The League Of Extraordinary Librarians
Library. The space of infinite knowledge, solace, and easy means of exposition in films and literatures. This place conjured inspirations of many. Jorge Luis Borges dreamed up the infinite library in his story The Library of Babel, and Alberto Manguel wrote Library at Night, collection of essays about different perspectives on library. The library offers convenient means of exposition for the speculative fictions. The band of heroes who need research will go into nearby libraries, and they will find the answer to what they are looking for.
But where are librarians? In many cases, librarians play supportive roles only, usually providing information for the heroes during their investigations, or entirely missing. If the characters need scientific help, the scientist would have been a character, and have some screen times to show off his or her character. Not so much luck with librarians. The characters just walk into a library and within few seconds they find the answer. So where do we find librarians? Are they hiding behind the bookshelves while the heroes are stopping by for the exposition time?
In some cases, librarians are portrayed in negative light; either they are lifeless and strict, or utterly unattractive lots. Even when they are portrayed in positive lights, they are often mere supporting roles, staying away from the major action.
In the world of fictions, many professions are either neglected or overly romanticized. Scientists are perhaps the most romanticized (or distorted) professions, as well as archeologists. Librarians and the rest have not received much attention. But it does not mean that librarians have not had chance to shine. There are few characters with librarian background or active librarians who perform extraordinary tasks. It would be noteworthy to examine how their backgrounds and educations are used to understand how professions are depicted in fictions.
This article is intended to spotlight such characters, who break the stereotype of dull, boring librarians and kick ass.
Bat-Girl: Librarian By Day, Vigilante By Night
Bat-Girl, a.k.a Barbara Gordon, is the one of the most well-known super heroine from DC Universe. With the popularity of Batman franchise thanks to the Dark Knight Trilogy and the Arkhamverse games, Bat-Girl receives impressive amount of attention.
Bat-Girl’s civilian identity is often known as Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, but in many stories Barbara is also known as Doctor Barbara Gordon, with Ph.D in Library Science. She even becomes the head of Gotham City Public Library.
To many fans, Bat-Girl is an inspirational figure. She is the living evidence that women can kick ass as much as men, but also a survivor of horrible violence who continued to fight on. When the Joker shot Barbara in The Killing Joke, it left her paralyzed and forced her to retire from the active crime fighting role. However, Barbara continued to aid Batman and other heroes as the Oracle, the information and technical guru who provided valuable information and support. After the New 52, Barbara recovered and became Bat-Girl again, once again fighting crimes in the front line.
Librarian is an interesting choice for the super hero’s civilian identity; often the civilian identities of the heroes are something allowed the characters to approach the scene of crime or incidents easily. Super-Man can easily approach suspicious area as an innocent looking reporter, and Batman uses multiple investigation techniques, such as disguising as a mobster, to watch on Gotham’s criminals. Spider-Man, before he became the owner of Parker Industry (thanks to Doctor Octopus), had been often depicted as a photographer looking for an interesting scene to sell to Jonah Jameson. Even when Peter Parker was a high school teacher, his connections to the students kept him close to the scenes of evil activities. Compared to such professions, librarian may sound like a safe job, where one is guarded from many vices of the world.
Some may not think librarian is a great civilian identity for a crime fighter, but it makes sense to imagine a librarian sensing a crime in the community; public libraries often become shelters for teenagers or homeless depending on the location of the branch, the guards are always alert to any sign of trouble. Plus, when you consider that many crimes in detective novels occur in seemingly peaceful and innocent places, library can be an interesting choice of setting.
Librarian Of The Unseen University: Have Fun While You Are… An Orangutan?
Discworld series, created by the late Sir Terry Pratchett, introduced many eccentric characters. From a wizard who cannot use magic to a murderous living luggage with legs, you can find many unique and hilarious characters…including the Orangutan working as a librarian in the Unseen University.
The Unseen University is the magical education institution in Ankh Morpork, the city state where the most of the stories are set. The University’s library is full of magic that many mysterious events happen. It is revealed that the Librarian used to be human, but due to the magic in the library he was morphed into an orangutan.
The Librarian can only speak in “ook”, yet those who worked with him closely, such as Rincewind, can understand him perfectly. It seems like the communication barrier does not hinder him from performing his duties, and sometimes he is involved in the major actions in the story such as building a motorcycle for the Death.
What makes the Librarian interesting is that he is very energetic character. Not only he is described to be very strong, he is also one of the most capable characters in the series. He is seen building motorcycles, playing in a band, or defending the library in dangerous situation. Forget all the quiet and ineffective stereotypes about librarians. This librarian is capable of breaking some bones while doing his job right.
Henry Armitage – The Only Successful Hero In The Cthulhu Mythos?
It is well known that Howard Philips Lovecraft almost detests happy ending. In Lovecraft’s world, the human mind cannot survive the indescribable horror of the Unknown terror. Many of the characters either go insane, or live in constant fear and despair.
Despite this grim tendency, Lovecraft managed to present few stories where the characters not only survive, but also perform rather heroic feats. Randolph Carter is the most well-known of such characters; Carter ventures into the Dreamland to find the Dream City of Kadath, and even gets involved in the warfare against the strange creatures. Dr. Willet from The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is another of such “hero” of Lovecraft. In this story, Dr. Willet solves the mysterious case regarding Charles Dexter Ward.
Henry Armitage from Dunwich Horror is another Lovecraftian hero, and perhaps he is the one character Lovecraft actually liked. Lovecraft revealed in his letter that he started to identify himself with this old scholar while writing the story. Considering Lovecraft’s extreme self-criticisms, it is quite interesting detail.
Dunwich Horror is the story of the sons of Yog Sothoth trying to summon their father into our world, and Henry Armitage is there to stop them. Armitage is an elderly librarian in Arkham University. When Wilbur Whateley, the youth with an abnormal growth both in mind and body, asks to check out the notorious Necromonicon, Armitage prevents him from taking it out of the library. Until the death of Wilbur, Armitage does not seem to be a heroic material although he did sense that something was wrong with the young Whateley.
Henry Armitage takes more assertive role when the invisible monster starts to terrorize the town. From this point, Armitage researches and plans to fight off the monster to save the humanity. After using the magic spell to expel the monster into another dimension, Henry Armitage returns…with sanity. If you have read few Lovecraft stories, you may find it rather surprising.
The character of Armitage is not too peculiar by himself, but the fact that Lovecraft liked this character makes him interesting. Lovecraft was pessimistic towards the progress and scientific discoveries. Many of his stories involve exploring the forbidden knowledge, and often simply knowing more than others lead to madness. Armitage on the other hand, is a librarian who is in charge of keeping the knowledge safe; his first exploit is to prevent Wilbur from approaching Necronomicon, and although he researches he does not venture into the unknown region. Perhaps such conservative traits are why Lovecraft identified himself with the character.
If Lovecraft kept Armitage for the later stories, the scope of Cosmic Horror might have been different, or Armitage could have ended up like other Lovecraftian victims.
Honorable Mention: Optimus Prime- The Baddest Archivist In The Universe
To be exact, some version of Optimus Prime. There have been many versions of this leader of Autobots, and each come with unique backgrounds. It is interesting to note that Optimus was either librarian or information professional in more than one universe.
In Transformers Prime, Optimus was an archivist named Orion Pax before becoming the leader of Autobots. He was of peaceful nature, and befriended Megatron when the latter was seeking to bring revolution to the corrupted Cybertronian society. Orion advised Megatron with his knowledge, and eventually confronted the politicians to deliver the message of the revolution. However, when Orion was chosen to be the next Prime, Megatron betrayed him in envy and started the war.
In case of Optimus Prime, his librarian experience has little to do with the main storyline, although it gives a context for his knowledge and benevolent nature. In this case, a librarian background is used to add depth to the character’s personality.
Transformers Prime is not the only title in the series which give Optimus librarian background. Dreamwave version was the first title to give Optimus data archivist position, and in Shattered Glass, the parallel world where good and evil are reversed, Optimus Prime appears as the former librarian who decides to conquer the universe after being sick of peaceful world. This evil version of Optimus is described to be obsessed with knowledge, and he advanced in the society using various plots and schemes. In this case, Optimus’ character deviates from the usual stereotype of librarians being peaceful and quiet, and turns into sadistic tyrant.
In either case, Transformers argues that you cannot judge a person’s future by their current profession. No matter how nerdy it seems, you never know whether he/she will be the greatest savior, or the cruelest tyrant.
Be Quiet In The Library… No More?
Some librarian characters certainly do not demand silence. They are men/women of action at the time of need, and can apply their professional skills to overcome their problems.
It would be beneficial for both authors and audiences to depict more diverse profession in fiction. First of all, it breaks monotony of character backgrounds, and it also shines light on people with less “interesting” professions. By focusing on less highlighted professions, the readers and the authors alike can appreciate their presence and expand their worldview.
Besides, would it not be fun to imagine unlikely hero to save the day?
What do you think? Leave a comment.