Between the Lines: Jim Hines, Libriomancer

Jul 22, 2016

Jim C. Hines
Credit Courtesy Jim Hines

Librarians are magic. Any bookworm or someone with a well-worn and tattered library card knows that. And Michigan author Jim C. Hines knows it better than most, having created Isaac Vainio, a character who is a librarian and a magician. He's a "libriomancer" who can literally pull magical beings into the world from the written word.

“Isaac Vainio is a libriomancer from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” Hines says. “At the start of the "Magic ex Libris" series, he's gotten himself into trouble and has been put into a kind of magical time-out. Over the course of the series, various magical things get loose— well, I don’t want to spoil that!”

Hines is the author of twelve fantasy novels, including the "Magic ex Libris" series, the "Princess" series of fairy tale retellings, the humorous "Goblin Quest" trilogy, and the Fable Legends tie-in Blood of Heroes. He’s won the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer. Hines’ newest book is Revisionary, the fourth book in the "Magic ex Libris" series (DAW, February 2016).

Hines says Revisionary takes a different turn from most fantasy books: “So many urban fantasy books and series have the assumption that magic exists but it’s a secret. I look around at how well we as a species keep secrets—and I have a really hard time believing we would be able to hide this. We’re not that good. Over the course of the four 'Magic ex Libris' books, the secret starts to come out.”

Credit DAW Books

With his ability to pull what he needs from books, Isaac Vainio, the librarian, borrows from Star Trek, the Narnia books, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and others. How fun is that?

But Hines does more than just play with magic and create fascinating worlds. He brings in contemporary issues like sexism and turns them on their head. Sometimes he even has a bit of fun with them. To illustrate the misogyny of many fantasy and science fiction book covers featuring scantily-clad women in impossible positions, Hines asked his wife photograph parodies, posing himself in the place of the women. The result, one of his most popular blog posts, can be seen on his website and in calendars he creates as fundraisers.

He also deals with issues seriously, while maintaing a sense of humor. Hines wrote his "Princess" series of fairy tale retellings in part to show his daughter that girls have many options other than hanging onto the arm of Prince Charming.

“I grew up in this culture with stereotypes and assumptions and beliefs that got ingrained in my head that I’m continuing to try to be aware of and clean up,” Hines says. “In the 'Princess' series, it’s more than putting in that one token strong female character. I do have a daughter, and she was going through that fairy tale princess phase. I wasn’t going to tell her no, you can’t watch Disney, you can’t watch those Barbie movies. But I wanted to put more stories out there where the princesses were the heroes of their own stories.”

To Hines’ surprise, he got “a little pushback on those books.” “I got reviews and comments that said, Jim! You didn’t write in any male characters! And I sat there, thinking, 'Gosh, gee. I wonder what that must feel like.'”

Hines says more diversity and inclusion can only help the fantasy genre. He's interested in bringing in more readers of all kinds.

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