Ascendance of a Bookworm

Spoiler Alert!

You have always loved books of all kinds: history, literature, art, science, mathematics, geography, religion, foreign language and others. Over the course of your life, you’ve collected countless books and you feel happy with the treasure of humanity’s knowledge accumulated around you.

One day, there is a sudden earthquake and an avalanche of books collapses on top of you. As you feel yourself slipping away, you wish for only one thing: to continue reading all kinds of books in your next life.

In what feels like an eternity of darkness, you hear the fading voice of a little girl calling for help. You open your eyes…and find yourself in bed.

Looking around, you find yourself in a dusty room with rundown wooden walls. You look down on your body and are shocked to see it is that of a little girl.

A woman with green hair comes in and says something to you…what did she say? Memories not your own overwhelm your mind and you realize that the woman is your…mother? No! That can’t be right! Ahh! If only you had something to read, you’d feel better!

Later, a girl, whom you know as your older sister Tuuli, comes to see how you are doing.

You ask her for a book to read, only for her to reply, “A book? What’s a book?” Huh? How is this possible? You decide to look around the house for a book, searching the boxes, bags, corners, and shelves, but you couldn’t find a single written word at all…

Ascendance of a Bookworm: I’ll do anything to become a librarian! (本好きの下剋上 ~司書になるためには手段を選んでいられません~ Honzuki no Gekokujō: Shisho ni Naru Tame niwa Shudan o Erandeiraremasen) is a light novel series, manga and anime written by Miya Kazuki (香月美夜 Kazuki Miya).

Born in a medieval-era fantasy world (specifically the city of Ehrenfest) where books are scarce, expensive and available only to aristocrats, the little girl Myne, retaining her memories as a modern-day bookworm, decides to write and print her own books so that she can read again. At the same time, she has live with the limits of her frail body and near-constant fevers. With help from her friend Lutz, Myne makes several attempts to create alternatives for books, such as papyrus, clay tablets and wooden slates, only for each of them to fail. At the same time, she introduces several modern-day items to her new world, such as homemade shampoo, decorative hairpins, pancakes and consommé soup.

Myne and Lutz eventually meet the local merchant Benno, who had taken an interest to the girl rumored to have produced innovative, and potentially profitable, items. Myne uses this opportunity to propose a deal with Benno: in exchange for taking her and Lutz in as apprentice merchants and funding, Benno would get a share of the profits from the sale of Myne’s revolutionary, plant-based paper (at this time, only expensive animal-skin parchment was being produced).

Several months later, Myne and Lutz produce prototype paper as samples and gain Benno’s approval, prompting him to help the two children register temporarily as merchants at the Merchants’ Guild so that they may legally sell their new product. The guild leader Gustav approves the registration on the promise that Myne would prepare a hairpin for his granddaughter, Frieda, to wear at her baptism ceremony. While talking with Frieda, Myne learns that they both have the Devouring, an incurable disease caused by the excess mana in their bodies. Fevers caused by the Devouring will gradually kill the victim…

Main Characters

Myne, the 5-year old daughter of Gunther, a soldier, and Effa, a seamstress, born in the city of Ehrenfest. In her previous life, Myne was Urano Motosu (本須 麗乃 Motosu Urano), a Japanese college graduate and a newly-hired librarian who loved books and reading, resulting in Myne displaying maturity and intelligence unheard of for her background. Having a frail little body and plagued with constant fevers, Myne finds even simple physical tasks such as long-distance walking to be challenging and tiring. She has a rare, incurable condition called the “Devouring” which is caused by the excessive mana (magic energy) in her body that manifests as frequent fevers which occur whenever she is depressed or stressed. Despite her disabilities, Myne is determined to become the first librarian of her new world.

Tuuli, Myne’s older sister by two years. At the time Urano reincarnates as Myne, Tuuli is preparing to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a seamstress and for her baptism, which every child in Ehrenfest undergoes at the city’s temple when they become 7 years old. Myne makes a hairpin with flowers woven from thread for Tuuli to wear. This hairpin would later be the talk of the merchants and nobles alike as they try to find and buy their own, eventually catching Benno’s interest.

Lutz, the son of a carpenter and the youngest of four brothers. He is the best friend of Myne, who is the same age as him. He accompanies and supports Myne as she pursues her dreams, helping her with physical tasks such as digging up clay, gathering plants for paper production and carrying equipment (or even her!). Lutz’s dream is to become a merchant, despite the opposition he faces from his parents. He eventually suspects that Myne is no longer her old self and is actually someone else, but continues to be her friend nonetheless.

Otto, a soldier of Ehrenfest and a subordinate of Gunther, Myne’s father. Before becoming a soldier, Otto was a traveling merchant who eventually earned enough money to settle down and purchase citizenship in Ehrenfest in order to marry his wife, Corinna. After Myne helps him to finish the annual city guard accounting reports, Otto teaches Myne to read and write in the language used by Ehrenfest.

Benno, a merchant and the proprietor of the Gilberta Company. He is also Corinna’s older brother and Otto’s brother-in-law. Impressed with Myne’s intellect and innovation, he takes her and Lutz as apprentices in exchange for the rights to part of the profits from Myne’s product ideas. Benno provides the two children with the capital, equipment and a workshop to enable them to produce paper, which could provide a cheaper alternative to the parchment currently being widely used. Despite being somewhat ambitious, Benno grows to care for the children (Myne in particular), teaching them about currency, merchant protocols and how to use negotiation and secrecy as tools to gain benefits in trade.

Frieda, the granddaughter of Gustav, the head of the Merchants’ Guild. Like her grandfather, Frieda enjoys making money and can be rather ruthless in negotiation, believing in earning as much money as possible, whenever possible. Like Myne, she has the Devouring. With her family’s money and connections, Frieda has access to magic items that can temporarily alleviate her growing fevers.

Personal Thoughts

The title of this story is somewhat misleading, since it has little to do with reading by itself. The main focus of this story is about determination, the value of knowledge and, later, the skill of negotiation. Myne gradually uses her modern-day knowledge to introduce a variety of items and methods previously unknown in her current world, which incidentally makes her a valuable asset to others. As a result, Myne finds herself using negotiation and persuasion to not only gain the resources she needs to read books, but also to protect herself against those who would take advantage of her, in order to compensate for her poor health.

Like many heroes in literature, Myne is determined achieve her goals in life despite the challenges before her. The hindrances caused by her poor health and condition make her tasks even more difficult, but she refuses to let that stop her. Myne doesn’t always remember that she has a disease that frequently leaves her bedridden and could potentially kill her, which sometimes gives her problems whenever she finds herself fascinated with books and reading. In a way, she reminds me of Helen Keller, who was able to learn how to read and write and earn a university degree despite being blind-deaf.

Like other isekai heroes, Myne has introduced modern-day items and ideas to fantasy world, particularly the concept of mass-produced books. It’s like how the invention of the first printing press led to books, early newspapers and notices becoming easier to produce and thus cheaper, which in turn led to the spread of knowledge to all walks of life, not just the wealthy. We live in an age where information is easy to send out to others, particularly through the Internet, email, blogs and so forth. It’s likely that we have taken knowledge for granted so that we often fail to realize just how important and special education is for our lives.

Moral

While it is good to work towards your dreams, it is also important to take reality into consideration. Knowledge by itself is no alternative to practical experience.

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