The Beast of the Bodleian

Dot writes: I spent a little time the other day clearing out, or rather looking through and then placing in a box, my folders of mementos from 1998 to 2003. One thing I found in it was a sheet of notes for a story. I don’t plan to write the story, but here are some of its fragments.

Theseus_Minotaur_Ramey_Tuileries

I obviously had this idea about the time I left Oxford in 1998, and it’s based on the urban legend of the Beast of the Bodleian, which according to my hazy memory eats a portion of every stack request you make. (I don’t know if it’s still like this, but back in my day you could guarantee that you’d never get more than four of every five books you ordered up. It seemed reasonable the other one was routinely sacrificed to a chthonic deity.) I seem to have been contemplating a story in which a young male academic would venture into the darkness of the stacks, aided by a female librarian, to tackle the beast. Here are some of my notes. I have no idea what I meant about manuscripts, especially as I was about to go off and do an MA in Medieval Studies.

Beast of the Bodleian = the raw destructive power of untamed books. (But it also feeds on books?) The young female librarian is in thrall to the erotic/sensual fascination of books (specifically printed books – this is not a problem of manuscripts).

Oh, hang on, I guess the point is that the stacks books are printed books and the mss are elsewhere. Anyway, carrying on:

The young academic is also a man of books and his ideas about and images of heroism are all, of course, relentlessly literary. (Although young, he is given to the occasional archaic interjection, such as “By Jove!” or “Golly!”)

I was making the obvious connection with the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, but had an alternative plan for Ariadne.

Our hero fails to save the maiden (who sacrifices herself to the overpowering sensuality of the Beast) but leads the physicists to safety (i.e. the Athenian youths).

I’m not sure why I thought the Beast should be sent a tribute of physicists, but I guess I was already aware of the cultural rivalry of the Arts and Sciences. I also clearly had some insights into the life of a teaching fellow:

When senior academics are discussing the problem, having hit upon our hero as their champion (“Heroism is his subject. And besides, he hasn’t published much”), the Professor of Comparative Philology (or whatever) leads the way from his capacious, cushioned room, with its ample bookcases and roaring log fire, along a maze of descending corridors to the cellar where our hero is giving a tutorial inside a discarded fridge.

Feel welcome to finish this marvellous creative work, if you want to…

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