For this week’s #artefict I’m going to review an episode from Avatar: The Last Airbender – season 2, episode 10: The Library. For those of you who haven’t come across the Avatar series, you really should watch it (but NOT the 2009 film). It is set in a world where some people are able to bend (i.e. manipulate) the four classical elements. It follows Aang, the 12-year-old avatar (the one person who can bend all four elements) in training, and his friends (AKA the gAang) as they try to bring peace and unity to the world by ending the Fire Lord’s war against the other three nations.
Training to be the avatar is proving tough and in this episode the gAang have decided to take mini vacations. They end up in a bar on one of these vacations where they meet our resident Archaeologist, Professor Zei, head of Anthropology at Ba Sing Se University (finding an archaeologist in a bar: tick). He is immediately fascinated with Aang, the last of the air nomads, and asks him the question that made me decide to review this episode for #artefict:
“Tell me, what was the primary agricultural product of your people?” Professor Zei to Aang
Professor Zei then tells them about a legendary library, lost in the nearby desert, which he has been trying to find for his entire career (unrealistic career goals: tick). The gAang decide to help him, hoping that the library may have some information they can use in their struggle against the Fire Nation. They fly over the desert (aerial survey: tick) on Appa the flying Sky Bison and finally spot the library, which has been so difficult to find because the main body is sunk into the sand (stratigraphy/archaeological process: tick). They all assume that the library has been destroyed, which leads the professor to cry:
“My life’s ambition is now full of sand! …Well, time to start excavating!” Professor Zei bouncing back quickly.
It soon transpires that the library is not actually destroyed, merely underground. They manage to get inside by climbing through a window and abseiling. The professor marvels at the architecture until he catches the confused glances of the gAang (getting overly excited at old buildings: tick).
They meet the spirit guardian of the library, who demands they contribute to the library before they enter. The gAang hopefully produce a water bending scroll, a wanted poster of Aang and a special knot (oh Sokka). The professor proffers a huge tome, which he apparently was carrying around with him (carries huge books everywhere: tick), which the spirit appreciates A LOT. Provided they don’t use the knowledge they find against other human beings (which they plan to), the spirit lets them in and they start roaming the library to find information on the fire nation.
After some serious misuse of library property by Sokka, the spirit discovers they have broken their promise to not use the knowledge against other human beings and begins to sink the library, taking back his knowledge so no human can use it again. He also tries to kill them. A huge chase ensues resulting in a narrow escape for the gAang, but the professor decides to stay in the sinking library (dying for research: uurhh tick?).
For those confused about anthropology/archaeology, anthropology in the US is a discipline usually separated into four fields, a method of study widely attributed to Franz Boas. Archaeology is one field, along with biological, linguistic and cultural anthropology.
Professor Zei is a great fictional archaeologist. He has no mad special skills as archaeologists usually have in fiction, just a general scholarly archaeological knowledge and interest. His first question to Aang highlights his interest in the way of life of the Air Nomads – most people just ask Aang to show them some cool avatar stuff. He’s a nice character who is amicably interested and dedicated to research without causing others suffering because of it. So often the scholar is the one that causes strife because they couldn’t resist taking an artefact, taking ages to analyse something or reading from the Book of the Dead…
When the professor stays behind, he does not ask the gAang to try to save the library with him in it. He was only there for one episode, to give Team Avatar the push to get crucial information on the Fire Nation, but he certainly made an impact on me.
Archaeologist rating: 4.5/5 I’m not sure how this guy could get more realistic as an archaeologist – maybe we could see him struggling with writing a grant application to go on never ending sabbatical to find a library that some people think isn’t even real?
The Library | Avatar: The Last Airbender S2 E10 (2006) Nickelodeon