Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Essentials

Having spent all of yesterday and the day before in the Illegible Library, admiring the glorious clutter and the menagerie of letters scrawled on every surface in sight, I decided to do something different today. I went to see the Essentials.

Technically, the book's title is Essen Chile's Essential Book of Essential Essentials - it's embossed in foot-high purple letters on the cover - but this is a bit too long and ridiculous for most people's tastes, especially the ones who want the Essentials taken seriously. Most people hope the author was using a pseudonym; almost as many people hope that, given the choice, he or she would have chosen a better one.

According to the keepers of the Essentials, the book contains all the knowledge anyone in Hamjamser could ever need. No one's been able to prove otherwise. In fact, no one has actually lived long enough to read the entire book, so no one's been able to prove much of anything about it. Some people have pointed out that the book must have had multiple authors; no one could possibly have lived long enough to write it all.

There are only three copies of the Essentials in existence. (No one knows who had time to copy the whole thing, much less twice, but there they are.) Several people have tried to make more copies. None of them have ever finished the task. Sooner or later, one of their descendants always loses interest.

One of the three copies, of course, is in Sconth. It's kept in a thick-walled old stone building that used to be a fortress back in the days of the locust marauders. The Essentials keepers live there, spending their lives reading as much of the book as they possibly can and looking things up for anyone who asks. They are all Wayfinders. The book is large enough that its pages and paragraphs behave like geographical features and are never in the same place twice. Wayfinders are the only people who can find anything in the Essentials except by chance.

I didn't have anything I particularly needed to know, and I couldn't really afford to ask anyway - Wayfinders, and the information in the Essentials, are rare enough that they can charge more or less whatever they want - so I just watched. I was allowed to look at a few pages by the short, thickset burreler who was looking through the book when I came in. She was too short to read the book from the floor; instead, she just walked around on the pages in a pair of enormous fuzzy slippers.

She introduced herself, rather distractedly, as Snuffbox, which happened to be the title of the section she was reading. I never was sure how much attention she was paying to anything outside the book.

Apparently, the last person to come in had asked for advice on getting blue floo shrews out of a thugroffler's nose. Snuffbox (or whatever her name was) hadn't asked why. She thought she might have read something about that particular subject on page 736008, though, so she was now trying to find it. The pages are ten feet wide and not numbered in any order that makes sense. While I watched, she turned pages 42, 7758020, 96.24, 145AM, *, and TRUFFLE. Being Wayfinders, though, the Essentials experts can eventually find any page they've read before; page 736008 came up while I was asking about the building (which Snuffbox said was built by the 15th Baron of Sconth as a safe haven for his collection of cookbooks). Sure enough, there on the page were three paragraphs on the subject of removing blue floo shrews from the insides of noses. The section was in tiny letters, written sideways, in the middle of a larger paragraph on pocketwatch maintenance.

The best ways to remove blue floo shrews from a thugroffler's nose, according to the Essentials, are to lure them out with goat cheese or play Thiglian mop opera all day (though it's best to give the thugroffler earmuffs before trying the second method). That'll be good to know if I ever own a thugroffler.

There were a few Essentials keeper apprentices there as well; two spindle beetle nymphs and a little three-foot centipede spent the entire time crawling in and out between the pages Snuffbox wasn't reading. Each one carried a magnifying glass and a small salamander lantern. Just think - children all over the world stay up late reading between the covers, and these three get to do it for a living.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

  • Stats Tracked by StatCounter