Ah, the Bookwyrm – it’s one of my favourite creations, for sure. So much so, that these odd little creatures actually appear in two completely unrelated series of books: one shows up in the Cloven Land Trilogy, while another (perhaps even the same one) is in the Office of the Witchfinder General books. They’re immensely useful, very self-important – and often irritable.
The creature first appears in Hedge Witch. Fer, a young woman from Andar, is taken by Hellen Meggenwar – an old and somewhat fearsome witch – into the crypts below Islagray Wycka to study an old text. The Bookwyrm is there. It’s described like this:
Hellen stopped at a particular page. The representation of a small dragon, its body all curving, intertwined lines like the knotted shoots of a bramble, or the silverwork of a master jeweller, filled half of a page. It had been painted with breath-taking care, each tiny scale painted in gold or silver. Its eyes were shut, as if asleep, but the features on its face were so vivid it could have been alive. It curved around the words as if guarding treasure.
Hellen placed the black book directly next to the picture, then passed a hand across the dragon, touching it gently. The drawing moved. The creature opened one eye, seeming to lift its head off the page. Fer could see its tiny gilded rib cage moving in and out as it breathed. It looked around at them, sniffing in the air with its long, gold and red snout. It stopped when it saw the black book. Slowly, it uncurled itself.
It was incredible to see. She knew it was merely a drawing, however exquisite. Just paint and ink on the pages of a book. At the same time, its legs moved as it walked, the words visible through its body. The illuminated dragon flowed across the gap to the black book. It shrank in size as it crossed onto the smaller pages. It stopped, turned around once, then burrowed down through the pages into its new home. In a moment, it was gone.
Later, Hellen explains a little about the creature:
“What was that?”
“An archaeon. A bookwyrm, if you prefer. Very rare. Very ancient. There are a few still inhabiting the archive.”
“I have never heard of such a being.”
“They are creatures of spirit, of thought. Not flesh and blood. They eat and sleep ideas. They don’t really live in our world at all. What few there are have found their way to libraries like ours. They love words; it’s the perfect habitat for them. This one will have been roaming around in our scrolls and tomes for centuries.”
The creature, it turns out, has a pivotal role to play in the Cloven Land series as it becomes one of Fer’s key companions in her adventures in our world.
Meanwhile, one of the creatures also shows up in the Cardiff library of the Office of the Witchfinder General. In The Seven Succubi, Danesh goes to visit Lady Coldwater as he researches his case. It’s his first visit down to Level -2 of the library. Lady Coldwater shows Danesh a book being kept in a locked display-case. The description goes like this:
It was one of those beautifully illustrated tomes that mediaeval Monks devoted their whole lives to creating: hand-written and illuminated with colourful decorations and depictions of fabulous beasts. The colours were vivid: purples, reds, shining gold. The opening letter of each page was rendered in highly-decorative calligraphy, all loops and curls, and I could see that a creature like a stylized dragon or demon had also been drawn on each, weaving its tail around the lines of text that followed.
Danesh has these impressions:
I was about to ask what, precisely, I was looking for when I saw it: the dragon was moving. Two tiny, stylized puffs of smoke lifted from its nostrils, to rise up the page and fade into nothingness. The creature’s sides – as colourful as any stained-glass windows with the sunlight streaming through them – were slowly inflating and deflating. The little drawn creature was animated there in the ancient book. It was alive.
“I don’t … what is it?” I breathed.
The Lady’s voice was a whisper, as if she were afraid of startling the creature. “They have many names: archaeon is one, bookwyrm is another since they appear to enjoy taking on the form of a dragon such as this one. They’re often to be found in the really old libraries. This one came here with the chained books.”
The bookwyrm doesn’t have quite such a big part to play here as in the Cloven Land books – it helps Danesh learn the meaning of certain runes that are being used in a grim and powerful incantation. In both books, though, I have some fun with the creatures – in particular, speculating what they might do and how they might respond if they get introduced to the internet…