case of Yarnspinner’s often absurdly long-winded prose works. In the present volume this applied principally to the Notes on Puppetism, which I had to abridge by all of 400 pages, or the book would have been impossible to read with any pleasure.

In the second part, on which I am currently hard at work, the situation is even worse. This embodies a pseudoscientific text which Yarnspinner entitled The Secret Life of the Booklings and runs to 700 pages. Unreadable! Reducing this colossal Yarnspinnerish divagation to a tolerable length – without falsifying the book – is costing me considerably more time and effort that I had anticipated. At this point I should immodestly like to draw attention to me dual function as translator and illustrator, which entails an expenditure of effort that is often underestimated.

The postscript continues to talk about his publisher’s rage and why the ‘book’ will be appearing in two volumes instead of one. He also apologizes profusely and asks for patience from his readers. I skipped to the postscript half way through the book, and was horrified to find out I would no closure at the end, yet at the same time, I marveled at the ingenious mind of Walter Moers.

For those not familiar with his novels, he purports to be translating books by Optimus Yarnspinner a famous Zamonian author. The novels usually come illustrated (beautifully so) and are not just meant to be read. He also uses different font types to bring across different ideas and people speaking.

‘All in Gothic!’ the dwarf said again, almost pleadingly. Silly as it may sound, my friends, that statement somehow clinched it for me! Gothic is to typography what half-timbering is to architecture, so to speak. Both convey a certain antiquity coupled with sound craftsmanship and timeless durability. Gothic inspires confidence. What the hell, I said to myself, it’s worth trying.

What follows naturally, is almost an entire chapter in Gothic font, presented like newspaper articles, complete with titles. It’s amusing and so fun to read. It made a chapter on the ‘history’ of Bookholm so much more interesting. It’s all about the presentation, not just about the content.

In this particular novel, there’s a great deal of focus on puppets, puppets imagined in so many different forms and types that it really amazes me. I love Moers for his imagination, his books never fail to surprise me. They aren’t literary works of art, but the will make your world spin and dazzle your mind with his limitless imagination. I think it’s wonderful and I can’t help coming back for more.

Yet at times, there are reminders of how good Moers is at evoking certain emotions in readers.

Anyone who has entered a building he hasn’t seen since his childhood or adolescence – his birthplace, school, or something of the kind – will understand that. It’s a painful, melancholy experience that seems to bring you nearer the grave.

There are also random words of wisdom,

We all die the whole time because we really start dying a birth, so let’s not be melodramatic about it.’

Of course who can forget that this book is an homage to books,

‘Well,’ she said, ;there really is a distant relationship between the theater’s puppets and the city’s antiquarian books. Both are wrapped in a kind of enchanted slumber when not in use, aren’t they? They don’t awaken from it until they’re touched by a living hand. In one case it’s the hand of the reader, in the other that of the puppeteer. They don’t come to life until they’re perceived by an audience.’

In this novel, it’s not just books that being paid their respects, it is the art of Puppets as well. There are a number of chapters dedicated to retelling the tale from The City of Dreaming Books in the form of a puppet play. It demonstrates the variety of puppets dreamed up by Moers as well as serving as reminder to readers as to what happened in the first book of this crazy adventure. Add to that the use of a scent organ and the audience just goes wild. There’s also this lovely concept of an invisible theater which really pushes the limits of the audience’s mind. A chapter is also dedicated to Yarnspinner’s notebook as he flies through the history of the puppet theater and the different genres they have gone through.

He also does this really interesting word play on famous author’s names. From example Zank Frakfa (Frank Kafka, The Metamorphosis) and his famous story in which the principal character is a giant cockroach with manic-depressive tendencies. This word play has been expanded to composer’s as well, like Jonas Nussrath (Johann Strauss, Blue Danube) who composed a waltz dedicated to a beautiful blue river. It’s these little things that really double the enjoyment of the novel.

The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books can be a little tedious at times, especially when you consider that there is no ending. It is as the author says a prelude to things that are to come in the next volume. It really sets the scene and explores the city after its destruction in the previous book. So much has changed, that it’s almost an entirely foreign place. The few chapters that relive the previous book, can be considered as excessive, but really brings back memories and introduces the world of puppet theater that is crucial to this book.

Personally I would have waited for the complete story to be published before picking this up, but that said, I am happy to be back in Bookholm, an imaginary city that will always have a special place in my heart.


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