My thoughts, reactions, and questions while watching ‘The Sandman’ TV series

When the TV series adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s legendary graphic novel series, The Sandman, premiered in early August on Netflix, several friends alerted me to the fact that a reel librarian is one of the main characters. As I was a newbie to The Sandman realm (but already a firm fan and reader of Neil Gaiman’s writing, a seeming contradiction that is possible, as I explain), I decided to live-tweet my reactions while I watched each episode of The Sandman series. The first season of this series included 10 main episodes, and then dropped a bonus eleventh episode a couple of weeks later. And in this post, I have collected my thoughts, reactions, and questions I had while watching the TV series.

To prep for the series, I listened to Tom and Lorenzo’s Pop Style Opinionfest podcast, “Everything You Wanted to Know About the Sandman,” which served as a good intro for the main characters and themes. I particularly appreciated that Tom is a hard-core fan of The Sandman, whereas Lorenzo is a newbie like me, so I felt seen –and not silly or shamed — in not being familiar already with the Sandman realm.

Here is a trailer for The Sandman series via Netflix:

The Sandman | Official Trailer | Netflix” video uploaded by Netflix, Standard YouTube License

My thoughts and reactions for each episode

I structured each episode’s reactions as its own thread on my Reel Librarians Twitter account, so you should be able to read through the entire thread in each embedded tweet below. (And if you’re not on Twitter, it may work out best to click the date on each Twitter thread and open in an incognito window to view.)

Episode 1, “Sleep of the Just”

Episode 1 was adapted from The Sandman #1 (“Sleep of the Just”).

Episode 2, “Imperfect Hosts”

Episode 2 was adapted from The Sandman #2 (“Imperfect Hosts”).

Episode 3, “Dream a Little Dream of Me”

Episode 3 was adapted from The Sandman #3 (“Dream a Little Dream of Me”).

Episode 4, “A Hope in Hell”

Episode 4 was adapted from The Sandman #4 (“A Hope in Hell”) and #5 (“Passengers”).

Episode 5, “24/7”

Episode 5 was adapted from The Sandman #6 (“24 Hours”) and #7 (“Sound and Fury”).

Episode 6, “The Sound of Her Wings”

This was my favorite episode!!

Episode 6 was adapted from The Sandman #8 (“The Sound of Her Wings”) and #13 (“Men of Good Fortune”).

Episode 7, “The Doll’s House”

Episode 7 was adapted from The Sandman #10 (“The Doll’s House”) and #11 (“Moving In”).

Episode 8, “Playing House”

Episode 8 was adapted from The Sandman #12 (“Playing House”) and #15 (“Into the Night”).

Episode 9, “Collectors”

Episode 9 was adapted from The Sandman #14 (“Collectors”).

Episode 10, “Lost Hearts”

Episode 10 was adapted from The Sandman #14 (“Collectors”) and #16 (“Lost Hearts”)

Episode 11, “Dream of a Thousand Cats / Calliope”

This bonus episode was adapted from The Sandman #18 (“Dream of a Thousand Cats”) and #17 (“Calliope”)

Random reflections on the first season

Diverse casting

I really appreciated the diverse casting in this series! Reflecting back, my favorite performances and characters all happened to be Black women:

  • Lucienne, the librarian of The Dreaming, played by Vivienne Acheampong. Loved EVERYTHING about this portrayal and character, the actor, the costume, the little elf ears, everything.
  • Death, Dream’s big sister, played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste with a seemingly effortless balance of gravitas, warmth, and lightness. Such a compelling a character and performance.
  • Rosemary, a small but memorable character in Episode 4, “A Hope in Hell,” played by Sarah Niles with such empathy.
Lucienne Sandman GIF
Lucienne Sandman GIF via Tenor.com

Strong runners-up acting honors to Mason Alexander Park as Desire — so magnetic! — and Tom Sturridge as Dream, who really does seem perfect for this role.

I also loved Hob (played by Ferdinand Kingsley), Johanna Constantine (played by Jenna Coleman, in a covetous trench coat), and how the Fates were portrayed (Nina Wadia as Fate Mother, Souad Faress as Fate Crone, and Dinita Gohil as Fate Maiden).

I also loved reading that many characters were gender-swapped in the series (Lucienne for Lucien in the comics, Johanna Constantine for John Constantine in the comics), and/or played by actors of different ethnicities (Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death, Vanesu Samunyai as Rose Walker, to name a few). Representation matters and adds so much more depth to the writing, the acting, as well as the viewing experience.

Listen to your librarians

Reviewing my Twitter threads, I definitely highlighted the theme across multiple episodes of needing to listen to librarians! Many characters (but not always Dream!) recognized the value of Lucienne, the ever-faithful and ever-wise counsel — and often the voice of reason. ❤ Whenever Dream didn’t listen to Lucienne, he regretted it. This is a life lesson, y’all: Listen to your librarians!

My favorite scene overall was in Episode 2, “Imperfect Hosts,” when Lucienne shared that she had stayed even when all the words in the books in the library had gone. This was such a poignant exchange.

Lucienne: Sometime after you left, all the books in the library became bound volumes of blank paper. The next day, the whole library was gone. I never found it again.

Dream: And yet you remained while others fled. The royal librarian of an abandoned kingdom.

Lucienne: I never felt abandoned. I knew you would return.

Fave episode

My favorite episode overall was Episode 6, “The Sound of Her Wings,” as it was a perfectly timed breather of an episode between the arcs of the first half and the VERY intense and unsettling story arc of the second half. Both Hob’s pure joy and Death’s warm empathy made me cry, but in different ways.

I Know Death GIF
I Know Death GIF via Tenor.com

First half vs. second half

Overall, I enjoyed the first half of the series more than the second half. The first half was packed with powerhouse actors (Charles Dance, Joely Richardson, Gwendoline Christie, etc.), while the second half’s production values (and acting overall) didn’t feel on the same level. However, the series overall still kept me hooked.

And the bonus episode was a stroke of genius, as I loved the introduction of the animated segment! I hope they continue mixing in animation!

All are welcome here

I felt the TV series did a good job welcoming newbies to the Sandman realm, as well as explaining major concepts, like Dream’s narration explaining the Dreaming at the beginning of Episode 1. It felt like the entire first half of the series was more of a prologue and helping establish characters and themes. Perhaps that’s also why I enjoyed the first half more, as I was happily exploring the realm?

Voiceover as character development?

Although voice narration can bug me when it’s overused and unnecessary, I quite liked the voice narration from Dream throughout this series. I think it worked because Dream is a thinker and seems to be always in his head, so the voice narration felt more like character development; we were able to have a window into his thoughts and musings and outlook on life and dreams.

Continuing the conversation

After watching the TV series, I agreed to purchase The Sandman graphic novel series, so my husband — who has been a reader of The Sandman comics from the beginning — was very excited! It’s on back order, so it will have to wait a while before I am able to compare the Lucien librarian character in the comics with the Lucienne librarian character in the series.

Did you watch The Sandman series? Are you a veteran of the graphic novels, or a newbie like me? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

  • The Sandman (Comic Book).” Wikipedia, 22 Aug. 2022. Accessed 23 Aug. 2022. CC BY SA 3.0 license.
  • The Sandman (TV Series).” Wikipedia, 23 Aug. 2022. Accessed 23 Aug. 2022. CC BY SA 3.0 license.
  • The Sandman. Created by Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer, and Allan Heinberg. Perf. Tom Sturridge, Vivienne Acheampong, Boyd Holbrook, David Thewlis, Jenna Coleman, Gwendolyn Christie, Kirby Howell-Baptiste. Netflix, 2022. Based on the graphic novel series by Neil Gaiman.

A round-up of library, archives, and reel librarian scenes in MCU’s Phase Four TV series (so far)

Phase four, round two, of our own Marvel Multiverse of Reel Librarians!

We are wrapping up our summer with our Marvel Multiverse of Reel Librarians! I have written a lot about library scenes in various Marvel movies on this site, so this summer, I decided to go back through all the Marvel movies, this time in phase order, and make sure I watched, reviewed, and analyzed them all for any library, archives, and reel librarian scenes. Thank you for joining me as I finish cataloging all the library, archives, and reel librarian scenes in the MCU (so far):

Because Phase Four introduced TV series, and is therefore considerably larger than previous phases, I split Phase Four into two separate posts, a post for the Phase Four movies, and this final post (for now) for the Phase Four TV series.

There were a LOT more library, archives, and research-related scenes in the Phase Four TV series than I originally anticipated, so this is a super(hero)-sized post to finish out our Marvel Multiverse of Reel Librarians summer. Feels appropriate, right? 😉

*POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERTS*


WandaVision (Jan.-Mar. 2021)


WandaVision premiered as the first MCU TV series at the beginning of 2021 and has 9 episodes total. In this series, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are living in the suburbs, trying to act “normal” and conceal their powers. The series also features Kathryn Hahn as Agatha Harkness, Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau. Kat Dennings and Randall Park return as Darcy Lewis and Jimmy Woo, respectively. WandaVision is a high-concept series, with each episode’s look and feel reflecting popular TV shows of different eras (i.e.g, the first episode looks like 1950s sitcoms, the second episode transitions into 1960s sitcoms, etc.). The series is set three weeks after the events of Avengers: Endgame, and its plot and ending directly lead into the Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness movie, which also features Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch.

There is a squint-and-you’ll-miss-it reel librarian sighting in this series, as well as a few book-focused research scenes. The Westview Public Library is also the setting for a couple of key scenes.

Episode 2, “Don’t Touch That Dial”


At 6 minutes into this episode, which is all about wanting to fit in, Vision says, “There’s a gathering of the neighborhood watch at the public library.” Cut to 11:40 minutes, and we see Vision walking up the stairs to the library.

Vision: Pardon me, is this the neighborhood watch meeting?

Norm: Oh, hiya Vision, didn’t expect to see you here. This is sort of a “members only” type deal.

The neighborhood watch meeting is taking place in a central table in the middle of the library, and we see bookcases and a large card catalog along the walls, as well as microfiche readers. The interior of the library looks to be octagonal, with an open upper level supported by columns; this octagonal shape seems to be at (architectural) odds with the flat exterior of the library building.

Behind Norm’s head, there’s what looks to be a reference counter, and a woman with dark hair walks behind the counter, which indicates to me that she’s a reel librarian. This character goes unmentioned in the episode’s cast list but helps solidify the library setting, so she ends up a (nominal) Information Provider.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Vision sits down at the center table, saying he’ll “be as quiet as a church mouse.” It dawns on him, finally, that the “neighborhood watch” meeting is actually cover for guys to get together and gossip! Vision then tries a stick of gum — again, trying to fit in — but the gum gets stuck in his internal gears, which has hilarious consequences in the latter half of the episode.

The library scene ends at 14:34 minutes, lasting a total of 3 minutes.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Episode 3, “Now in Color”


This episode is set in the 1970s, and at 2 minutes into the episode, Vision comes out of the Westview Public Library in an establishing shot in the episode’s intro titles. The very next frame is a closeup of Vision reading a book about pregnancy while he’s walking. This visual continuation seems to suggest that this is a book Vision just checked out of the library, but there’s also no call number on this book. (Also, the front and back covers of the book seem to be the same, which is odd, isn’t it? Could this be another, very subtle hint that Vision and Wanda don’t actually fit in with everyone else? Also, does this red book cover remind you of the red book cover for Rosemary’s Baby? An unsettling thought!)

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.


At 5 minutes into the episode, Vision is reading another baby book in the nursery, a book entitled The Better Homes and Gardens Baby Book.

By the way, this is a real book which had many editions published from 1948 through 1977. Y’all knew I would look that up, right? 😉

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.


Just 2 minutes later, Wanda experiences pregnancy pain, and asks Vision, “Do any of your books talk about this?”

Vision is ready with a new book from their home library, this time The New Complete Medical and Health Encyclopedia — remember when you kept encyclopedias at home?! — which is also a real book that went through many editions published by J.G. Ferguson Publishing Company. Vision looks up Braxton Hicks contractions.

Using a medical and health encyclopedia at home
Using a medical and health encyclopedia at home

Episode 9, “The Series Finale”


At 8 minutes into the finale, Wanda and Agatha have a showdown, and Agatha shares the prophecy in the Darkhold, revealing that there’s an entire chapter devoted to the Scarlet Witch: “Your power exceeds that of the sorcerer supreme. It’s your destiny to destroy the world.” (Put a pin in that for the Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness movie!) Agatha describes the Darkhold as “the book of the damned.”

Closeup of the Darkhold book and the Scarlet Witch
Closeup of the Darkhold book and the Scarlet Witch

At 16 minutes into the episode, the townspeople confront Wanda in the town square, while The Vision (all in white) picks a fight with Vision and throws him through the public library’s windows.

The interior of the library looks to be the same octagonal set as seen in the previous episode, but we can see updates to the library, including a different card catalog along one wall (looks to be a boxier shape, like from the 1970s?), and a bulletin board to the right of the front door. This library bulletin board was my FAVORITE bit of this whole scene, as it’s SO cheesy — with a bee illustration and the phrase “The Library is the place to ‘bee'” — and SO true-to-life for a public library! I have created bulletin boards like this. In the gallery below, you can see the bulletin board and the library card catalog.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.


While this new Vision states that “my mission is to destroy the Vision,” it really seems to be about destroying the public library!

After all the destruction, I enjoyed that the two Visions then engaged in a philosophical debate and thought experiment whilst in a library; it felt fitting that The Vision restored his knowledge while in a place of knowledge.

This library fight scene ends at 20:56, lasting for 5 minutes.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

The final scene in the series features Wanda with the Darkhold — the “book of the damned” — and in her Scarlet Witch costume. This scene will get referenced again in the Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness movie.


The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Mar.-Apr. 2021)


In this TV series, which has 6 episodes, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) return and team up against the Flag Smashers and the Power Broker. Carl Lumbly has a memorable role as Isaiah Bradley, the first Black Captain America. Daniel Brühl returns as Helmut Zemo. This TV series is set six months after Steve Rogers handed the Captain America shield to Sam at the end of the Avengers: Endgame (2019) movie. This series delves into issues of racism in the U.S., and what it means and feels like to be both a Black man and Captain America.

There are no official libraries in this series, but there is an interesting example of a private library in a prison, as well as the related field of curation and museum exhibits that I felt was interesting to share.

Episode 1, “New World Order”


At 12 mins into this episode, Sam Wilson speaks at the opening of the Smithsonian Museum’s exhibit for Captain America.

Episode 3, “Power Broker”


At 7:15 minutes in to this episode, Sam and Bucky are going to see Zemo, who is in a private prison cell.

Bucky: What’s the book you’re reading?

Zemo: Machiavelli.

Zemo then picks up the book — which is laying beside a cluster of books in a private prison library of sorts — revealing a hidden key card, which helps him break out of prison.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Episode 6, “One World, One People”


At the end of the finale, at 41 minutes, Sam takes Isiah Bradley to the Smithsonian Museum, where he reveals a new section of the Captain America exhibit that spotlights Bradley and the other Black American men who were in the Super Soldiers program.

Isiah Bradley exhibit at the Smithsonian
Isiah Bradley exhibit at the Smithsonian

Loki (Season 1, June-July 2021)


Tom Hiddleston returns to steal the small screen as Loki in this TV series, which has 6 episodes. After stealing the Tesseract during the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), an alternate version of Loki winds up in trouble with the Time Variance Authority (TVA). Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) recruits Loki to help him track down another Loki variant and help fix the “Sacred Timeline.” The series co-stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wunmi Mosaku, Sophia Di Martino, Richard E. Grant, and Jonathan Majors.

We see the TVA’s archives quite a few times in this series, as well as the archivist in one episode!

Episode 1, “Glorious Purpose”


The credits of the first episode feature closeups of case files from the archives, dictionaries and notes, as well as “Archive” labels on card catalog drawers. It just makes sense that we see evidence of the archives in the first episode, as the TVA is the ultimate bureaucracy, right? This means lots of paper and filing clerks and archives!

Episode 2, “The Variant”


At 17:56 minutes into this episode, Mobius engages Loki in a research project in the archives, to help figure out how to catch the Loki variant. Our first glimpse of the archives reveals seemingly endless rows and levels of archives and bookcases. (IMDb’s Filming & Production page for this episode lists the Atlanta Marriott Marquis as the filming location for the TVA Headquarters, and photos of this hotel look like the backdrop for the archives. My guess is that they CGI’d all the bookcases and files visible in the background. And the letter combinations visible in the signage (and elevator) clearly signify an advanced classification system.)

Mobius: I need you to go over each and every one of the variants case files, and then give me your… how do I put it? Your unique Loki perspective. And who knows? Maybe there’s something that we missed.

Loki: Well, you’re idiots. I suspect you probably missed a lot.

Mobius: That’s why I’m lucky I got ya for a little bit longer. Let me park ya at this desk, and don’t be afraid to really lean into this work.

Loki [looking at the mountain of documents]: Oh my goodness.

A person in the background, who is dressed in a suit and tie, then shushes Loki, and Loki turns around and shushes them back! The shusher is credited as “Archives Shusher” (Zele Avradopoulos) in the cast list.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Loki, tired of doing research, tries to trick the Archivist (Dayna Beilenson) into giving him classified files. Let’s see how that turned out for him!

The Archivist, a White woman, is seated at her own station, cocooned within a low wall of glass partitions. Looking very no-nonsense in a tie and cardigan with pulled-back hair and 1950s glasses, she is typing away as Loki approaches.

Loki: Hi. Hello?

Archivist: [No answer, keeps typing]

Loki: Hello? [finally dings the bell on her desk]

Archivist: Can I help you?

Loki: Yes, I’m on some important TVA business. Follow-up to a field mission. You know how it goes. We redlined near the Apez, and well, it’s never good.

Archivist: [No reaction.]

Loki: I’d like all files pertaining to the creation of the TVA, please.

Archivist: Those are classified.

Loki: Ok. I’d like all files pertaining to the beginning of time then.

Archivist: Those are classified.

Loki: Ok. The end of time.

Archivist: Those are classified.

Loki: Ok. What files can I have?

Archivist [goes to the stacks and hands him a file]: Happy reading.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Lessons learned?

  1. Take archivists seriously when they say something is classified.
  2. The archivist’s glare is as chilling as a librarian’s.
  3. Don’t mess with archivists, y’all!

And lo and behold, by actually engaging in the research process and studying the archival files, Loki discovers the answer to how to find the variant Loki!

It’s also interesting to note that the closeup of a document reveals a file number and more evidence of an advanced classification system. I don’t know what this classification system is or what it signifies, but I can tell you it’s not Dewey or Library of Congress (LC). Wait… is this how non-librarians view library call numbers, as undecipherable combinations of letters and numbers?! Oh no! 😉

File number and archival classification system
File number and archival classification system

This archives scene ends at 21:26, so this scene lasts 4 1/2 minutes.

Loki takes his discovery to Mobius, and they test out the theory, that the Loki variant is hiding in apocalypses. After they prove the theory correct, at 27:43 minutes, Mobius says they need to figure out how many apocalypses there are. Cue a return to the archives!

Loki and Mobius review archives of apocalypses
Loki and Mobius review archives of apocalypses

And at 31:50 minutes into the episode, Mobius returns again to the archives, inspired by something Loki says. He pulls out a packet of Kablooie gum from an old case file, an anachronism in another timeline. This archival clue leads them to research the gum and cross-reference apocalyptic events. Ahhh, the research process! (What goes unsaid is how classification systems and keywords help make this kind of cross-referencing possible in the first place. Archivists, librarians, and catalogers worldwide say you’re welcome. 😉 )

Mobius: All we got to do is cross-reference that with every apocalyptic event.  I’m gonna a give you half, have a competition, see who wins.

Loki: Found it!

Mobius: You’re gonna take my job if I’m not careful.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

This scene ends at 33:09, lasting just under a minute and a half. Altogether, archival research dominates the episode… although the word “archives” or “archivist” is never stated out loud.

The credits also replay the bell scene from the archives!

Episode 4, “The Nexus Event”


There’s a short scene in the archives in this episode.

At 30:50 minutes into the episode, Mobius becomes suspicious of his friend and mentor Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and steals her TemPad mobile device. He then goes to a quiet corner of the archives to search the device’s contents. Obviously, the archives is where you go when you don’t expect to see anyone else!

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

The information he discovers on the TemPad, that the TVA workers all used to be variants, directly impacts the rest of the series. This scene ends at 32:14.

Episode 5, “Journey into Mystery”


Miss Minutes, voiced by Tara Strong, is not an official archivist (she’s more like a marketing spokesperson or mascot?), but she does undertake archival research in this episode.

At 9:40 minutes into the episode, Renslayer and Sylvie (a Loki variant) interact with Miss Minutes.

Renslayer: Miss Minutes, I need you to remote access a series of restricted files from the archives.

Minutes: Oooh doggy! On what?

Renslayer: The beginning of time. The founding of the TVA.

Minutes: Right away.

The animated archives look like a wheel. I think it’s interesting to contrast this scene with the previous scene with the uncooperative archivist.

However helpful Miss Minutes seems, Sylvie becomes suspicious of how long the search is taking — and indeed, this archival quest is a ruse to capture Sylvie! The scene ends at 11:26 minutes.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Later in the episode, at 29:12 minutes, Renslayer asks Miss Minutes for the files from the beginning of time, this time for real.

Episode 6, “For All Time. Always.”


Once again, the archives is an important setting, including in the final shots of the finale.

At 39:01 minutes into the episode, Loki is back in the TVA after being betrayed by Sylvia, and he runs through the archives. Computer screens in the background show how the timeline is splintering. Mobius and Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku) are also standing in the archives, panicked by the splintering timelines.

Mobius: That’s what, 63 new branches in this unit alone?

Hunter B-15: Does he want us to just let them all branch?

Loki [running up to them]: We freed the timeline!

[…]

Mobius: What’s your name?

Hunter B-15: Boots on the ground now. Archives.

The final shot of the series pans over the archives, this time with a statue of Kang. All reality, as this Loki knows it, has changed.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

It’s also significant that the final word of the series is “Archives,” yet it’s the first time the word “archives” is spoken aloud in the series.

The final shot of the credits has a closeup of a stamp, and atop an archival document, the stamp reads: “Loki will return in Season 2.”

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

As Pop Archives summarizes:

Unfortunately, they don’t refer to the massive archive as an archives until the last minute of the last episode of season one. […]

That being said, records and files are everywhere in season one, including the closing credits of every episode. They are the bread and butter of the TVA, but they’re also a thematic tool. […]

Records and archival collections as the truth or a truth is entirely based on how you approach the postmodernist theory behind constructed narratives and the inherent power of the archives to facilitate those narratives.

Samantha Cross, “Archives on TV: Loki,” Pop Archives, 24 June 2022

What If…? (Season 1, Aug.-Oct. 2021)


This animated series, another first for the MCU, explores what would happen if pivotal moments from the MCU happened differently. This series, which has 9 episodes, is set after the multiverse concept is established in Loki‘s first season. Jeffrey Wright narrates the series as the Watcher. A few episodes feature libraries or archives.

Episode 2, “What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?”


In this episode and alternate reality, T’Challa is Star-Lord, and he leads the Ravagers to Knowhere in order to challenge the Collector, who oversees a vast collection (a personal archive or library?) of valuable and dangerous objects. At 15:23 minutes into this episode, T’Challa asks Howard the Duck where the “Embers of Genesis” are located, and we learn about a mini-library of Elvish literature! (LOTR and MCU fans unite! 😉 )

T’Challa / Star-Lord: Do you know where I can find them?

Howard the Duck: Cosmic flora, down the hall, take a Louie at the first giants, a hard Ralph at the Kronans, you’re gonna see a sign for Elvish literature. Ignore that, total snooze.

I’m not counting this as an official library or archives, but I thought it was a funny aside!

Tell me again about the Elvish literature
Tell me again about the Elvish literature

Episode 3, “What If… the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?”


In this episode, Natasha Romanoff (voiced by Lake Bell) is trying to figure out who or what is killing off the (potential) members of the Avengers.

At 18:29 minutes into the episode, Romanoff has broken into a public library in Manassas, Virginia, after the library has closed. (Note: There are several public library branches in Manassas, but the design of this animated library seems to most closely resemble the Manassas Park City Library branch.) All the lights are off as Natasha uses a library computer to try and log into the Avengers online system.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Agent Coulson [voice over the cell phone]: Why do you need my password?

Natasha: I need to get into the Avengers Initiative files, but I’m locked out of the system… and wanted for murder.

Natasha hears a noise and looks over her shoulder down an aisle of bookcases. An invisible foe attacks her, and they fight in the stacks. Natasha manages to call Nick Fury and calls out a clue, “It’s all about hope!”

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

This scene in the public library ends at 20:18 minutes, so the scene lasts less than two minutes.

Episode 4, “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?”

In this episode, Dr. Strange tries to prevent Christine’s death, which takes him on a journey to the Lost Library of Cagliostro.

At 4:17 minutes into the episode, we see a version of a scene in Doctor Strange (2016), in which reel librarian Wong (voiced by Benedict Wong) warns Strange (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) about the Eye of Agamotto, which was discovered by Cagliostro, and its power to manipulate time. In this version, we see the Ancient One (rather than Mordo) in the Kamar-Taj library!

An animated look at the Kamar-Taj Library!
An animated look at the Kamar-Taj Library!

At 5:20 minutes, we revisit Wong and Strange back in the New York sanctuary, as Strange mourns the second anniversary of Christine’s death. Again, Wong serves as a voice of reason, warning Strange not to “do something reckless.”

Almost 6 minutes later, at 11:04 minutes, the Ancient One echoes Wong’s warnings:

Ancient One: The greatest sorcerers of the past could not reverse an Absolute Point.

Strange: You don’t know that. Books have been lost. Libraries destroyed.

Strange doesn’t listen. Less than a minute later, at 11:57 minutes, we see that Strange’s journey has led him to a jungle, where he meets a stranger, a Black man. This character is voiced by Nigerian actor Ike Amadi.

Strange: I’m looking for the Lost Library of Cagliostro. Library? Hello? You know, books? Reading? Knowledge?

[No answer, as the stranger walks away, and Strange follows him.]

Strange: Where can I find Cagliostro?

Stranger: Maybe here, maybe there, maybe nowhere.

Strange: Please tell me you’re not Cagliostro.

Stranger: The name’s O’Bengh, librarian for the books of Cagliostro.

O'Bengh introduces himself as a librarian
O’Bengh introduces himself as a librarian

They arrive at the Lost Library of Cagliostro, and what a sight this library is to behold! A cherry tree grows in the center, and a few books hang from chains along the ceiling (visually intriguing but very impractical). Strange refers to these as “the lost books.” (My spouse wondered if the Book of Vishanti was there, hah!) We also see bookcases lining the back walls of the large room.

O’Bengh: How long will you be staying here?

Strange: As long as it takes.

One of the books that Strange consults, a book on time manipulation, states that you can “gain the power through the absorption of other beings.” Strange ultimately rejects O’Bengh and the library, saying, “The library isn’t enough. Those beings have what I need.” Despite another librarian’s warnings (and first aid help), Strange continues on his destructive path of battling monsters and absorbing their powers.

Eventually, Strange returns to the library and finds O’Bengh on his deathbed.

Strange: O’Bengh, what happened to you?

O’Bengh: Time. Put that away [the Eye of Agamotto]. You used magic to remain frozen for centuries. I chose to live. Even in our world, death is part of the plan. Maybe the other Strange will [accept death].”

In this closeup, it’s clear that O’Bengh has one blue eye and one brown eye (this rare genetic phenomenon is called heterochromia).

O'Bengh on his deathbed
O’Bengh on his deathbed

This Lost Library of Cagliostro scene ends at 20 minutes into the episode, lasting 8 minutes total.

Strange’s actions have disastrous consequences back in the alternate reality’s New York sanctuary with Wong. At 22:17 minutes, Wong, as usual, gets straight to the point.

Wong: Ok, wait, so the fabric of reality is breaking, and only you can stop it because you are causing it.

Strange: Let’s be honest, we’ve been through weirder.

Wong: Do you want to stop him?

Strange: At the very least, to save you.

At this point, my spouse shouted out:

He’s not wrong. Without Wong, there is no MCU!

Both Wong and O’Bengh serve primarily as Information Providers, as they provide information (and warnings) to Strange and the viewers. I would also argue that both also serve as Comic Relief, as they both display senses of humor (Wong refers to the bathroom as “the little sorcerer’s room” while O’Bengh calls Strange “Sorcerer Armani.”)

Is O’Bengh indeed Cagliostro? Burkely Hermann, in this thoughtful analysis post of this episode, states that this is implied. Hermann also brings up some interesting points to reflect on with this reel librarian portrayal:

It is disconcerting the number of roles he [O’Bengh] takes on in the episode: an all-knowing person, a medic, and a sorcerer, to name the three most prominent. Archives in Fiction (AIF) makes a good point that while the space was beautifully rendered, it is “utterly impractical” and argued that the episode has the subtext that “librarians are magic” or that they are “expected to work miracles.” In response to AIF saying that they since when anyone calls “us” (archivists, librarians) miracle workers, even if it comes “from a good place,” saying that there is “really nothing miraculous about the work we put into making things findable,” I said that that perspective makes sense.

Burkely Hermann, “Doctor Strange’s quest for power and the Black sorcerer-librarian,” Pop Culture Library Review, 12 Oct. 2021.

Episode 5, “What If… Zombies?!”


Benedict Wong has no lines (other than grunts) in this episode, but I had to include a look at Zombie Wong!!!

Zombie Wong first shows up at 3:39 minutes into the episode, and (SPOILER), he gets his head chopped off by a portal at 4:11 minutes.

Zombie Wong
Zombie Wong

Episode 7, “What If… Thor Were an Only Child?”


Although there is no library in this episode, there is a running gag in this episode about Thor’s so-called study group and how “knowledge is magic.”

At the end of this episode, at 28:50 minutes, Captain Marvel flies down to Thor and hands him a tablet full of info about humans, in order to help Thor save face in front of his mother, Frigga. It’s interesting to note what resources made the cut!

Thor, here’s the information you requested on human civilizations, and I loaded a few documentaries, PBS specials, NPR podcasts.

Knowledge is magic, indeed. Marvel provides Thor a table full of info about human civilization.
Knowledge is magic, indeed. Marvel provides Thor a table full of info about human civilization.

Episode 8, “What If… Ultron Won?”


In this episode, Natasha Romanoff and Hawkeye team up to try and figure out a way to stop Ultron. This journey takes them to the KGB Archives, while the Watches watches them and agonizes about whether or not to intervene. The KGB Archives are housed in a vast warehouse of seemingly never-ending rows of bookshelves and file boxes. No archivist is ever seen, or even mentioned.

At 10:54 minutes into the episode, Natasha and Hawkeye arrive at the archives.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Watcher: One last hope.

Natasha: Welcome to the KGB archives.

Hawkeye: Your country ever heard of PDFs?

Natasha: Hard copies are harder to steal, easier to destroy. But code, code is slippery, and it never dies.

Hawkeye: So, where do we start?

Natasha: Just pick a box.

[Pause here to scream into the void while I go all capsy. NO!!! Any kind of library or archival material is organized according to a system, a classification system, and there would be finding aids or signs or SOMETHING to help explain that system and where things are generally located. This archives warehouse looks VERY organized, by the way, with every file labeled within each box, so there’s no reason to think that there wouldn’t be a system for these archives. “Just pick a box” is NOT a system, and the time these two waste going through random boxes makes me want to scream for an archivist!]

They also mention the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie as they’re walking down the shelves of archives. (Read here at Pop Archives about how annoying it is that Raiders of the Lost Ark has helped create everlasting public confusion between archaeologists and archivists).

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

The Watcher spies the exact file they need and debates on whether or not to intervene. The scene also includes an archives ladder, plus an Easter egg where they find the Red Guardian’s shield (a connection back to Black Widow).

Hawkeye finally has had enough.

Sorry to break it to you, Natasha, but the Death Star plans are not in the main computer.

Star Wars and MCU crossover alert! This is referencing the archives adventure plot of Rogue One! 😀

Conveniently for reasons of PLOT, Natasha then immediately finds the Zola file. The Watcher is relieved, whilst archivists and librarians collectively roll our eyes at this purposefully (and needlessly) frustrating archives scene.

This archives scene ends at 14:06 and lasts 3 minutes total.


Hawkeye (Nov.-Dec. 2021)


In this TV series, which is set post-Blip, Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) reluctantly teams up with the young Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) to confront enemies from his past. Will Hawkeye be able to make it back to his family in time for Christmas? The series, which has 6 episodes, co-stars Vera Farmiga as Eleanor Bishop, Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova (the new Black Widow), Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk (Kingpin), Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez (Echho), and Zahn McClarnon as William Lopez.

I could not see any library or archives scenes in this entire TV series. There are a few research scenes, but they all entail Kate utilizing Bishop Security’s private database of security and criminal intel.


Moon Knight (Mar.-May 2022)


In this series, which includes 6 episodes, Oscar Isaac plays three different men, who are all distinct identities, or alters, stemming from a dissociative identity disorder (DID): Marc Spector / Moon Knight, Steven Grant / Mr. Knight, and Jake Lockley. The TV series co-stars May Calamawy as Layla El-Faouly (the first Arab superhero in the MCU!), F. Murray Abraham as the voice of Khonshu, Ethan Hawke as Arthur Harrow, and Gaspard Ulliel as Anton Mogart. The mystery plot of the series involves Egyptian gods and their human avatars.

Similar to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier TV series, there are no official libraries or archives in this series, but there ARE several interesting examples of private libraries, as well as related (but distinctly different) fields of archaeology and museums that I thought would be interesting to share.

Episode 1, “The Goldfish Problem”


As the series begins, Steven Grant wakes up in bed, and we can spy bookcase shelves behind him — and those bookcases are arranged haphazardly (perhaps also an external reflection of his splintered mind?).

We also learn that Steven works at the British Museum in London, in the gift shop, although he not-so-secretly wishes he were a tour guide at the museum. He clearly knows more about Egyptology than the tour guides, as evidenced when he chats with a little girl at the museum.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Note: The British Museum and the British Library used to be united, but the British Library separated from the Museum in 1973. However, the British Museum continued to host the Library in its iconic Reading Room (the architectural inspiration behind the Library of Congress Reading Room, as seen here) until 1997. Therefore, I’m NOT counting this location as a library, as the British Museum and the British Library are separate entities now.

Confused yet? Even more confusingly, the actual external location used in this series for the British Museum was actually the National Gallery. Staff members wear uniforms with “National Art Gallery” printed on them, but there is no such place. London has the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, but only the British Museum has Egyptian artifacts. WHEW. Y’all still with me? 😉

At 10 minutes into the episode, we witness how Steven uses reading as a tactic to stay awake. He listens to an app (“Welcome to staying awake! … Bored with puzzles? Try a book!”), and he reads about Egyptian gods, highlighting passages in books. That’s how he knows more than the tour guides at the museum! This reading and research montage lasts under a minute.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Episode 2, “Summon the Suit”


At 12:30 minutes into this episode, Steven is walking through a storage unit facility (archives of personal lives?), and the automatic lights click off. My spouse remarked how these lights echoed the automatic lights coming on in the archives scene in Captain Marvel.

Dramatic lighting in the archives scenes in Captain Marvel (2019)
Click the arrows to slide and compare the automatic lights in the storage facility in Moon Knight (left) versus the archives in Captain Marvel (right)

At 15:44 minutes, Steven brings Layla back to his apartment. We see many more bookcases, with books stacked everywhere, even on the floor. Steven also has card catalog drawers along one back wall, as well as a library ladder!

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Episode 3, “The Friendly Type”


In this episode, we learn more about Layla’s dad, who was an archaeologist. Again, just to be clear, archaeology and archives are NOT the same thing. (Sam @ Pop Archives delves more into this misconception here in this post.)

But I found this quote interesting. Less than 2 minutes into the episode, Layla’s forger friend, Lagaro (Barbara Rosenblat), quips:

Archaeology. One big mess of obsessive bookworms.

Also, later in the episode at 26:30 minutes, Layla has a brief exchange with Anton Mogart (Gaspard Ulliel, who tragically died in a ski accident this year) about the nature of private collections of cultural artifacts.

Anton: I hope you understand this is more than a collection to me. Preserving history is a responsibility I take very seriously.

Layla: A self-appointed responsibility that you alone are able to enjoy, no?

BINGO. I love that Layla is calling out his privilege here. Anton describes this kind of private collecting in a way that probably sounds similar to how an archivist could describe their work. But most archival collections are meant to be shared with the public — even if that public has to make appointments in order to view or use the collections — and not hidden away for just one person to enjoy. If you’re an archivist and reading this post, please leave a comment and share your perspective on this scene!

Episode 5, “Asylum”


At 3:53 minutes into this penultimate episode, Ethan Hawke is portraying a psychiatrist who is trying to explain trauma and its effects to Steven. And he mentions a library in this explanation!

Harrow: The struggling mind will often build places to seek shelter for different aspects of the self from our most traumatic memories. It’s called just an organizing principle, ok? Some people, they see a castle right? Somebody else will see a name, or a library.

Steven: Or…a psych ward?

Harrow also has a bookcase in his office, and most of the books are white or neutral-colored. Is it just my (biased) librarian perspective, or do you find it suspicious when people match their books with their decor? (Side note: PLEASE never go to a library and ask a librarian or staff member for “you know, the book with the blue cover.” We do NOT organize books by color, and we do not make note of the color of a cover in an item record in the library catalog. We do sometimes make funny book displays, like “Books with Blue Covers,” though, when we’re feeling snarky. 😉 ) In the screenshot below, you can also see colored stickers on some of the book spines, which makes me think these books props came from a real library.

A personal library in a doctor's office
A personal library in a doctor’s office

Ms. Marvel (June-July 2022)


In this TV series, which includes 6 episodes and occurs post-Blip, we get to know Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a 16-year-old fangirl of the Avengers — and specifically Captain Marvel — who navigates the complications of daily life as a Pakistani-American as well as her own superpowers that develop after she puts on a mysterious bangle that used to belong to her great-grandmother Aisha (Mehwish Hayat). The series co-stars Zenobia Shroff as Muneeba Khan, Mohan Kapur as Yusuf Khan, Matt Lintz as Bruno Carrelli, Yasmeen Fletcher as Nakia Bahadir, Rish Shah as Kamran, Nimra Bucha as Najma, and Aramis Knight as Kareem / Red Dagger. This series is based on the graphic novel series by G. Willow Wilson, and the ending of this TV series directly sets up the plot of the upcoming movie, The Marvels.

This TV series has scenes set in and around the school library. Confusedly, the guidance counselor’s office seems to be INSIDE the school library (???), but I’m not counting the guidance counselor character as a reel librarian.

Episode 1, “Generation Why”


At 5 minutes into the first episode, we get a closeup of the school sign, which reads Coles Academic High School. The real-life inspiration behind this high school is the Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School, located on Coles Street in Jersey City, NJ. The McNair HS even issued a press release about how proud they are to be connected with this series!

It has been a point of pride to be a real-life example of the various identities that this history-making character and story represents.

McNair Academic Brought to Life as ‘Coles Academic’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe” press release, Jersey City Public Schools, 3 June 2022.
Coles Academic High School plaque
Coles Academic High School plaque

You can also see “G. Willow Wilson” included as the first name on the Coles Academic sign. Wilson wrote the original Ms. Marvel comics, and also has a cameo on the series!

Onto another Wilson reference… at 7 minutes, we get our first glimpse of the school library and the office for the guidance counselor, Mr. Wilson (Jordan Firstman). Mr. Wilson is trying to be super cool and chill, but the teens obviously view him as a lame poser. Through the blinds of the guidance counselor’s office, we can see library shelves, and what looks like a common room with other offices? This school library’s layout seems really confusing! Also, note the cheesy inspirational sign on the back of the office door (“You Can Totally Do This”), as you will see more inspirational posters in upcoming scenes in this office!

Is the guidance counselor's office inside the school library?
Is the guidance counselor’s office inside the school library?

The guidance counseling session lasts 2 minutes.

Episode 2, “Crushed”


At 20:30 minutes into this episode, Bruno has a session with the guidance counselor. This time, the blinds are up, so we can see more clearly the library bookcases along the back and side walls, along with tables in the open area. Several students are using the school library space and browsing books on the shelves. (Click on the first screenshot in the gallery below to view the inspirational poster in this scene, which has a cat hanging off a tree branch below the words “Hang in there!”)

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

This scene lasts under 2 minutes.

Episode 4, “Seeing Red”


At 19:39 minutes into this episode, which is set in Pakistan, we enter the hideout of the Red Daggers, where we see their private library and collection of artifacts. I’m not counting this as an official library, but I thought it served as an interesting and different example of a private library.

We also see this private library again at 31:34 minutes, when Kamala is training with the Red Daggers.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Episode 6, “No Normal”


In this finale episode, Kamala and her friends hide out at the high school and create a plan for how to deal with the law enforcement officers who are coming for them. (Fair warning, there is a “trigger warning” at the beginning of this episode, as it is EXTREMELY disturbing to view cops tracking down and shooting at kids in a school.)

At 15:42 minutes into the episode, Kamala’s brother, Aamir (Saagar Shaikh), grabs a fire extinguisher in the school library. Call numbers are visible on the book spines.

A closeup of school library call numbers and a fire extinguisher
A closeup of school library call numbers and a fire extinguisher

At 21:28 minutes, Kamala and Kamran run through the library and hide in the guidance counselor’s office. Kamala is able to calm Kamran down, and they almost kiss before Bruno interrupts them. Kamala and Kamran escape out the back of the counselor’s office, where we see more bookcases and books with call numbers in a back room. It’s unclear if this back room is a storage room or a browsable extension of the school library? (Also, note the corner of one more inspirational poster in the guidance counselor’s office, with the words “Get Ready for College!”). Bruno distracts the cops by dancing in the library. The scene ends at 23:15 minutes.

Click on any image in the gallery below to view in a larger window.

Because of the additional back room glimpse, the guidance counselor’s office seems to be located in the MIDDLE of the school library. Is he supposed to be both the school’s librarian and the guidance counselor? Mr. Wilson is never seen doing anything other than counseling, so I’m still not listing him as a reel librarian. I don’t understand this set design. My best guess is that if this is a real school location, that they used the actual school librarian’s office and just turned it into the guidance counselor’s office, in order to save money and space.

Phase Four TV series yet to come

These TV series have not yet been released, or fully released:

  • She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (the first episode aired Aug. 18 and is currently scheduled to run for 9 episodes through Oct. 13th — and I’m waiting to watch this series until I can binge-watch the entire series, and I’m crossing my fingers for some law library scenes!)
  • Untitled Halloween special (scheduled to premiere Oct. 2022)
  • The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (scheduled to premiere Dec. 2022)

Last month, Marvel provided updates about Phase Four and revealed more detailed plans for Phase Five and Phase Six.

These TV series are currently scheduled to be part of Phase Five:

  • What If… ?, season 2
  • Secret Invasion
  • Echo
  • Loki, season 2
  • Ironheart
  • Agatha: Coven of Chaos
  • Daredevil: Born Again
  • Note: No additional updates on Armor Wars or a follow-up Wakanda series

Since this post is going live before Phase Four officially finishes, I will revisit the completed Phase Four TV series at a later date. Until then… the Marvel Multiverse of Reel Librarians is a wrap! 😀

Keeping score

PHASE ONE:

  • 6 movies
  • 2/6 library or archives scenes
    • The Incredible Hulk – university library
    • Thor – public library
  • 0/6 reel librarian sightings

PHASE TWO:

  • 6 movies
  • 1/6 library or archives scenes
    • Thor: The Dark World – college library
  • 0/6 reel librarian sightings

PHASE THREE:

  • 11 movies
  • 3/11 library or archives scenes
    • Doctor Strange – Kamar-Taj library
    • Spider-Man: Homecoming – school library
    • Captain Marvel – U.S. Air Force archives
  • 3/11 reel librarian sightings – all Wong!
    • Doctor Strange
    • Avengers: Infinity War
    • Avengers: Endgame

Note: Except for Doctor Strange, the movies in this phase either included a library or archives but had no corresponding librarian or archivist — or vice versa, with a reel librarian never seen in a library.

PHASE FOUR (THUS FAR):

  • 6 movies + 7 TV series (thus far)
  • 6/13 library or archives scenes
    • Eternals – archives
    • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Kamar-Taj Library
    • WandaVision – public library in 3 episodes
    • Loki – archives in 3 episodes
    • What If…? – public library in 1 episode, Kamar-Taj Library and the Lost Library of Cagliostro in 1 episode, archives in 1 episode
    • Ms. Marvel – school library in 3 episodes
  • 6/13 reel librarian sightings
    • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Wong cameo
    • Spider-Man: No Way Home – Wong cameo
    • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – Wong as a main character
    • Wanda Vision – public librarian in an uncredited cameo in 1 episode
    • Loki – archivist in 1 episode
    • What If… ? – Wong and O’Bengh

Half of the Phase Four movies and TV series included a library or archives scene and/or reel librarians. It definitely helps that Wong is such a fan favorite!

OVERALL (THUS FAR):

  • 29 movies + 7 TV series (thus far)
  • 14/36 library or archives scenes (39%)
  • 12/36 reel librarian sightings (33%)

Ultimately, a third or more of the MCU movies and TV series included a library or archives scene and/or reel librarians.

Sources used

  • British Library.” Wikipedia, 20 July 2022. Accessed 21 Aug. 2022. CC BY SA 3.0 license.
  • Cross, Samantha. “Archives on TV: Loki.” Pop Archives, 24 June 2022.
  • Cross, Samantha. “They’re Digging in the Wrong Place: The Influence of Indiana Jones on the Archives.” Pop Archives, 7 Jan. 2019.
  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Created by Malcolm Spellman. Perf. Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Erin Kellyman, Daniel Brühl, Emily VanCamp. Marvel Studios / Disney, 2021.
    • Episodes: “New World Order” (1.1, 19 Mar. 2021), “Power Broker” (1.3, 2 Apr. 2021); “One World, One People” (1.6, 23 Apr. 2021).
  • Hawkeye. Perf. Jeremy Rinner, Hailee Steinfeld, Vera Farmiga, Florence Pugh, Vincent D’Onofrio. Marvel Studios / Disney, 2021.
  • Hermann, Burkely. “Doctor Strange’s Quest for Power and the Black Sorcerer-Librarian.” Pop Culture Library Review, 12 Oct. 2021.
  • Keane, Sean. “Marvel Cinematic Universe: All the Phase 5 and 6 Release Dates Revealed.” CNET, 31 July 2022.
  • Loki. Created by Michael Waldron. Perf. Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sophia Di Martino. Marvel Studios / Disney, 2021.
    • Episodes: “Glorious Purpose” (1.1, 9 Jun. 2021); “The Variant” (1.2, 16 Jun. 2021); “The Nexus Event” (1.4, 30 Jun. 2021); “Journey into Mystery” (1.5, 7 Jul. 2021); “For All Time. Always” (1.6, 14 Jul. 2021).
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Five.” Wikipedia, 21 Aug. 2022. Accessed 22 Aug. 2022. CC BY SA 3.0 license.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Four.” Wikipedia, 7 Aug. 2022. Accessed 8 Aug. 2022. CC BY SA 3.0 license.
  • McNair Academic Brought to Life as ‘Coles Academic’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe” (press release). Jersey City Public Schools, 3 June 2022.
  • Moon Knight. Created by Doug Moench. Perf. Oscar Isaac, Ethan Hawke, May Calamawy, F. Murray Abraham. Marvel Studios / Disney, 2022.
    • Episodes: “The Goldfish Problem” (1.1, 30 Mar. 2022); “Summon the Suit” (1.2, 6 Apr. 2022); “The Friendly Type” (1.3, 13 Apr. 2022); “Asylum” (1.5, 27 Apr. 2022).
  • Ms. Marvel. Created by Bisha K. Ali. Perf. Iman Vellani, Matt Lintz, Zenobia Shroff, Mohan Kapur, Rish Shah. Marvel Studios / Disney, 2022.
    • Episodes: “Generation Why” (1.1, 8 Jun. 2022); “Crushed” (1.2, 15 Jun. 2022); “Seeing Red” (1.4, 29 Jun. 2022); “No Norma: (1.6, 13 Jul. 2022).
  • Simons, Roxy. “‘Moon Knight’ Filming Locations: Where in London was the Marvel Show Shot?Newsweek, 6 Apr. 2022.
  • WandaVision. Created by Jac Schaeffer. Perf. Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, Teyonah Parris, Kat Dennings. Marvel Studios / Disney, 2021.
    • Episodes: “Don’t Touch That Dial” (1.2, 15 Jan. 2021), “Now in Color” (1.3, 22 Jan. 2021), “The Series Finale” (1.9, 5 Mar. 2021).
  • What If…? Perf. Jeffrey Wright, Chadwick Boseman, Jeremy Renner, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lake Bell, Benedict Wong. Marvel Studios / Disney, 2021.
    • Episodes: “What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?” (1.2, 11 Aug. 2021); “What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” (1.3, 25 Aug. 2021); “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” (1.4, 1 Sep. 2021); “What If… Zombies?!” (1.5, 8 Sep. 2021); “What If… Thor Were an Only Child?” (1.7, 22 Sep. 2021); “What If… Ultron Won?” (1.8, 6 Oct. 2021).

First impressions: 18 thoughts and questions I had about Wong while watching ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ (2022)

It’s the WongVerse, and we’re just living in it.

This is another post in my “first impressions” series of posts, which focus on current films that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes that I have watched in theaters. The resulting “first impressions” posts are necessarily less detailed, as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes in the movie theater, but I do take notes as soon as I can after watching the film.

This spring, I was able to watch Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness at our nearby drive-in theater, Rodeo Drive-In. Sorry it has taken me so long to get this post together; real-life complications got in the way, y’all, and as my husband advised, “Multiverse of mind, embrace the chaos.” 😉 And it is interesting to note that it is actually good timing this “first impressions” post got delayed because this movie will soon be available for streaming via Disney+, on June 22, so you can watch (or re-watch) the movie very soon!

Below again is the trailer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, to set the stage for the film’s plot and main characters of Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Wong (Benedict Wong), Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), and Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor).

Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness | Official Trailer” video uploaded by Marvel Entertainment, Standard YouTube License

***SPOILER ALERTS BELOW***

1. Did Wong ever get invited to Tony Stark’s wedding?

Hear me out, I swear this random question will make soon make sense. Near the beginning of the movie, Strange attends Christine’s wedding, without Wong by his side. That made me wonder if Wong ever got invited to Tony Stark’s wedding? This connects back to a scene in Avengers: Infinity War (2018):

Wong then ultimately defeats Cull Obsidian by transporting him to a snowy region/planet and then severs off the villain’s arm when closing the portal. It’s nice to see Wong victorious in battle in this movie, especially considering his previous battle at the end of Doctor Strangewhich I went into detail in last week’s post. Stark is so impressed with Wong’s quick thinking and magical skillz that he shouts, “Wong, you’re invited to the wedding!” (We had learned earlier that Tony and Pepper are recently engaged.)

Jennifer Snoek-Brown, “First impressions: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’,” Reel Librarians, 2 May 2018

We never did learn that cliffhanger question in that movie, if Wong ever got to go to Tony and Pepper’s wedding. And why wasn’t Wong invited to this wedding? Obviously, as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) showed, Wong would make an excellent guest. 😉

2. Wong looks bad-ass wielding a sword.

Wong is ALWAYS a bad-ass, of course, but it was cool to get to see him literally in action. In the initial fight scene with Wong, Strange, and America Chavez battling Gargantos (a big eyeball, squid-like monster variant of Shuma-Gorath), Wong wields a lasso and a sword. Plus, we get a closeup view of Wong’s costume, which we had gotten a sneak peek of when his action figure came out earlier this year:

Left: Screenshot of Wong fighting Gargantos in Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness (2022) ; Right: Photo of the Wong action figure I purchased this spring, which shows the costume and sword that Wong has in the movie.

3. There are books kept secret from the Kamar-Taj librarian?!

When Wong and Strange debrief with Chavez after they dispatch Gargantos, they start talking about the Book of Vishanti. Wong explains how he found out about this book:

You find out there’s a secret book you get when you become Sorcerer Supreme.

So that means that when Wong was the Kamar-Taj librarian, back in 2016’s Doctor Strange, he DID NOT yet know about all the books in that library’s collection!

4. How many languages can Wong speak?

There was also a brief bit in this scene with Chavez where she and Wong start speaking Spanish to each other, much to the annoyance of Strange. (But everything seems to annoy Strange, doesn’t it?) It just makes me wonder how many languages Wong speaks… and how good he is at everything he does! #TeamWong #WongVerse

You can see the clip of their Spanish conversation here.

5. Once again, Wong is the Supreme Researcher.

Wong invites Chavez to Kamar-Taj to help keep her safe from Wanda, the Scarlet Witch. And once again, Wong proves how he is the Supreme Researcher, as he then provides the exposition about the Scarlet Witch and the prophecy:

The Scarlet Witch is a being of unfathomable magic. She can re-write Reality as she chooses, and is prophesied to either rule or annihilate the cosmos.

Wong also explains about the Darkhold vs. the Book of Vishanti. Essentially, it’s the story of good vs. evil, embodied within books. Darkhold contains spells of black magic and represents the evil, whereas the Book of Vishanti contains spells of white magic and represents the good.

And who better than to explain about books than Wong, the Sorcerer Supreme and (former? current?) Kamar-Taj librarian?! He also was on exposition duty in previous Marvel movies, including Doctor Strange (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).

Wong primarily serves the role of an Information Provider, but at this point you could argue he’s grown into an Atypical character, which are reel librarian “portrayals [that] go beyond stereotypical constraints.”

6. Are we seeing the missing book from the Kamar-Taj library in this movie?

Could either the Book of Vishanti or the Darkhold be the missing library book from the Kamar-Taj library’s “forbidden section,” as glimpsed in Doctor Strange (2016)? I would suspect it is likely the Darkhold, rather than the Book of Vishanti, because Wong only found out about the latter when he became Sorcerer Supreme (see #3 above).

Ryan Arey from ScreenCrush also theorizes it’s the Darkhold that went missing from the Kamar-Taj library:

DOCTOR STRANGE in the Multiverse of Madness: EASTER EGGS and Breakdown: Every Marvel Cameo” video uploaded by ScreenCrush, Standard YouTube License.

7. Wong is also a man of action.

When Wanda the Scarlet Witch attacks Kamar-Taj, Wong wastes no time in snapping into commander-in-chief mode — he IS the Sorcerer Supreme, after all! — and shouting orders to the students:

Kamar-Taj must now become a fortress. Stop the teaching, arm the students.

[…]

Defensive positions, now!

[…]

Fortify your minds!

8. Reel librarian Wong helps destroy a book!

Yep, (former?) reel librarian Wong helps destroy a book. But not just any book. The Darkhold, the book of dark magic, the book of evil. Do the ends justify the means?

Wong tries to save Chavez from the Scarlet Witch, but he ends up getting blasted by Wanda and banging his head and passing out. When he wakes to finds himself tied up, he spies one of the students, Sara (Sheila Atim), sneaking her way into the room. He tries to stop Sara.

Sara: I need to destroy the book.

Wong: No, it cannot be you!

The Darkhold does gets destroyed in this scene. I know that the Darkhold and the Book of Vishanti serve as this movie’s MacGuffins, but if we’re not going to get to see the Kamar-Taj library again, then at least we’re getting a Wong story focused around books!

9. Did the Kamar-Taj library get destroyed?

We see Kamar-Taj in rubble after the Scarlet Witch blasts it to pieces. Did the Kamar-Taj library get destroyed, or is it still intact? Is there a new librarian? Where is the library located within the monastery? Inquiring minds want to know!

Here’s a quick look behind-the-scenes of destroying Kamar-Taj:

Doctor Strange multiverse of madness || Behind the scene of destroying Kamar-Taj” video uploaded by SilverLake Entertainment, Standard YouTube License

10. One of Wong’s superpowers is his humanity.

One of Wong’s greatest strengths, or superpowers — and a big reason why I think he’s become a fan favorite — is his humanity and belief in people. But this superpower can also be manipulated.

Although the Darkhold gets destroyed, Wanda figures out that Wong must know about more the Darkhold. (Because he’s the librarian and knows everything, right? Kinda slow there, eh, Wanda?!) Wong says that she will have to kill him to get that knowledge. But Wanda has also already figured out about Wong’s humanity — and that his humanity can be manipulated — so she threatens to kill the other students, including the Rintrah (a green-skinned minotaur that was part of Marvel’s Build-A-Figure marketing ploy with Wong’s action figure).

Of course, Wanda’s evil ploy works, and Wong confesses that the Darkhold that got destroyed was a copy, and the original is at Wundagore Mountain. (Did anyone else hear this first as Wandacore? Sorry, I don’t read the comics, so I was unfamiliar with it.)

Here’s a quick video that explains the significance of Wundagore Mountain:

Wundagore Mountain Is Pretty Significant | Doctor Strange 2” video uploaded by Geek Culture Clips, Standard YouTube License

11. A library of one?

So although we don’t get to see the Kamar-Taj library again — no, I’m NOT letting that go, such a wasted opportunity in a storyline about forbidden books! — we do get a scene of the Gap Junction, “a plane between universes” where Strange hid the Book of Vishanti.

Screenshot of the Book of Vishanti from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Screenshot of the Book of Vishanti from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, taken from this YouTube video

Essentially, this serves as a library of one, right? Riiiiiiiiiight. 😉

12. Wong still has his sense of humor.

After Wanda throws Wong off a cliff on Wundagore (RUDE!), he uses his lasso to climb back up. He also picks off one of the guard monsters to help distract them for Zombie Strange.

When Zombie Strange shows up, Wong quips:

I don’t even want to know.

Never change, Wong. Never change. 😀

13. Wong is wrong!

Wong is… wrong?! I know. I was shocked, too.

When Zombie Strange is trying to rescue America Chavez while simultaneously battling Wanda, Wong conjures up a cage to contain Wanda (ever helpful, our Wong). Zombie Strange hesitates between untying Chavez or usurping her magical powers (and therefore killing her) in order to beat Wanda once and for all.

Wong urges him to do the latter:

It’s the only way!

But Wong is wrong.

The only way forward is for Strange to save Chavez, so she can finally believe in her true power and and wield it to save herself.

Honestly, I thought this was a pretty cheap and manipulative use of Wong in this movie. (And don’t get me started with the cheap and manipulative use of Wanda and her motivations and lack of agency in this movie!) They showed Wong’s humanity when he gave up the secret of the Darkhold to help save the Kamar-Taj students, but then they flipped the script — and Wong’s personality — at the end in order to make room for Zombie Strange to show his ultimate humanity and character growth. (That was an odd sentence to write. It’s a weird storyline with lots of characters, y’all!) It didn’t have to be either/or; both Wong and Zombie Strange could have had cinematic space to show their humanity.

14. Strange is finally Wong’s right-hand man.

There’s a running gag throughout the movie that Strange can’t be bothered to bow to Wong, even though Wong is the Sorcerer Supreme. (Shades of White supremacy, anyone?) But at the end, Strange finally does bow to Wong, showing his respect. About time!

Throughout my analysis post of Doctor Strange (2016), I kept pointing out how many times Wong is visually shown to be Strange’s right-hand man (note: he stands on Strange’s right side, which reflects opposite onscreen), which fits his role in that movie as a supporting player. But Wong has grown as a character — and as a fan favorite! — and is now the Sorcerer Supreme, at least in this universe. Therefore, Strange is now Wong’s right-hand man, and it’s fitting that he finally accepts that. Again, about time! 🙂

Strange bows to Wong in this screenshot from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, taken from this YouTube video

15. Is Wong a Nexus being?

At the end of the movie, Strange asks Wong a question.

Strange: Are you happy?

Wong: That’s an interesting question. Sometimes I do wonder about my other lives. But I’m still grateful of this one. Even with its own tribulations.

Wong sounds very wise here, being grateful and content for this life in this universe. But although we see many variants of Dr. Strange in this movie, we never see variants of Wong, even though Wong references “my other lives” in this brief exchange. In the other universes we see, the Dr. Strange variant is also the one serving as Sorcerer Supreme. But in this reality, Wong serves as Sorcerer Supreme, not Strange.

That got me thinking… could Wong be a Nexus Being?

A Nexus Being is someone who exists in all parallel worlds of the Multiverse, serving as anchors to that reality. America Chavez proves to be a Nexus Being in this movie, because she can travel between worlds, and she always remains herself. It is my understanding that the Scarlet Witch is a Nexus Being in the comics… but because this movie’s plot depended on there being variants of Wanda, doesn’t that mean that she isn’t a Nexus Being in the movie versions? If I have misunderstood this, leave a comment!

This Screen Rant article ponders the question of Wong being a Nexus Being:

As his appearances have grown more frequent, Wong has also become more powerful than audiences had ever seen him before, perhaps indicating that the sorcerer is dealing with a larger power that he is perhaps unaware of. Given that he will no doubt accompany Dr. Strange on his multiversal exploits, it may be revealed that the beloved character has been a Nexus being all along.

Jordan Iacobucci, “MCU: 10 Characters That Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness Could Reveal To Be Nexus Beings,” ScreenRant.com, 29 April 2022

If Wong does end up being a Nexus Being, that would be AWESOME. And befitting one of the most beloved reel librarian characters ever.

16. Wong shows up when you need him.

The opposite of a bad penny (turning up when no one wants you), Wong turns up exactly when you need him. Or rather… when the plot needs him! That’s why he’s often used for exposition, to explain things in order to move the plot forward.

Here’s the way my husband put it:

Wong shows up when you need him. Not like “deus ex machina,” but like “sorcerer and the script.” It’s like plot armor!

Wong, the true hero of the MCU, in a screenshot from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Wong, the true hero of the MCU, in a screenshot from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, taken from this YouTube video

I agree with this article that argues that Wong is “the real one holding it all together” in this movie:

Despite what you may have been led to believe, the hero of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is not Benedict Cumberbatch’s [Stephen] Strange. At least, he isn’t the real one holding it all together. Sure, he may get top billing on all the posters where he towers above everyone else. However, the real protector of all that is good across the various multiverses has proven time and time again to actually be the reliable Wong. He is the true Sorcerer Supreme, the protector of the New York Sanctum, and the dedicated librarian of Kamar-Taj.

Chase Hutchinson, “Benedict Wong Is the Real Hero of ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’,” Collider, 6 May 2022

17. Why is Wong so popular?

Obviously, I am just one of millions of fans who love Wong. I think the way Wong’s character was rewritten for the screen (which I go into more detail here in this “Perspectives about Wong’s reel librarian character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe” post); Wong’s humanity; and also, actor Benedict Wong’s humor and screen presence, have all helped make Wong a firm fan favorite.

Below are a couple of other perspectives on why Wong is so popular.

The secret is probably Benedict Wong, the actor chosen to portray the character. Fans seem to love this character, one that was once a dull stereotype and a reminder of a more unpleasant age. Thanks to a new take and a stellar casting choice, Wong has become the universe-hopping fixed point of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Wong is everywhere and nobody is complaining, in fact, they want more. Let this once-minor character continue to outgrow his start and become as important and iconic to the MCU as Steve or Tony. He’s earned it.

Joshua Kristian McCoy, “MCU: Why Is Wong In Everything?,” GameRant.com, 4 June 2022

And straight from Benedict Wong himself:

So, we created this no-nonsense, midfield general librarian with hints of Roy Keane [former Manchester United player] in there. This character has progressed now, and I found out when [director] Sam Raimi was on a conference call and talking me through the story. Here was this legend. He said, ‘Of course, you’re going to be the Sorcerer Supreme,’ and as this geek, it’s so great what they’ve done with the character and how he stands toe-to-toe with Doctor Strange.

Benedict Wong, as quoted in “Marvel Fans Are Loving Wong’s Dominance in Phase 4” by Aaron Perine, ComicBook.com, 18 May 2022

18. It’s the WongVerse, and we’re just living in it.

Wong has so rapidly become a fan favorite, it’s really the #WongVerse now! Benedict Wong has appeared thus far in 7 MCU movies and series… and counting:

Plus, Benedict Wong is credited to appear in at least one episode of the upcoming TV series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. So we will see Wong again… and not a moment too soon!


So there’s my round-up of random thoughts, questions, and first impressions I had while watching Wong and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022). What other thoughts, questions, theories, and observations did you have? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

Reader poll write-up, Spring 2022 | A reel librarian gets shushed in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (1961)

“There you are, right in the public library!”

As per the winning entry in the most recent reader poll — thanks again to everyone who voted in the poll! — I am analyzing Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and its library scenes set in the New York Public Library. The Oscar-winning film, based on Truman Capote’s classic 1958 novella, was directed by Blake Edwards and written by screenwriter George Axelrod. The film stars Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, a New York “society gal” and free spirit who started out as Lulamae, a “wild thing” from Tulip, Texas. George Peppard co-stars as Paul Varjak, a once promising writer who now idles away his time as a “kept man” of married socialite Mrs. Emily Eustace “2E” Failenson, played by Patricia Neal. Buddy Ebsen and Martin Balsam also shine in supporting roles.

The film’s original trailer focuses primarily on Hepburn’s charm and style, which have helped make this movie a cultural and sartorial touchstone (especially Hepburn’s iconic “little black dress”).

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers” uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers, Standard YouTube License.

But this movie is dark, y’all. It has its issues, which I will get into, and every character has flaws. Beneath the glitter and parties, there’s an undercurrent of sadness and self-doubt; this is also reflective of the source novella’s tone. When I was a teenager, I remember a friend of mine couldn’t stand this movie because of how the cat was treated at the end of the movie. (Orangey, who played the no-name cat, has his own Wikipedia page!) The film’s saddest and most truthful moments are the ones I personally relate to and remember the most (e.g., “the mean reds“).

And I cannot write about this movie without mentioning that it features one of the most racist portrayals of an Asian character ever onscreen, with Mickey Rooney, a White actor, portraying Mr. Yunioshi, a Japanese photographer. Rooney reportedly wore false teeth, used tape for his eyelids, and wore “yellow face” makeup for this role. SO NOT OK. TV networks now showing this movie have either cut out the Mr. Yunioshi scenes altogether or inserted trigger warnings or context cards before showing the movie.

And I don’t think pointing out this film’s flaws and racism is unfairly holding up this 1961 film to 2022 standards. “It was considered a crude caricature even at the time of the film’s 1961 release,” and critics expressed qualms about Rooney’s portrayal from the beginning. For example, in 1961, the movie reporter in Variety called the film “whitewashed” and that “Mickey Rooney’s participation as a much-harassed upstairs Japanese photographer adds an unnecessarily incongruous note to the proceedings.” Rooney’s personal assertion in a 2008 interview that “Never in all the more than 40 years after we made it – not one complaint” is revisionist history.

So… do the library scenes fare any better? Let’s investigate.

Library scene #1

Let’s set the stage for the events that lead to the first library scene, seen in the video clip below.

At 1 hour and 8 minutes into the 114-minute film, Holly and Paul decide to go out and “spend the whole day doing things we’ve never done before.” Holly muses that “Of course I can’t really think of anything I’ve never done” — but she’s wrong!

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Paul and Holly Go to the Library (13) – Audrey Hepburn” video uploaded by EverythingAudrey.com, Standard YouTube License

Five minutes later into the film — after a trip to Tiffany’s, as you do — Paul takes Holly… to the New York Public Library!

The lobby to the New York Public Library's central branch in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). Note the Black male reel librarian at the right-hand counter.
The lobby to the New York Public Library’s central branch. Note the Black male reel librarian at the right-hand counter.

Holly: What is this place, anyway?

Paul: You said you wanted to sit down. It’s the public library. You’ve never been here?

Holly: No. That makes two for me. I don’t see any books.

Paul: They’re in there.

They take a peek into the Reading Room.

Peeking into the Reading Room at the NYPL Central Branch
Peeking into the Reading Room at the NYPL Central Branch

Then Paul takes her to the wall of card catalog drawers. (So dreamy! Happy sigh. 🙂 )

Paul then explain the basics about card catalogs and library organization.

Paul: Each one of these little drawers is stuffed with little cards, and each little card is a book or an author.

Holly: It’s fascinating.

Paul: V-A-R-J-A-K.

Holly: Really?! [flips through the cards] Look! Isn’t it marvelous? There you are, right in the public library. “Varjak, Paul. Nine Lives.” Then a lot of numbers. You think they really have the book itself, live?

Paul: Sure. Follow me. [He takes the drawer out]

They walk across the room to the desk, where a Black man, dressed in a brown suit and tie, stands beneath a sign that reads “File call slips here.” Holly and the man share polite smiles. This reel librarian is not included in the credits list.

Holly Golightly and the Black male reel librarian politely smile at each other at the "File Call Slips Here" desk
Holly Golightly and the Black male reel librarian politely smile at each other at the “File Call Slips Here” desk

A moment later, then a board lights up with the number 57 — it’s like waiting at the doctor’s office or at the DMW, hah! — and Holly and Paul walk up to another desk, where a middle-aged, auburn-haired White woman stands. She is also dressed in a suit, this one a dark blue plaid. This reel librarian is credited in the cast list, and was played by Elvia Allman.

The visual introduction to the female librarian in this scene is from the back and over her shoulder — a common visual introduction to minor reel librarian characters in movies

Holly [in a loud voice]: 57, please. Nine Lives by Varjak, Paul.

Librarian: Shhhhhh.

Holly: Did you ever read it? It’s simply marvelous.

Librarian: No, I’m afraid I haven’t. [Goes back to filing or typing cards.]

Holly: Well, you should. He wrote it. He’s Varjak, Paul in person. [To Paul] She doesn’t believe me. Show her your driver’s license or your diner’s club card or something. [To the librarian] Honest, he is the author. Cross my heart and kiss my elbow.

Librarian: Would you kindly lower your voice, miss?

Here is the reel librarian’s EPIC shushing face:

The librarian's shushing face
The librarian’s shushing face

Holly: [To Paul] Why don’t you autograph it for her, Paul? [To the librarian] Don’t you think that would be nice? Sort of make it more personal?

Librarian: Really, miss. [whispers something unintelligible]

Holly: [To Paul] Go on, then. Don’t be so stuck-up. Autograph it to her.

Paul: All right. What shall I say?

Holly: Something sentimental, I think.

Librarian: What are you doing? Stop that!

Paul: [To the librarian] Shhhhh!

Librarian [in a quieter tone]: You’re defacing public property!

Holly: Well, all right, if that’s the way you feel. Come on, Fred darling, let’s get out of here. I don’t think this place is half as nice as Tiffany’s.

And here’s the reel librarian getting shushed herself!

The librarian gets shushed!
The librarian gets shushed!

This first scene lasts 2 minutes total.

Here was my initial summation of this scene from my undergraduate thesis over 20 years ago:

“The films that provide glimpses of librarians for humorous purposes only also are the films that exhibit probably the crudest portrayals of librarian stereotypes. … George Peppard and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) harass a middle-aged librarian (played by Elvia Allman) in the New York Public Library by signing a book, thereby “defacing public property.” (p.13)

Jennifer Snoek-Brown, “A Glimpse Through the Glasses: Portrayals of Librarians in Film.” Thesis, West Texas A&M U, 2001.

I think my initial view was a bit harsh and more than a little biased. Maybe I’ve mellowed as I’ve gotten older. 😉 I certainly don’t condone the dismissive and flippant attitude that Holly displays, but I also think that the librarian could have been a LOT friendlier and shown some basic human kindness to them with a greeting and small talk. I mean, she greeted Holly with a shush! NOT COOL. I realize that this script is played for laughs, and stereotypical portrayals of minor characters help set the foundation for easy laughs, but it still kind of irks me that the librarian character is written so stereotypically. The point is definitely to laugh AT this uptight, prissy librarian.

I do kind of love that the librarian gets shushed by Paul, though! That made me laugh. But honestly, these kinds of shushing scenes perpetuate the myth that libraries are these tomb-like, quiet places. Libraries DO often have designated quiet zones, but libraries also serve as community spaces where small groups and friends and family gather, so I almost always encounter a low-to-medium hum of noise whenever I visit public libraries.

I also quite like that the beginning of this library scene depicts joy in discovering how a library works. I love that little micro-scene at the card catalog wall because of the look of delight on Holly’s face! Also, this scene conveys the joy of writers having their names and resources in libraries. (I’m married to a writer, so this scene rings true for me on both counts. 😉 )

Card catalog joy!
Card catalog joy!

And Paul does a very efficient job in explaining the purpose of the card catalog system. (And thank you for being accurate in the call numbers, as they are indeed under the correct “U-V” section of the card catalog. Those kinds of details matter!)

This is also an example of a “closed stacks” library, where the public users do not have access to most of the library’s collection. Most public libraries have what are known as “open stacks,” or bookshelves and collections that are open for the public to wander around and browse. By the way, the NYPL Library website has a “Library Lingo” page that defines this common library term and concept:

“STACKS: The area where the library’s books and other materials are stored. In common with other major research libraries, The New York Public Library has “closed stacks”: you must request material instead of going to the shelf to retrieve it yourself. The New York Public Library’s Branch Libraries have “open stacks” where you may browse and retrieve material yourself.”

General Research Division, “Library Lingo,” New York Public Library, Nov. 1995

The White female librarian in this first library scene fulfills the Comic Relief character type, while the uncredited Black male librarian is your basic Information Provider character type. I think it’s interesting to note that the reel librarian of color is visibly friendlier than the White reel librarian, although the reel librarian of color has much less screen time and makes less of an impression onscreen.

Library scene #2

The second, and final, library scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) needs a little context, as well. At 1 hour and 24 minutes into the film, Paul dumps his lady friend and goes in search of Holly. He calls and looks everywhere and finally finds himself back in the New York Public Library, where he is surprised to see Holly!

This second library scene is in the video clip below:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Paul Tells Holly in the Library He Loves Her (16) – Audrey Hepburn” video uploaded by EverythingAudrey.com, Standard YouTube License

By the way, in earlier viewings, I had missed that a different reel librarian was on duty at the “File Call Slips Here” desk in the library lobby. This time, a younger White man, also dressed in a suit and tie, is standing at the desk and helping a library patron.

A different male librarian, this time a younger White man, helps a patron at the "File Call Slips Here" desk in the library lobby
A different male librarian, this time a younger White man, helps a patron at the “File Call Slips Here” desk in the library lobby

From the look of surprise on Paul’s face, it’s clear that he wasn’t expecting to see Holly there; rather, the NYPL must one of his own comfort spots.

Holly is reading at the NYPL
Holly is reading at the NYPL

Paul comes over to her and kisses her neck, which startles her. Dude is NOT READING THE (READING) ROOM.

Paul: Hi.

Holly [turns back to her book and adjusts her sunglasses]: What do you want?

Paul: I want to talk to you.

Holly: I’m busy. [turns a page of her book]

Paul: What are you doing?

Holly: Reading.

Leave the lady be, Paul. She’s reading!

Paul [picks up a book from the table]: South America: Land of Wealth and Promise?

Holly: It’s very interesting.

SIDE NOTE: Y’all *know* I looked up that title in WorldCat, the online catalog of the world’s libraries, right?! Right. From what I can tell, that book title was very likely made up, as there is no record in WorldCat for a book with that title.

Paul: Let’s get out of here. I said, let’s get out of here. I want to talk to you.

[Another patron shushes him, but the camera never pans to the other person.]

Paul [to Holly]: What’s the matter with you, anyway? What’s happened?

Holly: Fred, would you please just leave me alone.

Paul [grabs her arms]: Holly, I love you.

Holly gets up from the table and walks away with her purse, leaving the books on the table. Paul follows her and grabs her arm. He raises her voice, shouting at her, and Holly tells him, very clearly, “Let me go” three times. She tries to get away, but Paul roughly grabs her arms again several times.

Holly reveals that she’s going to marry a South American, Jose de Silva Pereira. (What Paul doesn’t know is that Holly is doing this so she can help take care of her brother when he gets out of the Army.) This further enrages Paul, who continues to shout at her and grab and shake her in front of several library patrons.

Physical assault alert in the library!
Physical assault alert in the library!

Paul [grabbing her again]: You’re crazy.

Holly: What, do you think you own me?

Paul: That’s exactly what I think.

Holly: I know, I know. That’s what everybody always thinks. But everybody happens to be wrong.

Paul: Look, I am NOT everybody. Or am I? Is that what you really think? That I’m no different from all your other rats and super-rats? [Holly walks away.] Wait a minute. [He takes his $50 writing check out of his breast pocket.] That’s it. If that’s what you really think, there’s something I want to give you.

Holly: What’s that?

Paul: Fifty dollars for the powder room.

He turns and walks away, and we see that everyone in the Reading Room is staring at him. No wonder! He just grabbed a woman and yelled at her in the library! Physical assault alert in the library!

Paul walks away at the end of this second library scene
Paul walks away at the end of this second library scene

THIS SCENE IS NOT OK. This is NOT romantic. Red flags EVERYWHERE. Paul is abusive, both verbally and physically, and he confirms that he thinks he “owns” her. NOPE. And then he gives her his $50 check and stalks away. This parting shot by Paul echoes what we had learned earlier, that one of the ways that Holly earns money is to get guys to pay her $50 every time she goes to the powder room. It’s a “gotcha” moment — a moment that, script-wise, works quite well on the page — but it’s a cheap moment focusing on shaming a woman trying to earn a living, for herself and for her brother. NOT OK. Even as a young woman, this scene made me feel uneasy when I first watched this movie; now, I am better able to articulate why this scene is problematic.

One thing about this scene that I realized is positive? That Holly went back to the library for research! Although she ended the first library scene with a flippant remark, “I don’t think this place is half as nice as Tiffany’s,” she DOES return when she needs some information, and when she needs a place to read and think. 🙂

This second scene in the library lasts 3 minutes. The second male reel librarian is also uncredited and serves as an Information Provider.

Altogether, we spend 5 minutes total at the New York Public Library in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Although they don’t last that long, the two library scenes are memorable, landing in the Class III category, in which reel librarians play supporting characters.

Continuing the conversation

It was an interesting exercise to revisit this movie — one I have seen several times, and a movie I do enjoy overall, despite some quite troubling scenes and portrayals, as I’ve detailed in this post. I can recognize the negatives — like the racist portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi and the physical assault in the library — while also enjoying the positives, like Holly’s style, the haunting “Moon River” song on the fire escape, and of course, Holly’s utter delight in learning about the card catalog system. ❤

I agree with this reviewer, who sums up Breakfast at Tiffany’s like this:

Holly’s ambiguities, flaws, and layers make her a much more interesting protagonist […] Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a weird, gorgeous, difficult, fascinating, dark film—and it’s all the better for it, but if you’re looking for something aspirational that you can watch purely for aesthetics, well, there are thousands of other films to choose from. So next time you claim this is your all-time favorite movie, I hope you’re able to back it up with some of the film’s flaws, and not just cite the fashion as the reason.

Elizabeth Logan. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s Problems No One Ever Talks About.” Glamour, 30 Dec. 2016.

What are your thoughts upon revisiting Breakfast at Tiffany’s and reflecting on its library scenes? Did anything new come to the surface for you? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

Current Oscar nominees who have played reel librarians

Will any of these former reel librarians win an Oscar this year?

The nominations for this year’s Academy Awards were announced back in early February. When I read the list of nominations, I noted that several of the acting nominees have played reel librarian characters in past films. And thus, an idea for a post was born! 😉 Will any of these former reel librarians win an Oscar this year? The Academy Awards telecast is scheduled for this Sunday, March 27, 2022.

Oscar academy award with Oscars 2022 text on red background” graphic by Jernej Furman via Flickr, CC BY 2.0 license

Aunjanue Ellis

Current Oscar nomination:

Aunjanue Ellis is a Best Supporting Actress nominee for King Richard (2021). In King Richard, Aunjanue Ellis portrays Oracene Price, the real-life mother and coach of tennis icons Venus Williams and Serena Williams. This is Ellis’s first nomination for an Academy Award.

Past reel librarian role:

Aunjanue Ellis played reel librarian Jo in Men of Honor (2000), a movie based on the true story of Carl Brashear, the first Black American U.S. Navy diver (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). Carl goes to the local library for tutoring assistance, and Jo, a library assistant, helps him. She reveals that she is working at the library until she can get into medical school.

There is also a good woman in Brashear’s life: Jo (Aunjanue Ellis), the Harlem librarian who tutors him in reading when he has trouble with written exams.

Roger Ebert, “Reviews: Men of Honor,” RogerEbert.com, 10 Nov. 2000
Men of Honor Because They Said I Couldn’t Have It” video, uploaded by Jonathan F., Standard YouTube License

Related post: 5 movies featuring Black reel librarians in major roles

Judi Dench

Current Oscar nomination:

Judi Dench is nominated this year for Best Supporting Actress for Belfast (2021). In Belfast, Judi Dench plays the grandmother to a young boy, Buddy, and the film centers on Buddy’s family and childhood in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1969, at the beginning of “The Troubles.” This is Dench’s 8th nomination for an Academy Award, and she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love (1998).


Past reel librarian roles:

Judi Dench has played not one, but TWO reel librarian roles!

In Red Joan (2018), Judi Dench played the title role of Joan Stanley, a librarian who is arrested and suspected of being a spy! The film is based on the novel by Jennie Rooney, and the plot is inspired by the life of Melita Norwood, a British civil servant who was a spy for the KGB.

Our first shot of Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) in “Red Joan” is inauspicious enough. A librarian in a cozy cardigan, she’s pruning roses outside her small, neatly kept row house in a London suburb. But then there’s a knock at the door. And a charge of treason.

Elizabeth Weitzman, “‘Red Joan’ Review: Not Enough Drama, or Enough Judi Dench, in British Spy Story,” The Wrap, 18 April 2019
Red Joan ft. Judi Dench – Official Trailer I HD I IFC Films” video uploaded by
IFC Films, Standard YouTube License

In Wetherby (1985), Judi Dench played Marcia Pilborough, a thoroughly unpleasant Deputy Librarian at the British Library Lending Library, who informs a young scholar (Tim McInnerny) that they do not lend books except under special circumstances.

Related post: Dishonorable Mention

Javier Bardem

Current Oscar nomination:

Javier Bardem is nominated this year for Best Lead Actor for Being the Ricardos (2021), portraying real-life comic icon Desi Arnaz. This is Bardem’s 4th nomination for an Academy Award, and he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for No Country for Old Men (2007).

The casting of a European actor (Bardem) as a Cuban-American (Arnaz) has caused controversy and criticism. And it’s not the first time this has happened!

The Spanish actor Javier Bardem, in charge of playing Desi Arnaz, is a casting error. […] It is paradoxical that Bardem plays, for the second time in his successful career, a famous Cuban. At the first opportunity he achieved that plausible portrait of the long-suffering and anti-Castro writer Reinaldo Arenas, in the film Before Night Falls. [translated into English]

Alejandro Rios, “Being the Ricardos y la historia de Desi Arnaz, un cubano cosmopolita” [“Being the Ricardos and the story of Desi Arnaz, a cosmopolitan Cuban”], CubaNet, 19 Dec. 2021.

Past reel librarian role:

Javier Bardem also portrayed Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls (2000) — and bagged another Best Actor Oscar nomination for this portrayal! Based on Arenas’s memoir, Before Night Falls focuses on his life as a gay man and a writer and his struggles against the Cuban revolution and government censorship of his writings. As a young man, Arenas enters a young writers contest sponsored by the National Library — the prize is a job at the Library!

Before Night Falls (2000) Official Trailer – Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp Movie” video, uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers, Standard YouTube License

Related post: Oscar-nominated reel librarians ; Reel librarians in political-themed films

Sources used

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