Previous post: The Bought Book
This post is something of a personal aside. If you’re looking for the main line of arguments toward the Personal Library concept, feel free to skip ahead to the next post. This one relates in several ways to the ongoing argument for the personal library, but it’s not clear or concise like I hope my other posts are. It appeals in part to the hollow yearning of a story told—loudly and clearly—to no audience, and it may explain some of the earliest moments that drove me to this subject, or the first time these motivations crystallized into actions and experiences.
It was summer early in high school, about seven or eight years ago now. This is a third of my life, so forgive me any absences of memory. I had tested several half-formed ideas about people and places through Minecraft, alone or with friends. It was always better with friends. I had just discovered reddit and a specific subreddit for solicitations for themed and sometimes highly exclusive Minecraft servers (reddit.com/r/mcservers). One of the best-developed and most exclusive servers, the world of Hermertia was a land of fantastic kingdoms bound to each other and to a sense of real, constructive life by a system of just, overarching rules and the steady priority of deep narrative over all else.
I should note here that upon revisiting the still-standing Hermertia website, (www.hermertia.com) [Note: this site is a reboot, the original forum was projecthermertia.com, and it was indeed discontinued, so I’m not entirely crazy. Unfortunately, most of the old forums and the related wiki has been scrapped entirely, like a tiny digital library of Alexandria burned to the ground…], some of what I wrote in my journal in the following paragraphs isn’t entirely accurate. It is quite probable that I entirely overstate my own importance there, in addition to a few technical and chronological faults. These should be mostly harmless faults, and they all play well into the story, so let’s preserve a bit of creative license…
To join the world, one had to read some of the stories of existing members and weave a compelling and appropriate origin story for oneself. To help with developing the stories and weeding out the riff-raff, a series of technical and essay questions were required in addition. Each application was reviewed by multiple members; some would offer advice to applications that came close but were not quite enough. Most applications were terribly childish and immediately rejected. I would see this even more clearly when I later became one of the main reviewers.
It’s a little amazing that such a place existed. I had the sense as a young teenager that this was a play-place for adults, but I wanted in. The application made it only more appealing, and the rigor convinced me that this community would help me grow as a writer. It takes a certain type of person to undergo an online review criticizing both your logic and creativity in pursuit of entertainment. For me, it was one of those delicious challenges that made everything else seem small and irrelevant in comparison. Certainly, no other experience in Minecraft came close.
I’m not a good architect. This being a Minecraft server, architecture was key, and I knew if I wanted in with my mediocre design skills, I’d need a gimmick—something to get the attention of my reviewers. I found it reading the ongoing stories of the active members of Hermertia.
The Hermertian server had a whole companion website to share and keep track of their convoluted lore as well as to manage the application process. Each kingdom in Hermertia, governed by one or a few real individuals, had a deep origin story. Some nations were born from refugees of religious persecution, many were composed of non-human races. As these kingdoms progressed in the Hermertian world, their background stories translated seamlessly into living histories, some expressed as bard-like epics of the great vision and brave exploits of their leaders, others as if written memoirs directly from the monarchs themselves. Some updates were quite serious: an obituary of a beloved prince slain in a barbarian raid; others were whimsical: a wedding fiasco in which 100 pounds of cake was catapulted across the palace’s great hall, coating the newlyweds and their entire procession in frosting.
Rarely, a well-established kingdom would host an event—usually a festival or political reckoning—that would draw emissaries from their distant neighbors, but otherwise the kingdoms grew independently with large swathes of land and little need to cross borders. Each castle (and they could barely be counted at this point) was built on the prettiest patch of land in a sprawling area. It didn’t help that the majority of cross-kingdom transportation was managed through the nether, an alternate dimension in Minecraft wherein one foot represented ten feet in the overworld. It was often hard to imagine one civilization as having any neighbors whatsoever. As a result, each narrative evolved in a functional vacuum and had no interactions with the others. It lacked cohesion and conflict. Comparison of any real sort was meaningless.
I could have angled myself as a warlord. It would have introduced—forcefully—an appropriate sense of interactivity. I could have created guerilla camps on the borders of nations and wrought a scourge upon the land. Of course, the majority of my work would have to be narrative over physical. There were express rules against simply vandalizing another’s land, but none against establishing a reasonable and warranted class conflict. However, it was generally frowned upon in a land with infinite opportunity available. Moreover, even if my application were accepted, there’s a good chance the vast kingdoms would unite to trounce my little rebellion quite quickly, as they had done with previous dissenters.
Instead, I offered myself to their world as a servant of stories, the first independent librarian. I wouldn’t have a kingdom and castle of my own, like all the others. I would be beholden to my hosts for food and bedding, bind my books from their cows’ leather, and collect my ink on their fishing boats.
In exchange, I would travel their lands, observe their culture, and write stories from an outside perspective, comparing the peoples of Hermertia without bias, as no other could. I was the honored guest, the patient listener. I could tell I was filling an unanticipated void in each kingdom I visited. Often, they would invite me to build a library in their capital, the first building by an outside hand. In these, I stored the many stories they and I had written, many of them dutifully transcribed from the online forums. With time, my personal tale became the most ubiquitous across several nations. I wove their stories into mine, charmed and engaged lonely rulers, and they loved the feeling of connectedness, even when the story no longer explicitly mentioned their lands. I even became a sort of translator and adjudicator when two kingdoms came into conflict. I was a level-headed, culture-sensitive judge. In a world where kingdoms stood on stories, I was one man—the librarian, the keeper, N, the old one, the legend.
Unfortunately, all this fun only lasted for the summer. Fall brought real commitments, and as I visited Hermertia less and less, my name became an echo in a small history. Though not directly related to me, the server became gradually more barbaric and unmanageable as its otherworldly managers spent more of their time away.
I took a few specific lessons from Hermertia that play into this blog series. Stories need audiences, and they thrive when shared and cared for. A little organization can go a long way. People buy into stories that touch them, even if only in passing. What really surprised me was how nobody had thought of building libraries, but once word got out that I was making them, everyone wanted one. Something about placing the narratives into book form and gathering those books in a dedicated location, even in this artificial world, brought charm and weight to the experience of reading. Being the steward and creator of those places felt good—it was inherently fulfilling. I was the keeper of knowledge, and it made me more powerful in that empty, beautiful world than all the kings combined.