Sunday, August 10, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Libraries of Timbuktu

Way too many news stories happen in any given year for me to garage sale them all, even if I made a serious effort to keep up with the news. (Which I don't, because depression + crying jags.) So excuse me that the inspiring link to the thriller about the rescue of the Manuscripts of Timbuktu dates back to April.

It boggles my mind, however, that there's no movie in the works yet. Youthful vow to guard a fabulous fragile treasure in the form of the manuscripts, implacable black-hearted foe in the form of the book-burning legions of Al-Qaeda posing an imminent threat; desperate coordinated action under the noses of the conquering Bad Guys; "exotic, distant" lands (from the point of view of the locii of thriller-making, southern California and New York) - seriously, this has it all! For YA authors, it is no great stretch to get a fictional hero in the correct age range, given that business about "family vows," working within the covert organizational framework provided by Dr Abdel Kader Haidara, who led the rescue attempt.

The equally urgent threat of mold and subobtimal curation environments in the Mali refuge where the bulk of the manuscripts wound up is less photogenic and requires more work. But a movie which used the safe arrival in Mali as the unambiguous happy ending required by the thriller format could be leveraged into a fundraising effort to provide for the safe curation and study of the manuscripts, and benefit the reputation and bottom-line of the production company. So the sooner somebody with deep pockets gets on this, the better.

A whole treasure-trove of disparate stories, however, lies behind this, in the possibilities presented by Sankore University of Timbuktu, where these manuscripts originated. Starting with a mosque in the tenth century, Sankore attracted students and scholars from all over the known world. Timbuktu was a thriving cosmopolitan metropolis which rivaled the cities of Europe - yes, even Paris; even Rome - when it didn't outright overshadow them. As a setting, it can't be beat - none of the stories buried in this fertile soil have been told to modern Western audiences before. It should only take a little digging to turn up a lifetime's worth of intriguing possibility. Love stories, war stories, political intrigue, spiritual exploration; fantasy and gritty realism - they must all be waiting there for the willing researcher.

What if a modern Al-Qaeda member intent on destroying the knowledge of the past got lost in a time loop and went back, alone, to 16th-century Timbuktu? Would he wreak havoc? Would he undergo a major character arc and, in the absence of the social, personal, and political pressures that set him on this path, acquire more humility and a truer Islamic spirit? Or would his isolation in an alien time exacerbate his opinions into madness?

What if the last member of a family sworn to protect its cache of books is a young girl who has internalized both her responsibility to the manuscripts and her responsibility to adhere to "traditional" feminine roles? What positions does this put her in; and how does she choose when these responsibilities conflict?

Who was the "female philanthropist from Mandinka" who financed the infrastructure of the University; what else did she fund, where did her money come from, what motivated her philanthropy?

How did European scholars who came to study in Sankore during the times generally called "medieval" live? What did they do with the knowledge they gained? How did they deal with living as a Christian minority among Muslims, and learning from them? What were the burning questions and conflicts of the day?

Asian scholars, ditto?

It's kind of like that dazzling expanse of snow I remember waking up to when I was small and lived in places where snow happened. You're afraid to step in it, lest you mess it all up. But you can't build snowwomen, or forts, or have snowball fights, or even get to school, without taking those first steps; and once you start, isn't it glorious to run around in?

No comments:

Post a Comment