Reel librarians and archivists in 16 sci-fi films

With the growing spread of the COVID-19 virus — please keep up-to-date via the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention page — it feels like we are living in a sci-fi, dystopian alternate reality right now, doesn’t it? (Stay safe out there, y’all, and let’s all keep washing our hands!) So it felt fitting to explore the role of reel librarians and archivists in 16 different science fiction films. Shall we?

Images, clockwise from top left: Jocasta Nu in Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002); Wong in Doctor Strange (2016), The Books in Soylent Green (1973); Vox in The Time Machine (2002)

I put this list together after reviewing my Master List as well as the Reel Substance lists on this site. I then noted three major trends of the reel librarian roles in these sci-fi films; generally, they serve as Heroes, Helpers, or Hindrances. Within each of these sub-categories below, the films are arranged in descending chronological order (oldest to newest).

Heroes || Helpers || Hindrances

Let’s explore!


Heroes


Reel librarians in this sci-fi sub-category are lead roles. They serve as characters who lead the way for resistance, problem-solving, and saving the world.

The War of the Worlds (1953):

In this sci-fi classic and Class II film, Martians invade Earth! Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson), who teaches library science courses, teams up with the hero-scientist (Gene Barry) in order to defeat the aliens.

Related posts: War films and reel librarians

The Handmaid’s Tale (1990):

In this dystopian tale and Class II film, fertility becomes rare, and fertile young women, trained as Handmaids, are treated as slaves in the households they are assigned to. Natasha Richardson plays a Handmaid, and we learn in one scene that she used to be a librarian. She never stops using her intelligence, and she becomes involved with the growing resistance movement.

Related posts: The reel librarian in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Idiocracy (2006):

This science fiction comedy film stars Luke Wilson as Joe Bauers, a U.S. Army librarian, who takes part in a classified military human hibernation experiment and awakens 500 years later in a dystopian society. He ends up as the most intelligent person alive.

The Age of Stupid (2009):

This drama-documentary film stars Pete Postlethwaite as an archivist living alone in the devastated world of 2055. He watches archival videos to understand why we didn’t stop climate change when we had the chance.


Helpers


Reel librarians in this sci-fi sub-category serve in supporting roles. They help the lead characters and provide vital assistance, knowledge or help inspire solutions.

The Monster that Challenged the World (1957):

In this Class III film, an earthquake in the Salton Sea, California, unleashes radioactive mollusk monsters. Nearby Naval base officers work to stop the horde of monsters, and a museum archivist (Milton Parsons) helps find a vital map of underground rivers.

Related posts: Of ‘monsters’ and missing maps

Quatermass and the Pit, aka Five Million Years to Earth (1967)

The third film in the Quatermass series and Class III film starts off with a discovery of ape-like human skeletons at a subway excavation site. The armed forces are called in when scientists further dig up a missile-like metal shape. Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir) and an assistant scientist, Barbara (Barbara Shelley) do some digging of their own — in the research archives. This leads them to the Westminster Abbey archives and a short scene with the Abbey Librarian (Noel Howlett).

Related posts: ‘Quatermass’ and the librarian

Soylent Green (1973):

In this sci-fi classic and Class I film, food is scarce, and the world’s population relies on a food product called “soylent green.” A detective (Charlton Heston) investigates a murder of a Soylent official, and his “Police Book” personal researcher (Edward G. Robinson, in his final film role), visits a former public library, now known as the “Supreme Exchange.” The librarians in this dystopian future are known as “Books.”

Related posts: Reader poll of runner-ups, Fall 2016: ‘Soylent Green’ and the Books

The Avengers (1998):

In this silly sci-fi adaptation of the British TV series and Class IV film, British agents John Steed (Joseph Fiennes) and Emma Peel (Uma Thurman) unite against Sir August De Wynter (Sean Connery), who attempts to control the world by a weather machine. Steed visits the Ministry Archives to get help from the archivist (Patrick Macnee).

The Time Machine (2002):

In this Class III remake of the 1960 sci-fi classic, disillusioned inventor (Guy Pearce) builds a time machine and travels 800,000 years into the future. He encounters Vox (Orlando Jones), a holographic librarian, who supplies him with information about time travel and the history and evolution of the planet and its population.

Related posts: Stylish male reel librarians

Doctor Strange (2016) ; Avengers: Infinity War (2018); and Avengers: Endgame (2019):

Benedict Wong plays Wong, a monastery librarian and Master of the Mystic Arts, in the Marvel’s Avengers movie series. In Doctor Strange (2016), Wong teaches Strange several important lessons throughout. In Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Wong defeats Cull Obsidian in battle and displays his librarian research skills to help set up the stakes — and the plot of the entire movie — to members of the Avengers. In Avengers: Endgame (2019), Wong survived the snap and plays a crucial role in the final battle scene.

Related posts: Sorcerer librarians of ‘Doctor Strange’ ; First impressions: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ ; First impressions: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ (2019) ; 3 reel librarians who have died in the line of duty

Blade Runner 2049 (2017):

In this sequel to 1982’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner and Class III film, Ryan Gosling stars as K, a police officer assigned to track down a rogue replicant. He begins by going to the Wallace Corporation’s Earth Headquarter archives to track down a suspect’s DNA and records; an archives clerk (Tómas Lemarquis) leads him to the files.

Related posts: Reel archivist in ‘Blade Runner 2049’


Hindrances


Reel librarians in this sub-category of sci-fi films serve as road blocks to the protagonists.

Rollerball (1975):

This sci-fi classic and Class III film is set in a future controlled by corporations, and Jonathan E. (James Caan) is the star of the ultra-violent sport Rollerball. The corporate executives want him to quit, but Jonathan defies them. In the first library scene (in this future, they are called “computer centers”), he goes to the local branch, where the Circulation clerk (Nancy Bleier) tells him his books are classified. Later, Jonathan travels to the central computer bank in Geneva, but the older librarian there (Ralph Richardson) is unable to get the information out from the main computer.

Related posts: Reel librarians in ‘Rollerball’ | Analyzing the 1975 original film and 2002 remake

Brainstorm (1983):

In this sci-fi thriller and Class IV film, researcher Michael Brace (Christopher Walken) has developed a system of recording and replaying actual experiences of people, complete with the “higher brain functions” of thoughts, emotions, senses of smell, etc. This technology gets corrupted by the military in order to torture and brainwash suspects. The finale of the film features the Tape Library and its technicians (Jimmy Casino, May Raymond Boss, and Clay Boss) who keep the tapes locked up.

Related posts: ‘Brainstorm’-ing

Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002):

In this second prequel in the Star Wars saga and Class III film, Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) cannot find any information about a mysterious planet at the Jedi Archives. The Jedi librarian (Alethea McGrath as Jocasta Nu) insists that “if an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.

Related posts: The Jedi librarian ; May the archives be with you | Shining the spotlight on the Jedi librarian ; A funny thing happened on the way to the Jedi library…

Sources used

  • The Age of Stupid” via Wikipedia is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.
  • The Avengers. Dir. Jeremiah S. Chechik. Perf. Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, Sean Connery, Jim Broadbent, Fiona Shaw. Warner Bros., 1998.
  • Avengers: Endgame. Dir. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Perf. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Josh Brolin. Marvel Studios, 2019.
  • Avengers: Infinity War. Dir. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Perf. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Brolin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Wong. Marvel Studios, 2018.
  • Blade Runner 2049. Dir. Denis Villeneuve. Perf. Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto. Warner Bros., 2017.
  • Brainstorm. Dir. Douglas Trumbull. Perf. Natalie Wood, Christopher Walken, Louise Fletcher, Cliff Robertson. MGM/UA, 1983.
  • Brainstorm (1983 film)” via Wikipedia is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.
  • Doctor Strange. Dir. Scott Derrickson. Perf. Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong. Marvel Studios, 2016.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale. Dir. Volker Schlindorff. Perf. Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, Aidan Quinn, Elizabeth McGovern. Cinecom, 1990.
  • Idiocracy” via Wikipedia is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.
  • The Monster that Challenged the World. Dir. Arnold Laven. Perf. Tim Holt, Audrey Dalton, Hans Conried. MGM, 1957.
  • Quatermass and the Pit. Dir. Roy Ward Baker. Perf. Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, James Donald, Julian Glover. Hammer Film Productions, 1967.
  • Rollerball. Dir. Norman Jewison. Perf. James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck. MGM/UA Entertainment, 1975. 
  • Soylent Green. Dir. Richard Fleischer. Perf. Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, Edward G. Robinson, Brock Peters, Joseph Cotten. MGM, 1973.
  • Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Dir. George Lucas. Perf. Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson. 20th Century Fox, 2002.
  • The Time Machine. Dir. Simon Wells. Perf. Guy Pearce, Samantha Mumba, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Orlando Jones. Warner Bros., 2002.
  • The War of the Worlds. Dir. Bryon Haskin. Perf. Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Robert Cornthwaite. Paramount, 1953. 

Law librarian sighting in ‘Fatal Attraction’

So THAT’s where one confesses to adultery, in the back corner of a law library!

Happy Holidays, y’all! Nothing feels so Christmas-y as a little adultery, kidnapping, and family arguments that cause kids to cry, right?! 😉 The Oscar-nominated Fatal Attraction (1987) has all three in spades. The film is considered an ’80s classic, but somehow, neither my husband nor I had managed to watch it yet. (We both knew about the infamous bunny scene, and we were both kids when this movie came out, so maybe that explains it. Animal cruelty is scary!) But when it came up on our Amazon Prime video subscription, we decided to watch it.

Haven’t seen Fatal Attraction in awhile? Here’s the trailer:

“Fatal Attraction – Trailer” video uploaded by YouTube Movies, Standard YouTube License

Law librarian cameo

Imagine my surprise that almost exactly halfway through the film, at almost 1 hour and 3 minutes, we get introduced to a reel librarian! (Y’all can hear my groans from here, right? “Oh no, I’m going to have to take notes now! Hit pause!”)

We see a young black man shelving (or unshelving?) books, dressed in a button-front shirt and tie, pushing a cart full of books.

Shelving books in the firm's law library
Shelving books in the firm’s law library

This character is uncredited in the cast list, so it’s unclear exactly who this character is: A law librarian? A fellow lawyer? Researcher? Paralegal? But there is a clue on the film’s Goofs page on IMDb.com, seen below, which states that this character is a librarian. Therefore, I’m going with law librarian!

Movie goof in the library scene, which highlights that this character is a librarian.
Goofs: Crew of Equipment Visible: Reflected in the window that the librarian pushes the cart past.
A law librarian and his cart of books
A law librarian and his cart of books

In the back corner of their law firm’s library, Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) is having a private conversation with a friend and fellow lawyer. So THAT’s where one confesses to adultery, in the back corner of a law library. Now you know. Because there’s no one to disturb you, except for perhaps a law librarian just trying to get some work done? (Sigh.) 

Private conversation in the back corner of the law library
Why are we having this private conversation in the law library, instead of in one of our private offices?
What's that sound?
Because clearly no one visits the law library, so we’ll be totally undisturbed here… oh wait, I hear something! Who would have thought a law librarian would have been in here?!
A law librarian rolls past
Whew, the librarian turned the other way. We’re cool. Continue whining about how it’s so unfair that your adulterous affair is ruining your life and how you can’t deal with the choices you’ve made.

This uncredited reel librarian fulfills the Information Provider role. This character type is the most common for reel librarians, with the most diverse range of physical characteristics, including diversity of ages and ethnicities. This is also demonstrated in this brief role, as the law librarian is young, male, and black.

Ultimately, this brief law librarian sighting lands the film in the Class IV category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue.

Call number inconsistency

I also thought it funny that this short law library scene, which lasts a little over a minute, showcases some wildly inconsistent call numbers. In the screenshots below, we see:

  • Books with large call number labels shelved vertically, as seen near Michael Douglas’s elbow, as well as on the books stacked horizontally to the right of his colleague’s head, in the first screenshot below.
  • Books with NO call numbers at all, as seen in the back shelves in-between the two men in the first screenshot, and stacked haphazardly in the second screenshot below.

Clearly, the law librarian does not have enough time to properly label all the books, due to all the lawyers who keep whispering in the back corners of the law library! 😉

Call number inconsistency in the firm's law library
How do we find what we need in this law library if there are no consistent call numbers?
Call number inconsistency in the firm's law library
I don’t know, but it worries me greatly.

Explore more reel law librarians and libraries

Interested in more reel librarian sightings in law libraries? Check out a few related posts below:

Sources used

3 reel librarians who have died in the line of duty

Spoiler alerts!

I recently got to thinking, as you do, “Have there been any reel librarians who have died in the line of duty?” So I went back through my archives, and the answer is… YES!

Let’s explore 3 examples, shall we? (Spoiler alerts!)

Mr. Book Man in Ricochet (1991)

In the action thriller Ricochet (1991), lifetime criminal Earl Talbot Blake (John Lithgow) seeks revenge on the hotshot detective (Denzel Washington) who put him away.

Early in the film, Blake meets “Mr. Book Man,” the prison librarian (Don Perry), in the hospital. While pushing a library cart and delivering books to inmates, Mr. Book Man stops to chat with Blake and tries to cheer him up:

Young fella? Look at you! Lying there like a lump on a log. So what if you’ve made a few mistakes? You can change your life for the better. Don’t you have anything to live for?

Their second meeting years later in a prison parking lot doesn’t go so well. Blake is breaking out of prison and is in disguise as a lawyer. But Mr. Book Man, who has gotten out of his bookmobile, recognizes Blake and calls out:

Hey there, young fella. Do you remember me? The books in the hospital?

His good memory earns him a bullet in the chest. Therefore, this reel librarian in Ricochet (1991) literally did die in the line of duty! 😦

Reel librarian offers a book in Ricochet
Is the pen mightier than the sword in this scenario?

To add insult to injury, Blake then uses the bookmobile as his getaway vehicle! The bookmobile also meets a grisly end. 😦

Read more in my 2012 analysis post, Hey! Mr. Book Man, find a book for me in ‘Ricochet’

The Illiterate Librarian in The Last Supper (1995)

In the black comedy The Last Supper (1995), five grad student roommates find themselves succumbing to murderous temptations when faced with right-wing thinkers at their dinner table.

In one memorable scene, a librarian condemns Catcher in the Rye.

Catcher in the Rye is supposed to be art? Thumbelina is art. Catcher in the Rye is just mean-spirited garbage littered with the “F” word.

That is enough to condemn the librarian… to DEATH. She ends up getting knifed in the back. Ouch!

The Illiterate Librarian in The Last Supper (1995) gets knifed in the back
That’s gotta hurt

Pamela Gien plays the ill-fated reel librarian, who is credited as The Illiterate Librarian.

Read more in my 2012 analysis post, Not your typical ‘last supper’.

Wong the Sorcerer Librarian in Doctor Strange (2016)

Forewarned, this one has a twist.

In Doctor Strange (2016), part of the Marvel Comics Universe saga, surgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) travels to an Asian monastery in hopes of healing his hands, which were crushed in a terrible car accident. The monastery librarian, Wong (Benedict Wong), is also a Master of the Mystic Arts, and he teaches Strange several important lessons throughout. The film also literally begins and ends in the Kamar-Taj monastery library.

Near the end of the film, right before the final face-off, Wong heads off to defend the Hong Kong sanctum. He leads the other sorcerers in battle, and Wong goes outside to head the villain Kaecilius off before he can enter the Hong Kong sanctum.

We don’t get to see their ensuing fight; instead, by the time Strange arrives on the scene, the Hong Kong sanctum has fallen, and Wong has been defeated, dead in the rubble. His chest has been punctured by a rebar.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)
Reel librarian death

But here’s the twist:

Wong get resurrected.

How? Strange knows how to turn back time, so he uses that spell to bring Wong back to life.

WHEW.

Therefore, Wong the Sorcerer Librarian does technically die in the line of duty… but he also lives to fight another day. We get to see him helping to save the day in both Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). (I think it’s fair to say that Wong is one of my very favorite reel librarian characters. ❤ )

Read more in my 2018 analysis post, Sorcerer librarians of ‘Doctor Strange’.

These are just 3 examples, so here is a heartfelt RIP to all the reel librarians who have died in the line of duty.

Sources used

  • Doctor Strange. Dir. Scott Derrickson. Perf. Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong. Marvel Studios, 2016.
  • The Last Supper. Dir. Stacy Title. Perf. Annabeth Gish, Cameron Diaz, Courtney B. Vance. Columbia, 1995.
  • Ricochet. Dir. Russell Mulcahy. Perf. Denzel Washington, John Lithgow, Ice-T, Kevin Pollak. HBO/Warner Bros., 1991.

First impressions: ‘It: Chapter Two’ (2019) and the town librarian hero

“That was long overdue. Get it? ‘Cause we’re in a library.”

If you’re a regular reader — as always, thank you! — then you know that I highlight scary movies every October. Perfect timing, then, as I recently was able to watch the new film It: Chapter Two, which I also thought would make a good entry in my continuing “first impressions” series of posts. The film follows It: Chapter One, which was released two years ago. I published my first impressions of It: Chapter One back in Oct. 2017.

What’s a “first impressions” post?

First things first, “first impressions” posts focus on current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes. The resulting posts are necessarily less detailed — hence the “first impressions” moniker — as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes in the movie theater. I do, however, take notes as soon as I can after watching the film.

What’s ‘It’ all about?

It: Chapter Two reunites the Losers’ Club 27 years after they first faced off again It, aka Pennywise the Scary Clown. Pennywise has returned to wreak havoc on the town of Derry, and Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) calls everyone back to finish off Pennywise once and for all. Will they succeed, or will they die trying? The film also heavily features flashbacks NOT included in Chapter One, so we get reintroduced to the teen actors playing the younger versions of the Losers’ Club.

Below is a trailer for It: Chapter Two (2019):

“IT CHAPTER TWO – Official Teaser Trailer [HD]” video uploaded by Warner Bros. Pictures, Standard YouTube license.

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

Meet Mike Hanlon, the town librarian

In my write-up for It: Chapter One (2017), I highlighted the main scene set in the public library, which featured Ben, and how Ben fulfilled the historian/researcher role in that film, rather than Mike. Here are some excerpts from that post:

While I appreciated that there was a library scene in the film, I was disappointed that the research angle was taken away from the character of Mike, the only African-American and person of color in the group. In the book, Mike was the historian of the group. His father kept an album of photos of Derry’s history, which included several photos of Pennywise. Mike then researches the history of Derry — and later becomes the town’s librarian. Since he is the only one who stays in the town, he is the one who summons the rest of the Losers’ Club back to Derry 27 years later.

Therefore, it unsettled me that the remake changed the historian and research role from Mike in the book to Ben in the movie. 

From ‘First impressions: ‘It’ (2017) and its library scene,’ Reel Librarians, 11 Oct. 2017

As I wrote then, Mike Hanlon is the most important character in the story, in my opinion, and in the end, the town’s true hero.

In It: Chapter Two (2019), it is Mike’s voice we hear introducing us to the present. The first word we hear him say? “Memory.” He sets the tone for this film, with its bittersweet and mournful memories amidst all the nightmares and horror.

Meet Mike Hanlon, reel librarian.
Meet Mike Hanlon, reel librarian. Screenshot from “IT CHAPTER TWO – Final Trailer [HD]” video uploaded by Warner Bros. Pictures, Standard YouTube license.

Contrasted with Richie, as played by Bill Hader — who gets all the fun lines and steals scenes whenever onscreen — Mike, as played by Isaiah Mustafa, grounds the story. He is the institutional memory, the gatekeeper, the “man with the plan.” It totally makes sense that he becomes the town librarian, the keeper of memories and archives.

By the way, the word “librarian” NEVER gets mentioned in this movie. The word “library,” yes. But never the word “librarian.” But Mike clearly IS the town’s librarian — even living in the public library’s attic! And the fact that he is a reel librarian is absolutely essential to the movie. Therefore, Mike Hanlon is a Class I librarian, a major character whose librarian occupation is integral to the plot.

Scenes in the town library

There are a few scenes set in the town library. The library set in Chapter Two looked just like the library set in Chapter One, with its traditional look of half-paneled walls and dark wood trim.

Reel librarian Mike in a scene set in the town library.
Reel librarian Mike in a scene set in the town library. Screenshot from “IT CHAPTER TWO – Final Trailer [HD]” video uploaded by Warner Bros. Pictures, Standard YouTube license.

Early in the film, Mike brings Billy back to the library — “Didn’t it used to be bigger?” — and takes him up the attic to show him artifacts and historical records of Derry. The purpose is to convince Billy about the past, so that the others will stay in Derry and reunite to fight Pennywise.

About two-thirds of the way through the film, Mike is waiting for the others to come back to the library after they find their tokens from the past. As Mike walks through the darkened library and rows of books, the spirit of It re-reveals itself to Mike through the dropping of a library book, The History of Old Derry. Mike then gets attacked by the bully Bowers. In a Deus ex machina moment, Richie shows up in the nick of time and kills Bowers with a hatchet. Richie then gets the single-best line in the film:

That was long overdue. Get it? ‘Cause we’re in a library.

GROAN. But I still laughed out loud in the movie theater.

Mike as the hero

I’ve already said that, in my opinion, Mike is the true hero of the story.

Mike leads the Losers' Club.
Mike leads the Losers’ Club. Screenshot from “IT CHAPTER TWO – Official Teaser Trailer [HD]” video uploaded by Warner Bros. Pictures, Standard YouTube license.

Mike is the one we the audience believe in, even when the rest of the Losers’ Club don’t. He is the center of the whole film. Writing down notes after having watched the film, it struck me that Mike is the one who drives the entire plot structure: beginning, middle, and end.

  • Beginning: Mike has a list of the Losers’ Club and their current phone numbers, and he checks off their names as he calls everyone. He has to remind them of Derry and the oath they swore as teens to return when needed. He reunites the Losers’ Club.
  • Middle: After everyone else starts remembering Pennywise and the horrible things in their past, Mike says he has a plan to get ready to confront Pennywise again. He explains that each of them has to get a token from their past and to meet back at the library. Therefore, he serves as the catalyst for the entire middle part of the movie.
  • End: Mike figures out how to kill It, once and for all. He unites the Losers’ Club in this final battle.

It is interesting to note that in the book by Stephen King, Mike is left out of the climax and final fight with Pennywise. I’m so glad they changed that for the film!

It is also important to note that Mike is NOT perfect. He is human, and therefore imperfect. He shows that he feels vulnerable and scared sometimes. He also admits he stole a Native American artifact, he drugs Billy, and he lies to his friends by omitting part of the truth. But this does not diminish his worthiness, the sacrifice he made to stay in Derry all those years, to carry the burden of remembering.

Mike as a Liberated Librarian

The male Liberated Librarian character type always has a character arc. Initially similar to the Librarian as Failure character type, the Liberated Librarian breaks free (often at the very end of the film) of whatever barrier(s) is holding him back. Usually, this ‘liberation’ requires an external force or action. Liberated Librarians are usually younger or middle-aged. They also become more assertive after the “liberation.” Usually, being “liberated” means leaving the librarian profession (e.g. Tom Hanks in Joe Versus the Volcano), but not always (Noah Wyle in The Librarian TV movies and The Librarians TV series).

Mike Hanlon serves as a classic Liberated Librarian:

  • In a flashback, young Mike reveals that he wants to go to Florida. We know that he stays in Derry so that he doesn’t forget, so he can bring back the others when necessary. And he becomes the town librarian to be in the position of researching the history of Derry and keeping records. Therefore, his barrier is Derry, of being the librarian of Derry, of being the one who remembers. He has sacrificed himself, his own happiness, for the greater good.
  • At the end, Mike says to Bill that he was “in a cell” and now he wants “to see the sky.” The word “cell” in that line is an interesting choice — the “cell” could be a “prison cell,” or like a “cloisters” cell, like a monk. Both ways work.
  • At the very end of the film, we see Mike packing up his car and heading out of town. He literally is liberated from the town of Derry AND his role as reel librarian.

Let’s talk about race

In my write-up post for It: Chapter One (2017), I highlighted Zak Cheney Rice’s key insights into the erasure of Mike’s backstory, in  this article on the Mic website:

The film doesn’t just flatten Mike’s backstory. It reduces him to the kind of token black character that King’s novel was so adept at avoiding.

In the film, Mike barely has any lines. The role of group historian has been taken from him and given to a white character instead. He still gets targeted by Henry Bowers, but gone is the racial subtext that made the experience so entwined with Derry’s history of violence. His blackness seems largely incidental. And as a result, the film never has to address the messy topic of race or how it informs the lone black character’s life.

Zak Cheney Rice, Mic, 9 Sept. 2017

It seemed to me — and please note that I am a white woman, so my perspective is limited — that the film did a better job in It: Chapter Two (2019) about highlighting Mike’s backstory, agency, and experiences as a black man. The film also includes references to the long-lasting effects of racism that Mike continues to endure.

For example:

When Mike brings Billy back to the library in order to convince him that Pennywise is back, he says that he has compiled notes and clues from numerous Derry residents — the ones “who will talk to me, at least.” He then mutters, almost as an aside, a line (and I’m paraphrasing here from memory), “The people who won’t talk to me, that’s an even longer list.

Mike also says he needed to convince Billy (a white man) so that the others would believe him (a black man). Again, this is almost a throwaway line — and actor Isaiah Mustafa says this line in a low, weary tone — but it is SO revealing.

After the violent scene with Bowers in the library, Ben asks, “Are you okay?” Richie answers right away, but Ben says something akin to, “No, I meant Mike,” and turns to Mike. Both Mike and Richie look surprised at this. It’s clear that they both assumed Ben would be asking Richie (a white man) if he was okay, rather than Mike (a black man). This short bit reveals the specter of conditioned, internalized responses to systemic racism.

Mike states early in the film:

Something happens to you when you leave this town. The farther away, the hazier it all gets. But me, I never left. I remember all of it.

All the white members of the Losers’ Club leave Derry and forget the horrible nightmares of Pennywise. They enjoy the privilege of being able to forget. All the white characters enjoy financial and career (i.e. external) success. Mike, the sole black member of the Losers’ Club, has to stay behind in Derry and is forced to remember and relive the past horror of Pennywise. He also is “just” the town librarian and lives in the messy, crumbling attic of the town library. I would argue this serves as a metaphor for white flight and subtly shines the spotlight over the unacknowledged burdens and hidden labor that people of color endure.

I’m sure there is more to unpack in the film in this vein — not to mention the lack of agency that the Native Americans depicted in the film have over their story and artifacts — but I appreciated how this film incorporated deeper and darker themes in amongst the scary clown sightings and red balloons.

Your thoughts?

Have you seen It: Chapter Two (2019) in theaters? What are your thoughts? Do you prefer the new movie versions or the 1990 miniseries? Did you know that Isaiah Mustafa, who plays reel librarian Mike, also played the original Old Spice man, aka The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, in those iconic commercials?! I literally did not realize that until I started writing this post.

Old Spice meets reel librarian? I will take it. 😉

Sources used

The dragon lady librarian in ‘The Golden Child’ (1986)

This is the only reel librarian with a bag of props that include a screen, a headdress, and a long-handled cigarette holder. #LibrarianGoals

Usually, when I write the phrase “dragon lady librarian,” an image of an older, scowling librarian who’s white and female and metaphorically spewing fire and brimstone at an innocent library user comes to mind, yes? Ah, the power of stereotypes. (SIGH.)

But the dragon lady librarian in 1986’s classic comedy The Golden Child is very different from that stereotypical depiction above. Let’s investigate, shall we?

First, here’s a trailer for the film, in case you’re unfamiliar with the film, or it’s been awhile. Eddie Murphy plays as Chandler Jarrell, a man who finds missing children. The Golden Child, a young boy in Tibet who has mystical abilities, is kidnapped by evil men led by Sardo Numspa (Charles Dance). A young woman, Kee Nang (Charlotte Lewis), enlists Chandler’s help and calls him “The Chosen One,” because he is destined to find The Golden Child, and therefore help save humanity, yada, yada, yada… you know the drill, right?

“The Golden Child Trailer [HD]” video uploaded by FilmTrailersChannel is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

***POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERTS***

The dragon lady librarian shows up three times in the film, at critical points in the plot, at 17 minutes, 45 minutes, and 78 minutes in this 93-minute long film.

Librarian scene #1

At 17 minutes into the film, Chandler has just come back from scouting out a house where the body of another child he was looking for, a young girl, was found. There seems to be a connection to the gang who kidnapped the Golden Child, as there are Tibetan graffiti markings on the walls and a bowl of oatmeal soaked with the girl’s blood. (I first watched this movie as a kid, and the blood-soaked oatmeal in this movie always creeped me out the MOST. Shudder.) Chandler asks Kee why they were trying to feed the child blood-soaked oatmeal, and Kee responds that she doesn’t know but that “There is somebody we could ask about the blood.”

Chandler and Kee next walk into a store that looks to be an apothecary, and they walk into the back and downstairs into a brick basement.

In one corner is a three-paned screen, and we can see the shadow of a woman sitting, and she is wearing a headdress. We also get a glimpse of the woman’s face through the left side of the screen. The mysterious woman smokes (what I presume to be) opium through a long-handled instrument.

Dragon lady silhouette and the three-paned screen in The Golden Child
‘Meet cute’ with the dragon lady

Let’s listen in on the exposition:

Chandler Jarrell: Tell me about the Golden Child.

Kala: Every thousand generations, a perfect child is born, a Golden Child. He has come to rescue us.

Chandler: Rescue us from what?

Kala: From ourselves. He is the bringer of compassion. If he dies, compassion will die with him.

Chandler: So if something happens to the kid, the whole world goes to hell?

Kala: The world will BECOME hell.

Chandler: Ah! Not far from that now. Listen, who would want to take the kid, anyway?

Kala: Those who want evil rather than good.

Chandler: Can you be a little bit more specific?

Kala: We do not know who took him.

Chandler: Well, could you tell me why the people that took him are trying to make him eat blood?

Kala: Nothing in this world will hurt him, but if he were to pollute himself with anything impure, he would become vulnerable.

Chandler: Ok. So if they… if he eats the blood, they could kill him.

Kala: Yes.

Chandler: Oh.

Kala: Do you have any other questions?

Chandler: As a matter of fact, I do. What are you doing this weekend? Because your silhouette is kickin’.

We then hear her rattling in frustration at his impudence. And librarians everywhere feel her pain. Sexual harassment is NOT COOL, y’all. Step off. And this librarian is not afraid to voice her displeasure and incredulity:

Kala: THIS is the Chosen One?

It’s interesting to note that we don’t actually know yet that she’s a librarian. But in two minutes, she’s already conducted a reference interview, filled in lots of exposition, and revealed the high stakes for the quest. I also love that although she’s clearly an unconventional librarian, she says what any librarian would say: “Do you have any other questions?

Next, we see Chandler and Kee walking and talking, and Kee fills in the exposition about Kala:

Chandler: You people certainly do put on a good show. Where’d you find her at?

Kee: She’s the librarian at the Secret Repository at Palkor Sin. She was flown here to help us. She’s over 300 years old.

Chandler: And how’d she manage that one?

Kee: One of her ancestors was raped by a dragon.

Thank you, Kee! Now we know that Kala is literally a dragon lady librarian! And clearly, she is knowledgable and highly respected. Who else but a librarian would the audience trust? 😉

#TeamKala #RespectLibrarians

It’s also interesting to note here that two women actually played Kala. Shakti Chen, a Chinese actress, played Kala, while Marilyn Schreffler, an American actress, voiced the character.

Librarian scene #2

Kala’s expertise is needed again after Chandler learns about the Ajanti Dagger, a weapon the baddies plan to use to kill the Golden Child.

So at 45 mins into the film, Chandler returns to Kala.

Returning to the dragon lady librarian in The Golden Child
Returning to the dragon lady librarian

Kala: So. It is Sardo Numspa.

Chandler: What’s this knife?

Kala: The cross-dagger of Ajanti. He brought it to this world to kill the second Golden Child, the bearer of justice. His death was a great loss.

Doctor Hong: Sardo needs it to kill the child, but you can use it to save him.

Kala: You must obtain the knife and lure Numspa into freeing the child. But you must never let him get possession of the knife.

In this 30-second scene, Kala once again provides important details (the main baddie’s name), backstory (the knife), the high stakes (the killing of a previous Golden Child), PLUS directs Chandler onto the next quest. Librarians are so efficient!

Librarian scene #3

At 1 hour and 18 minutes into the film, Chandler has successfully completed his quest to obtain the Ajanti dagger and returned to Los Angeles, but Kee has died in a fight with the baddies. Chandler, filled with grief and anger, returns to the brick basement, this time taking Kee’s body with him.

Kala: You can save her. The Golden Child can bring her back, as long as sunlight still shines on her body.

Chandler: No more magic. No more riddles, all right? She’s dead!

In anger, Chandler rushes up to the screen and throws it aside. We get our first true glimpse at the dragon lady librarian, scales and all.

Dragon lady librarian exposed in The Golden Child
Dragon lady librarian exposed!
Closeup of Kala, the dragon lady librarian in The Golden Child
Closeup of Kala, the dragon lady librarian

Kala tries to block Chandler’s gaze with her arms, and he looks terrified (rightly so, because that move was seriously disrespectful!). Dr. Hong then sternly redirects Chandler’s attention and reiterates Kala’s final task for Chandler, that he has until nightfall to the find the Golden Child and save Kee.

My final thoughts

Although we know the dragon lady librarian is named Kala — by the credits and by the captions — her name is never actually mentioned onscreen, at least not in the scenes featuring her. (UPDATE 7/21: Reader ST Beverly left a comment and shared that “her name is actually mentioned when Chandler was leaving from visiting her. He calls her name and then proceeds to tell her she needs to get some sun.” Thank you!)

And we are told by someone else, Kee, that she is a librarian; without that line of vital dialogue, we would never know Kala is a librarian, as she’s never seen in a library or with typical library props.

I’m pretty confident in stating that this is the only reel librarian with a bag of props that include a screen, a headdress, and a long-handled cigarette holder. #LibrarianGoals 😉

Ultimately, although Kala is a most unconventional reel librarian by way of accessories and backstory, she serves a relatively conventional reel librarian role, that of an Information Provider. Right on cue throughout the film, she provides vital plot points and helps propel the plot forward.

Kala is seen onscreen for less than 5 minutes total, yet her presence is quite memorable. Ultimately, I have classified her reel librarian portrayal as Class III, films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role, ranging from a supporting character to a minor character with memorable or significant scenes.

Your thoughts?

Have you seen The Golden Child? Was it a comedy staple during your childhood? Do you remember the dragon lady librarian? Please share your thoughts below.

Sources used

  • The Golden Child. Dir. Michael Ritchie. Perf. Eddie Murphy, Charles Dance, Charlotte Lewis. Paramount, 1986.