Fairy tales do come true at the library—October 25, 2013
Today I have an odd, if somewhat elaborated and not entirely true, history for you. The topic? Hastings Public Library’s nonfiction section 398.2.
Our latest version of Section 398.2 was born in 1962, where it was built from the shelf up in a most unsurprising but practical of fashions. It keeps a broad social circle – primarily Patrons in Possession of Library Cards – but it has been known to spend a quiet night on the couch, reading to family. As a baby, 398.2 cut its teeth on the pages of siblings 398.1 and 398.3; as a teenager, it enjoyed a healthy rivalry with Section 398.4; today, as a well-matured adult, 398.2 enjoys the grand status of being known as The Most Imaginative of Nonfiction Sections. (Notwithstanding a certain pompous and literal section called 153.3 who claims it knows all about imagination. But really, what right-minded individual can believe a Section whose innards are entirely devised by doctors? No matter how well-researched 153.3 claims to be.)
While there are many Section 398.2s who like to gallivant out and about in the world, our library’s Section 398.2 keeps its teeth and tail tucked politely away and strives to remain nicely stationary. It likes to spend its free time lurking on shelves or hiding under beds – or, most often, being read. 398.2 is a voracious consumer, and its typical diet consists of overly imaginative adults, underly unsuspecting children, and an occasional plump but forgotten bookmark. It eats poodles for dessert.
Section 398.2 is a charitable creature: not only does it permit all sorts of unconventional monsters to roam its stacks, but it also adopts their somewhat-dubious stories. In 398.2, fairies can taunt dragons, dragons will tease Bigfoot, and Bigfoot might take it upon himself to duke it out with Nessie. Cinderella could sit down to tea with Paul Bunyan, while the Little Mermaid smokes cigars and fleeces Anansi and Raven at poker. Coyote brags about his cunning while Baba Yaga cleans house and old Yggdrasil sinks roots deep into the earth. All the while telling stories. These creatures will stretch yarns and spin whoppers, talk brags and trade show stoppers until their words compile and jumble and build all the way to the moon – only to fall down again, tucked safely into bed alongside the rest of 398.2’s stories.
Section 398.2 is where legends go to rest. It is also where imagination comes alive…and stays alive.
That’s my point: 398.2 has inspired novels and plays, music and movies. Neil Gaiman’s stories are based on 398.2, as are J. K. Rowling’s, Holly Black’s, Rick Riordan’s and Juliet Marillier’s. Don’t forget Stephanie Meyer’s and J.R.R. Tolkien’s. Also Stephen King. And so many more. 398.2 isn’t “done.” It isn’t old. It isn’t simply entertaining, it doesn’t just hold tales from oral storytelling. Its goal isn’t only to provide a window into a cultural history. No, 398.2 is still present, still relevant, because its contents are the very seeds of imagination.
Albert Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” So try it. Read fairy tales. Then read more fairy tales. Visit Section 398.2. Make friends with it, invite it to tea. And as you sit down and sip your Earl Gray, make sure to listen – because I’m certain 398.2 has just the story for you.