We received an invitation to visit The Empire of Dreaming Books by the region’s co-creator, Num Bing. Together with Clifton Howlett, she has created an environment to honour the Zamonia series of books by German comic creator and author, Walter Moers.
Captain Bluebear tells the story of his first 13.5 lives spent on the mysterious continent of Zamonia, where intelligence is an infectious disease, water flows uphill, and dangers lie in wait for him around every corner.
– A description of the Zamonia books and their protagonist, Bluebear
In particular, the setting recreates a part of the city of Buchhaim., located in western Zamonia on the Dull plateau on the dry, flat, steppe country not far from the border with the South Desert. The city sits on the convergence of many trails across the plains, and is famous for two things.
The first is Buchhaim’s countless book stores and second-hand bookshops, printers, publishers and all things involving literature. It’s a place where the evening hours are traditionally called “wood time”, when poets of all kinds present their works in dining rooms and everyone can listen at will. The second is the extensive network of catacombs lying beneath the city.
It is said that it is in the centre of the city is where the influence of the Buchimists (alchemists who mainly experiment with books, words and literature) of Buchhaim is the greatest. It is also the the part of the city Clifton and Numb have recreated for their build. Specifically, they present the Schwarzmanngae, the oldest alley in city, which spirals its way inwards to shop number 333, the home of Phistomefel Smeik and his bookimistic laboratory.
Number 333 is also where you can find the landing point for the build. From here you can step inside Herr Smeik’s store and thus find your way to the catacombs (via teleporting), or follow the Schwarzmannga
e on its outward spiral to the city’s edge, where paths offers routes of exploration around the outlying lands.
Wandering these outlands will reveal multiple places to appreciate the city from a distance. These retain bookish themes – some in quite a novel ways: even the bird stands offer a book or two to read! Thus, it’s worth taking time to explore on the ground before using the teleport to reach the catacombs.
I say this because the latter really are extensive – after two visits, there is still a lot I’ve yet to reach – so going to the catacombs could distract from ground-level explorations. While it is possible to “cheat” by flycamming around the tunnels and chambers, doing so is hardly keeping in the spirit of exploration, and also risks missing the finer details awaiting discovery. The tunnels wind their way up and down, connecting chambers one to the next – although some are also dead ends in terms of finding a way through all of the tunnels, thus adding to the sense of exploration and discovery.
Books feature strongly throughout the catacombs, which can make things feel a little “samey” in wandering through them – but the chambers offer their own individual themes that more than compensate for this. From cosy lounges to vast, tiered libraries, there is a wealth of detail to be found throughout these chambers – so much so, more than one visit may be required to appreciate them all.
Many of the chambers offer a further surprise in keeping with the catacombs of Buchhaim: they are home to buchlings (booklings). Often depicted as bloodthirsty cyclops species in Zamonian legends that eat everything that gets in their way, buchlings are actually the most intelligent and educated form of existence of the catacombs of Buchhaim. They worship, collect, maintain and read books, and believe they are the ones who have the most literature, because they only have to read it while others have to write, proofread, publish and sell it.
Within Numb’s and Clifton’s catacombs, the Buchlings are to be found in tunnels and chambers, sometimes standing innocently and sometimes getting up to a little mischief (or trouble). Their presence further reinforces the region’s homage to the Zamonia books, as does the name for the setting: The Empire of Dreaming Books was the title of one of the volumes of work by Hildegunst von Mythenmetz, the most famous Zamonian writer of his time.
A truly magical setting, The Empire of Dreaming Books is well worth the time taken to visit and explore.
With thanks to Cube Republic and MorganaCarter for their suggestions to visit the region as well.
- The Empire of Dreaming Books (Santana, rated Adult)