Wan Shi Tong – Pop! Profile

Wan Shi Tong (via the Avatar Wiki)

Wan Shi Tong (via the Avatar Wiki)

“I am Wan Shi Tong, he who knows ten thousand things, and you are obviously humans; which, by the way, are no longer permitted in my study.”

Let’s get this out of the way first: I’m not a big fan of anime. Friendly, furry tree spirits aside who like umbrellas aside, I’ve never understood the appeal. That said, I began watching Avatar: The Last Airbender with my husband, who is a fan of anime. Three or four episodes in, I became hooked. Aang and his group of friends are endearing, the story is magical and unique, and the world of the story is fascinating. In the same way that Harry Potter engenders the imagination, Avatar makes you think about our own world in relation to the make-believe, and it even allows you to match your background and personality with that of the different tribes. For example, I know very well (after taking numerous online quizes) that I’m a Ravenclaw and a waterbender. So there! So, forget about the travesty that was the 2010 film adaptation directed by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named – in fact, forget I even mentioned it right here. The show is brilliant. Period.

The second season of a follow-up series, The Legend of Korrais currently airing on Nickelodeon. The story centers around the next Avatar in line after Aang, a waterbender named Korra. While it touches on a few of the same themes, it just isn’t the same experience for me. The world is similar, although “newer” and less rough, but the characters are older and more annoying. I don’t feel the same love for Korra and her friends as I did for Aang and his. We’ve been dutifully watching new episodes on Hulu, but without much interest. Lo and behold, I was quite pleased the other night when we sat down to watch the latest episode and one of my very favorite characters made an appearance: his name is Wan Shi Tong, and he’s an owl. Well, more to the point, he’s a spirit owl. Oh, and he’s a librarian. And his ancient library is amazing.


The ancient library. I mean, LOOK AT IT.

In the world of the original Avatar series, the ancient library was largely a mystery – no one truly knew where it was located, as it had been buried in the sand for centuries. Team Avatar (Aang and his buddies) needed to do some research about blah blah plot details, so they go out to look for it in the desert. In the end, they are only able to locate the structure because they happen to see a Knowledge Seeker enter the building through an opening in the desert sand. What is a Knowledge Seeker, you ask?


Knowledge Seekers: cute fox-like spirits seeking knowledge one tome at a time

Yes. Fox spirits. These knowledge seekers do exactly that: they travel the world looking for books to add to the ancient library. Even after the library is buried and all but inaccessible, they still fulfill their duties. They also assist patrons when they need to locate information. In these ways, they serve as both acquisitions and public services staff members, and they all serve Wan Shi Tong – the head librarian.

Wan Shi Tong is the worst example of a librarian: he’s mean, territorial, single-minded, and spiteful. He’s the reason why the library is buried in sand to begin with, and after he encounters Team Avatar, he’s the reason the library vanishes all together from the human world. That he takes the form of an owl is no coincidence; owls often symbolize wisdom, which is a fitting animal for a librarian spirit. The barn-owl mask is also an interesting choice, because it gives him a stony, ghostlike expression that changes little. The actor who voices Wan Shi Tong, Héctor Elizondo, does so with a slight haughty grace, but it’s subtle and not cartoony by any means.

His innate distrust of humans reminds me of a prickly, old librarian who has dealt with the public far too long and can therefore no longer trust them. (Remember: Librarians are Mean.) His main concern is the collection and protection of knowledge, which in librarian-speak makes him a kind of archivist. If that’s the case, he’s one of those paranoid archivists who dislike the idea of their precious rare materials getting in the wrong hands; soon enough, the “wrong hands” become “anyone’s hands.” Wan Shi Tong allows Team Avatar to peruse his library, but forbids them to use anything they find to aid them in the war against the Fire Nation. Spoiler alert: Team Avatar totally goes against Wan Shi Tong’s rules and as a result the ancient spirit Shuts. Down. Everything. Out of spite, he pulls his library from the human world forever. All that knowledge, gone.

Or that would have been the case, had The Legend of Korra not revisited Wan Shi Tong and his library in the recent episode “A New Spiritual Age.” Korra and her friend Jinora travel to the Spirit World, and Jinora makes her way to the library. Wan Shi Tong is even more hostile to humans, if that’s even possible, and he becomes angered when Jinora (who is Aang’s granddaughter btw) challenges his Under No Circumstances rule when it comes to humans entering his library again. In a wonderful moment, Jinora tries to trick Wan Shi Tong into honoring an old rule of his: that a human may remain in the library if they offer new knowledge in exchange. (Awesome loophole is awesome!) While Wan Shi Tong does not fall for this, claiming it’s an “old rule”, he does allow Jinora to look around, but it turns out that Wan Shi Tong is in league with Korra’s enemy, her uncle Unalaq. Gasp shock! (Remember: Librarians are Also Evil.)

Librarians are also freaking terrifying?

Librarians are also freaking terrifying? (via Hypable)

Despite his evilness, Wan Shi Tong and his library make for an incredible story. He’s a fan favorite character from the first series for a reason: you feel respect, awe, irritation, and terror at the idea of an incredibly old, intelligent, and diligent being who wants nothing more than to cultivate a mass of knowledge and keep it safe. His thirst for knowledge makes him lower his guard twice – once for the Avatar, and again for his descendent – and every time he does so, his belief in the folly of human-kind is reinforced. “Humans don’t want to learn,” he thinks. “They want to destroy.” Is he wrong? Is he so very wrong for wanting to keep his books – the very things he is meant to protect – out of the equation?

Mean librarian, old librarian, evil librarian – sure. But what about tired librarian? Been there, done that librarian? Besides – how bad can a character be if he hires fox spirits to staff his awesome library?

So you tell me: are you a fan of Avatar or The Legend of Korra? What do you think of Wan Shi Tong? How much do you want a pet fox now?


Madam Pince – Pop! Profile

Madam Pince: The library is now closed. Mind that you return anything you have borrowed to the correctwhat have you been doing to that book, you depraved boy?

Harry Potter: It isn’t the library’s, it’s mine!

Madam Pince: Despoiled! Desecrated! Befouled!

Harry Potter: It’s just a book that’s been written on!

I love the Harry Potter series – I know, what a typical stance for a bibliophile librarian to take. The books are not masterfully written by any means, but the intricate plot, lovable characters, and overall emphasis on love, friendship, intelligence and perseverance really make my nerdy heart sing. Last summer when I visited Universal’s Harry Potter world, I wanted to dropkick children out of my way so I could experience butterbeer (amazing!) and perhaps even visit the wand shop for my very own not-so-subtle physical representation of my personality and skill set. That’s what wands really stand for, right?

Okay, so I’m a huge nerd.  My favorite character is and will always be the goofy ginger Ron Weasley, and while that may cause you to dismiss me as a Hermione Granger, you’d be dead wrong.  You see, I’m a Ravenclaw.  After taking more online sorting hat quizzes than I’d care to admit, some things are certain: 1) I’m not brave enough to be in Gryffindor, 2) I’m not dull enough to be in Hufflepuff and 3) I’m not ambitious (or evil) enough to be in Slytherin.  Ravenclaw members are characterized by their wit and wisdom – what better House to birth a Librarian?

Irma Pince – or Madam Pince, as she’s typically called – has a very small role in the books, and an even smaller role in the movies. Although she’s obviously a witch, her magic skills are rather undefined.  What does define her is her protectiveness over her collection of rare books – who can blame her?  She’s the only Librarian at the Library of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, so I think she can be forgiven for freaking out if she catches someone eating a chocolate frog amongst her prized possessions.  She’s described as a “thin, irritable woman who looked like an underfed vulture” – not exactly flattering to librarians or vultures, if you ask me.  She screams at Harry and his friends every now and then, prowls around the stacks looking for ne’er do wells, and is quite unpopular among the students.  Perhaps this is why no one ever seems to ask for help when it comes to, I don’t know… research.

Because you see, Madam Pince is never consulted; her librarian skills are never put to the test.  Hermione alone spends an almost unhealthy amount of time in the school’s library, researching evil phenomena and other highly academic subjects, but never does she happen to wonder up to the Head Librarian to ask for help.  What purpose does Madam Pince serve, other than to screech and quite possibly cast spells on her beloved books?  Quite simply, from the very beginning, the students are afraid of her.  Worse, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry thinks better of asking Madam Pince to help him research Nicolas Flamel – the wizard who created the stone – but he chose not to because he didn’t want to raise her suspicions.  As a shrewd and obviously uptight authority figure, the kids simply don’t trust her.  In fact, they’re probably right not to.

Madam Pince therefore fulfills the tried and true old lady librarian stereotype: shriveled and ugly, screechy and irritable. Unapproachable.  Unhelpful.  Perhaps this is why she was only shown briefly in the film adaptations, where (portrayed by British actress Sally Mortemore) she bares a strange resemblance to Alan Rickman’s Snape – who is equally irritable, unapproachable, and unhelpful.  She really serves no purpose, other than to vex Harry and his friends, causing them to sneak around and search for answers on their own.  But, you might be protesting, the sneaking is what makes the books so much fun!  As J. K. Rowling has said/apologized, perhaps the story would have been different had the children been saddled with a “better” librarian:

I would like to apologize for you and any other librarians present here today and my get-out clause is always if they’d had a pleasant, helpful librarian, half my plots would be gone. ‘Cause the answer invariably is in a book but Hermione has to go and find it. If they’d had a good librarian, that would have been that problem solved. So … sorry.”

That’s not to say that sometimes reveling in the stereotype is at times fun: when Madam Pince curses Harry and Ginny’s things to chase them out when she catches them eating chocolate in the library, it’s hard for me not to feel a little satisfaction.  Now there’s a skill many librarians wouldn’t mind having.