Library’s light fantastic storybook scenes add a touch of glass: image00017

05 Jan 2024

Library’s light fantastic storybook scenes add a touch of glass

Libraries Arts

A beautiful collection of vintage magic lantern slides has been shedding new light on scenes from some of history’s most iconic stories.

The beautiful, coloured glass slides date from around 1906, and feature moments from classic tales including Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Aladdin.

Each of the delicate slides, on display at Leeds Central Library, was designed to be used in a magic lantern, a portable device that projected images onto a wall or screen where an audience could view them.

The vividly coloured, lithographic sets were originally sold in boxes of eight, and came with a script which could be read aloud while the slides were projected during a show.

The library’s collection of slides is on display as part of an exhibition exploring the fantasy genre and how it has influenced centuries of folklore, fiction and entertainment.

Rhian Isaac, special collections librarian at Leeds Central Library, said: “These beautiful slides really do capture the vibrancy and colour that we associate with the classic fairy tales we’ve all come to know so well, and it’s easy to picture them enthralling an audience in the early 20th century.

“They also demonstrate one of the many ways that fairy tales and fantasy stories have been reinvented and brought to life by different generations.

“Some of these stories are centuries old, and it’s that enduring desire to reimagine and retell them in new ways which is the reason they have lasted so long and remained part of so many childhoods.”

As well as the magic lantern slides, the exhibition, entitled Fantasy: Realms of Imagination, includes copies of Grimms Fairy Tales, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Gulliver’s Travels and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, complete with stunning illustrations by the renowned Arthur Rackham.

Also on display are ancient Greek coins dating from more than 2,000 years ago, on loan from Leeds Museums and Galleries, and featuring the monstrous Gorgon and the fabled winged horse Pegasus.

Popular fantasy TV shows including Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer also feature in the exhibition, which will close later this month.

A pair of mythical dragons are also carefully watching over their eggs in the library in an installation created by fantasy artist Anne Stokes.

Fantasy: Realms of Imagination is inspired by a current exhibition also being held at the British Library and has featured a programme of events and activities through the exhibition.

Councillor Mary Harland, Leeds City Council’s executive member for communities, said: “Leeds Central Library’s remarkable exhibition has been a wonderful exploration of the fantasy genre and the influence it has had on so many aspects of our culture.

“Many of the objects and stories on display will have brought back fond memories for some visitors while hopefully inspiring a new generation to explore these incredible stories for themselves.”

Fantasy: Realms of Imagination is at Leeds Central Library until January 17, 2024.

Parts of the exhibition will then be displayed across the city including at Chapel Allerton Library from Jan 22, Beeston Library and Community Hub from Feb 5 and Holt Park Library and Community Hub from Feb 19.

For more details or to see the events programme in full, please visit: Fantasy: Realms of Imagination (


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Leeds City Council Communications team