A magical librarian

A couple of years ago, when I started this blog, I received a reader comment adding the TV movie The Color of Magic (2008) to my Master List. The TV movie is adapted from two of Terry Pratchett’s books, the 1983 work of the same name (although it is spelled in the English way, The Colour of Magic, the first in his famous Discworld series) and the second book in the series, The Light Fantastic. About a year ago, a work colleague recommended Terry Pratchett’s book Men at Arms to me, as it is another book in the series that features the librarian character. I haven’t read The Colour of Magic yet, but I did enjoy Men at Arms, especially Pratchett’s sense of humor. So when on a recent trip to the public library I spied a DVD of The Color of Magic, I checked it out.

Reel Librarians  |  DVD case of 'The Color of Magic'

I had been warned that this TV movie was bad — even my work colleague, who loves the Discworld series, said it wasn’t very good. It is overlong, as it was conceived and developed as a two-parter. It’s also very cheesy in execution and special effects. Where the tone of the books is funny and whimsical, the movie feels silly and belabored; the filmsuffers from a lack of charm that is evident in Terry Pratchett’s writing. So, yes, this was another instance in which I watched this film so YOU DON’T HAVE TO. ;)

I also did not understand the general plot — this TV movie suffers from too.much.plot. — until I read this very detailed synopsis entry of the film in the Discworld Wiki site. This entry is SO detailed, but if you are unfamiliar with the Discworld books, suffice to say that (SPOILER ALERTS):

  • The Octavo is the greatest of all spell books and very dangerous, and it lives in the cellars of Unseen University.
  • Wizards keep killing — or attempting to kill — each other, because that’s what wizards do.
  • Tim Curry plays an evil-minded wizard named Trymon (no big casting stretch there) and wants to rule with help from the Octavo’s spells.
  • One wizard, Rincewind (played by David Jason), is the worst of the wizards because he can’t remember any basic spells or even to show up on time to wizard meetings.
  • Rincewind is therefore expelled at the beginning of the movie, which wreaks havoc because his mind inadvertently contains a spell from the Octavo. (This is also why he’s the worst wizard and can’t remember any other spells.)
  • Sean Astin ambles cluelessly through the movie as Twoflower, a rich tourist who hires Rincewind as his guide. They go on adventures outside the city but eventually come back for the final showdown against Trymon.
  • The Head Librarian starts out in human form… and then gets turned into an orangutan. Yes, an orangutan. Even in primate form, he continues to be Head Librarian of Unseen University.

The Librarian is played in human form by Nicholas Tennant, and in “Orang Utan” form by actor Richard da Costa, who also plays the Luggage. (That is a very strange sentence to write.)

Books also lead other, secret lives in the L-Space in the Discworld series — and as a member of the Librarians of Time and Space, the Librarian of Unseen University has an understanding of L-Space and its powers. It is no wonder that this TV movie highlights the Octavo, as Brian Cox (!) narrates that the “greatest of all spell books, locked and chained deep in the cellars of the Unseen University, the spells imprisoned in its pages lead a secret life of their own. And Rincewind’s departure … has left them deeply troubled…”

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

The next scene involves the Head Librarian, deep in conversation with the Arch Chancellor. The Head Librarian reveals a lot of plot in this scene — and indeed, provides plot details throughout to several characters — so his primary role in this TV movie is that of an Information Provider.

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

The Librarian also reflects the fear others have of Trymon, who is power-hungry and trying to bump off any wizard in his way to the “room at the top.”

Librarian:  … I’m just glad he doesn’t want to be Head Librarian.

Trymon [who's been eavesdropping and bursts into the room]:  Perish the thought, Horace. And I am looking for a book.

The next shot reveals the Unseen University Library in all its dusty, disorganized glory. The Librarian retrieves the book Room at the Top:  How to Succeed at Wizardry! (first chapter:  “Knife in the Back”) for Trymon and continues the theme of the previous conversation.

Librarian:  The position of Head Librarian isn’t one that really appeals to you, sir?

Trymon:  No. [smirks]

Librarian:  Oh, good.

Trymon:  It is quite possible that the next Arch Chancellor may well smile upon those who understand the importance of things being well organized.

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

A rumbling, creaking sound from the cellars — the groans of the Octavo — interrupt this conversation.

Trymon:  Is everything in order down there?

Librarian:  Oh, yes, absolutely. Everything is in alphabetical order, in fact.


The Librarian, at least while in human form, comes off as quite cowardly and sniveling. He reacts in fear, and I don’t think it’s an accident that camera angles play up his diminutive form. (For more on the Librarian character in the books, click here.)

Reel Librarians  | Screenshots from 'The Color of Magic'

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

In fact, I grew so tired of the Librarian cowering in and around Trymon — all the while supplying him with the information he needed to move forward with his evil plan — that almost halfway through the TV movie, I shouted out, “I am SO READY for the Librarian to turn into an orangutan!” And, yes, that is another strange sentence to say out loud and write.

The movie complied, as at the end of the first half, the Librarian gets accidentally gets turned into a primate by a spell released by the Octavo. The Arch Chancellor and the other wizard rush to the library, to be greeted with the Librarian sitting on his desk. Not at his desk, but ON his desk.

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

Even if I hadn’t know the Librarian got turned into an orangutan — he’s already in his primate form in Men at Arms — I could have guessed where the plot was going, based on the number of bad puns he slips in before the accident:

  • Better not monkey around with it [the Octavo], or who knows what will happen.
  • It’s the Octavo. It’s going really ape.

I was relieved that after he got turned into an orangutan, his vocabulary became limited to variations of “Ooook!”

The Librarian does not have as many scenes in the second half of the TV movie, but he does help Trymon find another book in the library. Trymon threatens him and also gives him a banana for his troubles (“it’s not as if bananas grow on trees”) — which proves to be his own downfall. Literally.

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

At the end of the film, Trymon holds all the spells but the final spell in the Octavo and is engaged in a battle with Rincewind and the bumbling tourist, Twoflower, at the top of the tower. The camera then cuts to a close-up of the Librarian with a banana in his mouth (oook?), and then we get a lovely wide shot of the tower in silhouette. And who in the world would be able to scale a tower like this… but an orangutan librarian?!

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

And that banana? Well, a banana peel just HAPPENS to find its way underneath Trymon’s foot as he prepares to send one final spell toward Rincewind. Trymon is then blasted by his own ricocheted spell!

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

Although Rincewind gets all the glory, it’s the Librarian who actually ended up saving the day! (Typical.) At the end, as Rincewind and Twoflower make their way out of the tower, the Librarian drops over the side of the wall and toward Rincewind. (Apparently, Richard da Costa studied real orangutans in a zoo to learn how they moved — not that it helped.) Rincewind hands the Librarian a banana and tells him to “Go on, you sort this all out.”

I think HE ALREADY DID. Ungrateful wizard. Ooook, indeed.

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

The Head Librarian is a minor character who appears in short scenes throughout The Color of Magic (2008), and therefore winds up in the Class III category of reel librarians. I’ve already mentioned how he fulfilled the role of Information Provider, and considering the bad puns and overly crude portrayals — both in human and ape form — he also serves as Comic Relief. We are definitely laughing AT him, even if that laughter could be characterized as nervous laughter. Plus, his last trick with the banana peel is the oldest, broadest slapstick humor there is, right?

Until next week … and make sure you look where you step! And be nice to librarians while you’re at it. Bananas optional. ;)

Time-traveling librarian

Thanks to everyone who voted for their next adventure… and here you have it, an analysis post of your chosen winner!

The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009) is a romantic drama based on the best-selling 2003 novel by Audrey Niffenegger. The love story between Henry, a time-traveling librarian (played by Eric Bana) and Clare, an artist (played by Rachel McAdams) provides the central plot, as the film jumps back and forth in time, mirroring Henry’s travels. The two actors do all they can to provide gravitas and chemistry to the movie, but the tone and execution do end up feeling a little heavy-handed.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Any kind of time-traveling-themed film involves its own brand of suspension of disbelief, as the audience has to accept somewhat circular logic and avoidance of plot holes (see also The Lake House and Premonition for other recent examples). This kind of story works better in print, and I did read the book years ago to see if Henry was a librarian in the book (he is). What’s intriguing about this variation on time travel is that Henry can’t choose when he travels back in time, and this brings on a whole host of problems and relationship instability.


Henry doesn’t get to keep his clothes when he travels, so most of his time spent time-traveling seems to be involve breaking into places to find clothes, only to leave yet another pile of clothes as he disappears again. Also, Henry is older when he goes back in time to meet Clare, who is 6 years old when they meet for the first time on Clare’s timeline (incidentally, Henry is also 6 years old when he first travels through time). A 6-year-old girl and a 30-something-year-old man who later marry? Yeah, the creep factor is always there.

For a romantic hero, Henry is also unusual, because he often has to resort to petty theft, lock-picking, and sometimes back-alley brawls during his travels. (At one point, he also uses his abilities to win the lottery. Personal morality and ethics take a slip when one slips in and out of time.)

It’s hard out there for a time-traveling librarian. ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

The two library scenes come fast and furious, both occurring within the first five minutes of the film. Three-and-a-half minutes in, we get our first shot of the library archives, as Henry travels back to his present (naked and shivering and emotionally drained). Henry wearily puts on his clothes, which are in a bundle on the library floor.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

After a heavy sigh, Henry then bends down to pick up rare books in a pile on the floor, affording us a close-up of his shoes. (Visuals of shoes feature heavily in this film, and a close-up of shoes in a field also graced the book’s cover.) Next, we see Henry bringing the stack of books to a patron in the library.

Patron:  That took you long enough.

Henry:  You have no idea.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Contrast that with the next scene, which brings sunshine and spring into the storyline. We also learn that Henry lives in Chicago. We get another wide shot of the library, this time bathed in sunlight and warm tones. The difference? This is when he first meets Clare, and they “meet cute” (or rather, “meet awkward”) in the library. Before Clare, his entire world — including his work world — feels cold and dark. With Clare, his world brightens — literally.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Fun fact:  Although the library is not named, these scenes were filmed in the Newberry Library in Chicago. This is also the library where Henry works in the book.

In this scene, we also get treated to another librarian, a young, red-haired woman perched in the stacks with a book cart in front of her. She looks quite professional — much more professional-looking than Henry — and is wearing a pin-striped Oxford blouse and a suit vest. This librarian is a typical Information Provider.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Clare:  Excuse me. I’m looking for something on papermaking at Kelmscott.

Librarian: Our special collections librarian can help you with that. [She raises her voice to get Henry's attention, who looks over at them.]

Henry:  Can I help you?

Clare:  Henry? [Claire recognizes him, but he doesn't seem to recognize her.]

Henry:  Yes?

Clare:  Henry. It’s you. You told me this would happen. I’m supposed to act normal, but I’m not really acting very normal.

Here’s Henry’s reaction to Clare’s recognition of himself. Awwwwwwwwkward.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Long story short, Henry agrees to meet up with Clare. Boy meets girl. Boy disappears. Girl has to clean up the mess. You know, the same old story. ;)

Although there are no more physical scenes of the library, there are a couple more mentions of his profession:

  • 21 minutes in, Clare introduces Henry to her friends Gomez and Charisse. Gomez isn’t favorably impressed at first, saying, “I couldn’t get anything out of him except he’s a research librarian.”
  • 25 minutes in, Gomez goes straight to Clare after learning Henry’s time-traveling secret. Gomez asks if Henry’s around, and she responds, “No, he’s at the library.”

Truthfully, it is not important to the plot that Henry is a librarian — except that it allows him to time travel, which IS the plot — so this film winds up in the Class II category. However, because of the extensive scenes we get to see of Henry outside of the library, and the personality flaws we witness, I would argue he fills an atypical role for reel librarians. Henry’s personality is atypical of most romantic heroes, full stop, and his role as a reel librarian is also secondary to the central romantic drama. It is also atypical to highlight a reel librarian, male or female, who is quite physically active and fit. (See also Rene Russo’s character in the 1989 comedy Major League). Henry is fit out of necessity, in order to survive while time-traveling.

The filmmakers are also not afraid to be critical of the lead romantic hero. Twice, Henry describes himself as a “pain in the ass.”

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

One could also argue that Henry’s role is that of a male librarian as a failure; that character type consists of self-perceived “failures” who resort to working in a library. And Henry did choose to be a librarian when he was younger and felt lost and unhappy — before he had met Clare, and before he scientifically explored his condition. However, the “male librarian as a failure” character type primarily fills the purpose of reflecting flaws in a library, or other social system or construct; this character type is also very closely tied to the library. In this film, the library is just an excuse.

Although Henry’s occupation actually does make it to the back of the DVD case (“… a handsome librarian who travels involuntarily through time”), like I said, it’s not really that important that he’s a librarian.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

His occupation is only important because it provides him a way to make a living that, well, doesn’t get in the way of his time-traveling. His job, that of a special collections or archives librarian, affords him time to spend in the archives, alone, so that no one really notices when he’s gone. (Even when he’s gone for two weeks straight, we don’t hear anything about how that affects his work.)

How’s that for an endorsement for librarianship? Be a librarian so that NO ONE will notice if you’re even there or not. SIGH.

This film attempts to end as a testament to true love and how it can stand the test of time. But there is no such love for the library. Because once Henry wins the lottery — surprise, surprise — there is no more mention of the library. Who would continue to work in a library when there’s no need to work anymore?

On that cheerful note, I bid you farewell… but you can count on me that I’ll be back next week, same time, same place. ;)

Reader poll winner

The votes are in… and y’all chose The Time Traveler’s Wife as your next adventure! I was actually a little surprised that the 2009 film starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana gathered almost half of the total votes. Cult classic Soylent Green (1973) and family-friendly animated film An Extremely Goofy Movie (2000) tied for second place, with 5 votes each.

Reel Librarians  |  Reader poll winner

So next week I will be back with a film analysis post about The Time Traveler’s Wife and Eric Bana’s portrayal of Henry, a time-traveling librarian.

Fun fact:  The release of the film was delayed almost a year due to Eric Bana’s hair! He had shaved his head for his role in 2009’s Star Trek, which he started filming right after The Time Traveler’s Wife. But he had to grow his hair back for reshoots.

Stay tuned!


Reader poll: Choose your next adventure

For all the readers of this website and blog — thank you! — I have a question to ask:  Which film would you like me to analyze next? The overall goal or mission of this website is to explore portrayals of librarians in film and what these reel librarians represent. I do that on a weekly basis through various kinds of posts, including film analysis and reviews; first impressions of films I see in the theater; film round-ups focusing on different themes relating to reel librarians; quotable librarian posts; in-depth explorations of relevant topics/themes/character types; and more.

I have a large stack of reel librarian films to review and analyze — this is a lifelong research quest, y’all, as you can see from my Master List — and I have selected 5 films for you to vote on. Choose your next adventure!

Reel Librarians  |  Reader poll:  Choose your next adventure

The following titles are from my personal collection, and I’ve tried to select a wide range of genres for you to choose from. All of the choices have major reel librarian characters and/or minor characters who have a significant role or scene(s) in the film.

  • An Extremely Goofy Movie (2000) — animated film
  • Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008) — family drama
  • The Music Man (TV, 2003) — note that this is the TV remake version
  • Soylent Green (1973) — science fiction cult classic
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009) — romantic drama

What should I watch next? You decide!

The poll will stay open through this week, and I will reveal the winner next week. And if you like this idea of you choosing what film I watch next, please leave a comment and let me know! (And if you’d like an insider’s look at what goes into a film analysis post, click here.)

Reel Librarians  |  Reader poll:  Choose your next adventure

Checking in

Reel Librarians  |  What y'all are readingAs we are fully ensconced in spring and start looking toward summer, I was thinking lately about what y’all have been reading on the blog this past quarter. And it turns out that the same five posts have been the most popular this past year (counting since last May) as well as this past quarter.

Thank goodness I have this handy dandy list of what y’all are reading on the right side of this blog. It’s called “What Y’all are Reading.” So clever. ;)

But I also looked into the statistical archives to see how these top posts have fared over time.

So let’s break it down:

Naughty Librarians (ladies, take it away)

This post, first published in March 2012, is a perennial favorite. (Not for nothing that phrases like “naughty librarians” continue to be some of the most popular keywords that lead to this blog.)

  • Views this quarter:  306
  • Views this year:  1,003
  • Views all time:  3,146

Screen Shot 2013-04-27 at 4.05.31 PM

The Jedi librarian

One my personal faves, first published in March 2013. And I need to do a follow-up on Jedi librarian Jocasta Nu, as she seems to have quite an interesting backstory!

  • Views this quarter:  189
  • Views this year:  478
  • Views all time:  555

Marian or Marion?

I recently got a bump in stats for this May 2012 post about the origin of the “Marian the Librarian” character in The Music Man, thanks to my post last week about Shirley Jones’s memoir.

  • Views this quarter:  136
  • Views this year:  463
  • Views all time:  559

Google search for 'Marian the Librarian'

Monster librarian?

I published this post, a preview of a monster librarian sighting in the Monsters University trailers, last June. So it makes sense that its total view for this past year and all time are the same.

  • Views this quarter:  121
  • Views this year:  520
  • Views all time:  520

Reel Librarians

First impressions:  Monsters University

The same goes for my review of Monsters University after I finally caught it in theaters. Favorite quote from the movie:  “What are you afraid of? You just angered a 40-foot librarian!”

  • Views this quarter:  112
  • Views this year:  362
  • Views all time:  362

And what has been the most popular post actually published tin 2014? That would be my post about the Vancouver Public Library and how we stumbled upon film crews filming scenes outside the library for a TV pilot called “Proof,” starring Jennifer Beals.

Are any of these posts your personal faves on this blog? Please leave a comment and let me know!

Marian and Ms. Jones

Shirley Jones: A MemoirI recently finished reading Shirley Jones’s autobiography, Shirley Jones: A Memoir, which was published last year by Gallery Books. Wendy Leigh has co-author credit, and it does read like Shirley Jones is having a conversation. The tone is quite informal — and boy, does Shirley Jones pack a punch with her stories! There are definitely some shocker moments in this book, as her on-screen image was quite goody two-shoes. But Ms. Jones is quite clear that she was a spitfire from the beginning! (And it’s even caused some controversy, as one particular scene apparently angered Joan Collins.)

One of my favorite stories was one she revealed about the making of The Music Man, in which she played “Marian the Librarian” in the classic 1962 film. Shirley refers to the character of Marian as a “truly liberated woman,” although I would argue that liberation is the arc of Marian’s character; it’s where she ends up, but not where the starts out. “Marian the Librarian” is the classic Liberated Librarian character type. While filming, Shirley Jones discovered that she was pregnant (with her son Patrick), and she eventually had to be shot from the waist up. By the time the big romantic scene in the film came along, Shirley Jones was heavily pregnant. Here’s how she describes the scene:

Robert Preston and I were standing on the footbridge, shooting the most romantic scene in The Music Man, in which he sand “Till There Was You” to me, and he was holding me extremely tight against his chest. As he kissed me passionately — the only kiss that took place between us during the movie — his eyes were closed. All of a sudden, the baby in my stomach gave an almighty kick!

Bob practically passed out in shock. Then he straightened up and gave me a quizzical look.

“That was Patrick Cassidy,” I said by way of explanation.

Reel Librarians  |  'The Music Man' collage

Years later, Patrick Cassidy then went to visit Robert Preston on Broadway:

After the show, Patrick went backstage and was escorted to Bob’s dressing room. He held his hand out to Bob. “My name is Patrick Cassidy.”

Robert Preston took three steps back. “Oh, no! We’ve already met.”

So funny!

If you’d like more posts about The Music Man, click here, here, and here.

A librarian, don’t ya know?

My husband has started watching the Fargo TV series, which began its first season this past month, and after watching the pilot episode, he declared that I had to start watching it. Why? Because a reel librarian shows up in the first five minutes of the pilot episode!

The series stars Martin Freeman as hapless insurance man Lester Nygaard, and Billy Bob Thornton as drifter Lorne Malvo. (And by the way, most of the action is set in Bemidji, Minnesota, and it is set in 2006, ten years after the events in the Fargo 1996 film.)

In the first episode, “The Crocodile’s Dilemma,” we first meet Lester in his house, and his wife is berating him for being a poor salesman. We then see Lester at work, sitting at his desk with a young couple. The man says they came in to get his wife on his health insurance plan, as she’s about to have a baby. Lester, no doubt smarting because of his wife’s earlier comments, tries to push them into purchasing a bigger life insurance plan.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Fargo' pilot episode

Lester:  What happens if you have an accident at your job?

Young man:  I work at the library.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Fargo' pilot episode


I get the joke — it’s hilarious to think that a librarian could get into an accident at the library, bwahahaha! — and I love all the deadpan reaction shots. The wife is giving her husband major side-eye, as seen above, and Lester’s reaction is like a deer in the headlights. He doesn’t recover well, as he then starts ratting off possible deaths (“What happens if you have a car crash and go out the windshield?”)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Fargo' pilot episode

Oooooops. You’re a librarian, eh?

The young couple smile back nervously, grab their jackets, and high-tail it out of there as soon as they can.

Lester’s reaction?  “Aw, heck.”

Andrew McKenzie plays the reel librarian, and his role is simply credited as “Young Man.” I also looked up his name on IMDb.com, and he’s also credited in the 10th episode of the Fargo TV series, so obviously I will have to keep watching the show!

You betcha I’ll be back with a follow-up post with more reel librarian references. Anyone else watching the TV version of Fargo?