Revisiting the reel librarian hero in 1999’s ‘The Mummy’

As the new version of The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella as the title character, opened to scathing reviews this past week (it’s earned a 17% rating thus far on Rotten Tomatoes, yikes), I noticed a trend of reviewers referencing the 1999 version of the film, and several critics urging people to just go and rewatch the 1999 version of The Mummy instead of watching the new version. As the 1999 version also happens to star a reel librarian in a lead role (Rachel Weicz as Evelyn “Evie” Carnahan, a librarian and Egyptologist), I thought it a perfect opportunity to follow their advice!

Reel Librarians | My DVD copy of The Mummy (1999)

My DVD copy of The Mummy (1999)

Snippets from current reviews of the new version of The Mummy which reference the 1999 version:

  • But alas, The Mummy turns out to be a drab, nonsensical affair that squanders its potential for humor, atmosphere, and sweep — qualities that the much-maligned, Fraser-starring 1999 Mummy had in droves.” (from The Village Voice)
  • No one over the age of 10 ever confused them [Universal’s film archive of monsters] with good movies, but the “Mummy” franchise that kicked off in 1999 had a joyously sinister and farfetched eye-candy pizzazz.” (from Variety)
  • [I]f you want to watch a fun Mummy movie this weekend, the newest option isn’t your safest bet.” (from Rotten Tomatoes)

And finally, the review from Vox, which sums up its review of the new version with this takeaway:

The Mummy is playing nationwide. You would be better off watching the 1999 version, and I don’t even like that movie.

But I do!

I still find The Mummy (1999) a fun adventure film, tongue firmly in cheek, and winking at its own spectacle; I agree with IndieWire, which called it “enduringly delightful.” I must admit two biases up front:  (1) I have always been a fan of genre films that commit unabashedly to their genres, like the 1999 version does (not so much the sequels), and (2) I love films with meaty reel librarian roles. Because OF COURSE. Especially reel librarians who kick ass onscreen and win at camel races. 😉

Oh, and SPOILERS.

If you need a reminder of the plot, here’s a trailer for the 1999 version:

The Mummy Official Trailer #1 – Brendan Fraser Movie (1999) HD,” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, Standard YouTube license.

In this adventure, Egyptian priest Imhotep is accidentally brought back to life. Egyptology librarian Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), her brother (John Hannah), and an American soldier (Brendan Fraser) join forces to stop Imhotep.

Here’s a look at my original notes from when I first analyzed the film (and yes, I initially misspelled Rachel Weisz’s name in those notes, mea culpa):

Reel Librarians | Snapshot of my original notes for the 1999 version of 'The Mummy'

Snapshot of my original notes for the 1999 version of ‘The Mummy’

I could go in many different directions in analyzing this film, but I’m going to stay in the direction these early notes took me:  focusing on Evie’s reel librarian role and how that role evolved. Even in this one snapshot from my notes, you can see my scrawled notes describing her character and how Evie’s character evolves on screen:

  • “quiet at first but becomes forceful by end”
  • “wants to move up”

Liberated Librarian

Evie is one of the lead characters of the film, and her character arc fulfills the role of Liberated Librarians. Let’s check off the hallmarks of a Liberated Librarian that connect and describe Evie’s character and role in the film:

  • A naïve, inexperienced woman who discovers herself—and what she’s capable of—in face of an adventure/disaster
  • Her “liberation” is intertwined with the major plot — the discoveries of the “Book of the Dead” and the “Book of Amun-Ra” mirror her own self-discovery
  • Young in age
  • Clothing more conservative and buttoned-up at first
  • Undergoes a change of appearance, dressing more feminine and more exotic (and her hair comes down from its bun!)

The scene in which we meet Evie comes early in the film, after the introduction that sets up Imhotep’s backstory. The library scene takes place in the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt, and Evie is on a tall ladder and shelving books. While trying to take a shortcut to shelve a wayward title, she accidentally topples all the bookcases in the library. (One of the lessons learned in this film? Don’t take shortcuts while shelving books!) Also, during the commentary of this scene on the DVD, director Stephen Sommers reveals that they got this scene in one take!

the mummy library scene,” uploaded by Hammerfall541, Standard YouTube license.


As director Sommers also states on the DVD commentary:

“We learn everything we need to know about Evie and her backstory without it seeming like lame exposition.”

From her light sparring with the museum director, as seen in the clip above, we also learn this crucial characteristic at the heart of this reel librarian character:  She stands up for herself when others directly challenge her. However else she changes, and her story arc evolves, this remains true. She also knows her own intelligence, and that her intelligence is an asset.

“I am proud of what I am. I am a librarian.”

One of the major ways that Evie’s character breaks from the Liberated Librarian character type is that unlike most Liberated Librarians, Evie is committed to and proud of her profession.

This is most apparent in the (in)famous scene around the campfire in which Evie is inebriated, as seen in the clip below. (I also highlighted this scene and quote in a previous Quotable Librarian post.)

“Look, I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure seeker, or a gun fighter… But I am proud of what I am. I… am a librarian!”

However much I love this rallying cry — “I am a librarian!” — I do think she undersells herself in this moment. She has already proven onscreen that she is indeed an explorer and an adventurer, and she shot a gun in a skirmish just minutes before this campfire scene. It is true, however, that it is her brother (played by the cheeky John Hannah) who is the treasure seeker.

The.Mummy.WMV,” uploaded by deanxavier, YouTube license.

The power of reading

Evie also underestimates the power of reading. And from a librarian, too — for shame! But it sets the rest of the movie in motion, and serves as another way to highlight how she evolves over the course of the film.

In another campfire scene, after she has discovered the “Book of the Dead,” she figures out how to open the book and starts to read from it.

“It’s just a book. No harm ever came from reading a book.”

Yeah… except by doing so, she conjures up the mummy. (Next time, maybe try reading silently first.) The other Egyptologist, played by veteran Australian actor Jonathan Hyde, knows the danger, but he is too late in shouting, “No! You must not read from the book!

In a word, “Oops.”

This is a cautionary tale enveloped within an adventure story. Reading = Power.

The Mummy: Imhotep Revived,” uploaded by rpetteson, Standard YouTube license.

Reel librarian hero

The hero in the story who got all the attention at the time was Brendan Fraser as American soldier Rick O’Connell. But the real hero in this story, in my opinion, is Evie.

Here’s evidence from the film to back that up:

  • Evie saves Rick from hanging in an Egyptian prison by negotiating his release — and setting the plot in motion to find Hamunaptra, the city of the dead
  • She saves Rick’s life again on the boat, by pulling him aside from a spray of bullets (this is a clever bit, as she sees the pattern of gunshots along the wall and anticipates that Rick is in the way — demonstrating that she’s not just book smart!)
  • She beats Rick at camel racing
  • She figures out the solution to reverse the curse is to find the Book of Amun-Ra AND figures out where the Book of Amun-Ra is buried
  • Evie sacrifices herself to Imhotep in order to save her friends
  • She helps her brother translate the Book of Amun-Ra while SHE HERSELF is fighting off a mummy — thinking in action!
  • She helps make Imhotep mortal so that Rick can finish him off

Evie is the one who (accidentally) conjured the curse, so following standard hero-story arcs, she therefore has to be the one to figure out how to solve it. And she does. She comes through stronger in the end, further highlighting her intelligence and resilience.

However, Evie is never called a hero in this story by others. Instead, there are a variety of phrases and terms, often unflattering, that other characters use to describe Evie, including:

  • “Compared to you, the other plagues were a joy”
  • “catastrophe”
  • “damsel in distress”
  • “broad”
  • “lady”
  • “not a total loss”
  • “old Mum”

SIGH.

But instead of dwelling on those less-than-flattering descriptions, let’s instead focus on appreciating Evie and the actress who first brought her to life in The Mummy (1999):

Tribute to Rachel Weisz in The Mummy (1999 version),” uploaded by King Achilles, Standard YouTube license.

Fun facts

I came across this fun fact that I came across while reading the film’s trivia on IMDb.com:

When King Tutankhamen’s tomb was found on November 4, 1922, the person in charge was George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon. Along with him was his daughter, Lady Evelyn Carnarvon. Rachel Weisz’s character is named Evelyn Carnahan. Originally, her character was meant to be Evelyn Carnarvon. She and her brother were to be the children of the “cursed” Lord Carnarvon. The only evidence of this left in the film is in the line where Evelyn tells O’Connell that her father was a “very, very famous explorer”. The Mummy novelization goes into a bit more detail on her back story.

Amazing! Here’s a picture of Lady Evelyn Carnarvon with her father at King Tut’s tomb in 1922:

At the entrance of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 (from left to right): Lady Evelyn Carnarvon and her father on the left.

At the entrance of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 (from left to right): Lady Evelyn Carnarvon and her father on the left.

You can see more pics and read more about the real-life inspiration for Evie’s character here on this site.

And one final fun fact:  the ancestral Carnarvon home is none other than Highclere Castle — which served as the locale for Downton Abbey in the TV series! The website for Highclere Castle even has a whole section dedicated to its Egyptian connection.


I thoroughly enjoyed this trip down Mummy memory lane and learning more along the way. Hope you did, too!

Next week, I will be back with a post about another adventurer librarian!

 

‘This is What a Librarian Looks Like’ follow-up

Last week, I shared the news and background story about being included in a book about librarians, This is What a Librarian Looks Like, by Kyle Cassidy. This week, I have follow-up news and photos!

Being featured in The Guardian

News first:  On May 29th, London newspaper The Guardian published a photo essay, “Tattoos and baseball caps: This is What a Librarian Looks Like — in pictures” of librarian fashion, highlighting a selection of photos from Kyle Cassidy’s book. And I was included in the photo essay!

Again, my reaction was:  WHUT?!

Screenshot from The Guardian's fashion section for the librarian fashion photo essay

Screenshot from The Guardian’s fashion section for the librarian fashion photo essay

Screenshot from The Guardian's librarian fashion photo essay

That’s me! Screenshot from The Guardian’s librarian fashion photo essay

I loved that my cheeky card catalog tee was featured in order to illustrate how librarians are “in on the joke” about our own stereotypes. And that’s what this Reel Librarians site is all about, too! 😉

It was also very sweet how many people shared the news about me being featured in The Guardian‘s photo essay, including family, friends, and even co-workers!

Never forget, then & now

I received my complimentary copy of the book the same day that my library received their own copy of the book they ordered. And I still have the same library card catalog tee (and denim jacket) that I wore in the portrait that Cassidy took three years ago… and thus, an idea was born. A library colleague took photos of me in our library, with my current (shorter) hairstyle, with the book and my portrait. Fun!

Reel Librarians | Librarian book and card catalog tee, then and now

And here I am shelving my library’s copy of the book on our bookshelves:

Reel Librarians | Shelving the book This Is What a Librarian Looks Like

How do you classify librarians?

Here’s a closeup of the call number for the book:  Z682 C37 2017

Reel Librarians | LC call number for This Is What a Librarian Looks Like book

Let’s break down that call number, shall we?

First things first:  This is a call number using the Library of Congress classification system.

Library card catalog tee closeup

Library card catalog tee closeup

And finally, one last funny thing that happened this past week. After a colleague shared the news on campus about me being featured in The Guardian and the This is What a Librarian Looks Like book, a fellow (non-librarian) instructor emailed me, wondering if the card catalog on the t-shirt was the Library of Congress or the Dewey Decimal system… and I loved that this instructor asked which which classification system the card catalog drawer was for! 😃

Here was my response:

Since the label reads “a-d” (i.e. letters), then it would most likely be the Library of Congress system, which combines letters and numbers together (with the letters coming first, organized by alphabetical order, and then by numbers. So A 100 would come before A 102, which would come before AF 100, and so on). Library of Congress includes both fiction and non-fiction, which is why it’s used for larger collections, like in college and university libraries.

The Dewey Decimal system is numbers only, 000’s through 900’s, and covers mostly non-fiction. That’s why most public libraries, which use the Dewey Decimal system, usually have separate classification systems for collections like fiction, usually alphabetized by authors’ last names, etc. So this card catalog drawer could also be for a special collection like fiction, representing authors’ last names, A-D.

It was super fun to geek out a bit — by request! — about library classification systems! 😃


Back to reel librarians next week… but I hope you enjoyed this additional sojourn into real librarians — and librarian style!

Have you read or gotten a copy of This is What a Librarian Looks Like? Please leave a comment and share.

New book ‘This is What a Librarian Looks Like’ — and I’m in it!

I have exciting news to share for my Reel Librarians readers! Last week, I got an email from a Hachette Books editor letting me know that I was in a new book entitled This is What a Librarian Looks Like, by photographer Kyle Cassidy, and that I could get a complimentary copy. My first reaction?

That’s so cool! And a free book!

Then my face fell in shock as I looked at the book cover image in the email… and realized that I was one of the librarians featured on the cover! WHUT?!!!

Email and book cover image for 'This is What a Librarian Looks Like'

Email and book cover image for ‘This is What a Librarian Looks Like’

I then forwarded the email on to my co-workers and shared it on Facebook. And since I was on a Reference Desk shift at my library, I then got back to work. 😉

My library ordered a copy of the book for our own collection, and over the next few days, I enjoyed sharing with co-workers how I came to be involved in the project. And now I can share this story with you!

'This is What a Librarian Looks Like' book

That’s me!

It was over three years ago when Kyle Cassidy published a photo essay on Slate.com called “This is What A Librarian Looks Like,” which quickly became one of their most popular photo essay posts ever. The post got a lot of buzz and prompted a lot of discussion and debate online — and in librarian circles. Cassidy had taken portraits of librarians for that piece at that year’s American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia, and then I read that the project was coming to the 2014 ALA Annual Conference, which was in Las Vegas that summer. I was going to ALA that year because I was finishing up as committee chair for the ALA International Relations Round Table, so I was going to be there anyway. I thought it would be a neat thing to participate in, and I printed out and completed the photo release form, which included a space to provide a personal comment.

My husband had gotten me a library card catalog-themed tee at a writer’s conference that spring, since I have a (growing) collection of librarian-themed tees, which I have previously featured here on this blog. I love wearing library- or librarian-themed clothing at librarian conferences — because OF COURSE — so I took the Unshelved “NEVER FORGET” library card catalog t-shirt along with me to wear at the ALA conference. I remember wearing the tee with a tan pencil skirt, metallic sandals, and a denim jacket.

Here’s a close-up of my Unshelved card catalog tee, which is still available in black!

Library card catalog tee closeup

I can picture the librarian photoshoot set-up in my  mind; the location was off to one side of a large escalator, kind of tucked into the side. There wasn’t a huge line (yet) when I arrived, but I do recall long lines later on. The whole thing took less than 10 minutes. I turned in my form and, when called, stepped up to the mark designated on the floor.

Then I smiled and opened my denim jacket to reveal my cheeky card catalog tee — and I remember the photographer, Kyle Cassidy, and an assistant beside him, kind of start in surprise. They laughed, which made me smile even bigger. Click, click, click. Cassidy then looked at his camera, said he wasn’t sure he got the tee, and then asked to take a few more photos. Click, click, click. Then it was done. I thanked them and then went about my conference. I do remember urging other librarians to check it out and participate. [You can also see a “behind the scenes” bit here on Cassidy’s website.]

And then, honestly, I kind of forgot about it. Until last week! 😀

I received my complimentary copy of the book a few days later:

My complimentary copy of the 'This is What a Librarian Looks Like' book

My complimentary copy of the ‘This is What a Librarian Looks Like’ book

And then imagine my surprise when I then realized a couple of things:

  • That the editors managed to update both my new job title and my new workplace — even though I was working at another library when I took the photo three years ago! I was VERY impressed by this attention to detail. Plus, I was thrilled to bring attention to my current college.
  • That an excerpt from the quote I had submitted on the photo release form was chosen as one of the blurbs on the back cover! 😀
My blurb on the 'This is What a Librarian Looks Like' back cover

My blurb on the ‘This is What a Librarian Looks Like’ back cover

I went through the book slowly, marveling at the wonderful portraits — and giddy that I even personally knew a few names and faces! It was like a librarians’ yearbook that I magically got to be a part of.

I also loved loved loved that my portrait is opposite Captain America! I assume that Young Lee and I were paired together because of our excellent taste in t-shirts. 😀

Librarian tees in 'This is What a Librarian Looks Like'

Librarian tees in ‘This is What a Librarian Looks Like’

I also looked through the indexes — because that is what librarians do, y’all! — and noted my fellow librarians from Washington and cheered librarians from other states I’ve worked in (Oregon, Wisconsin, and Texas).

I noted the breadth of diversity throughout the book, including diversity of ages, gender, ethnicities, locations, type of libraries, and types of library jobs. I geeked out at Neil Gaiman’s essay, because Neil Gaiman loves and appreciates librarians and has spoken at several ALA events and programs over the years.

And then I came to Kyle Cassidy’s afterword, and I teared up:

It’s been my honor to stand before so many of these people who are fighting daily to bring access and information to the public. Some of them I met for only a few minutes, but in the past two years I’ve looked at their faces and read their words over and over and I feel like I know them.

I’m one of those he met for only a few minutes, and I continue to be gobsmacked at the thought that he, and others, have looked at my portrait and my library card catalog tee and read my words multiple times these past three years. And now others can, too. Amazing.

And it’s amazing that I’m one of only a couple hundred librarians and library workers helping to represent thousands of us across the globe. As I recently tried to articulate to a friend on Facebook:

To *literally* help represent, visually and with words, my profession, in all its diversity and earnestness and commitment to ideals beyond ourselves… it’s a feeling I can’t really describe at the moment. A mixture of pride and humility.

'This is What a Librarian Looks Like' book

‘This is What a Librarian Looks Like’ book

You can also continue to help out this project in several ways:

  • Buy a copy of the book yourself!
  • Recommend that your local public library purchase a copy. (Look for a book or purchase recommendation form on your local library’s website — I can tell you from personal experience that we LOVE when users submit purchase recommendations!)
  • Donate to EveryLibrary, which is hosting a book release party and fundraiser at this summer’s ALA Annual Conference. EveryLibrary advocates for libraries and library funding across the country.

Thanks again to Kyle Cassidy for his visionary work and for everyone else who contributed to this project, who are mentioned in the book’s back matter.

I am so proud and humbled to be one of the names and faces in This is What a Librarian Looks Like. It is an honor to help represent my profession. And my work here analyzing portrayals of reel librarians would mean nothing without the acknowledgement and appreciation of real librarians.

Books and book-burning in ‘Fahrenheit 451’

I recently rewatched the 1966 film version of Fahrenheit 451, directed by French New Wave director Francois Truffaut and starring Julie Christie in a dual role and Oscar Werner as Montag, the fireman who falls in love with books, the very thing he’s charged with burning.

*MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT*

Here is one of the original trailers for the film:

Fahrenheit 451 1966,” uploaded by DIOTD2008, Standard YouTube License.

The origins of Fahrenheit 451

One of the major themes of the book, and resulting film, is about authoritarian censorship, the kind that led to book-burning in World War II. The finished novel of Fahrenheit 451 was first published in 1953, so this was still fresh in people’s minds.

The origins of the book, however, actually go back to 1947-1948, right after the war ended, when Bradbury wrote a short story, “Bright Phoenix.” This story featured a librarian who confronted a book-burning “Chief Censor.” Bradbury turned that story, plus another story in 1951 called “The Pedestrian” set in a totalitarian future, into the novella called “The Fireman,” which was published in the February 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. Bradbury relished retelling the story about how he wrote “The Fireman” (which essentially serves as the first draft of Fahrenheit 451) in 9 days on a typewriter he rented in the basement of UCLA’s Powell Library for ten cents per half hour. He then expanded that story into the novel we know today.

“An Introductory Powerpoint: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury” by Christine Samantha Anderson, SlidePlayer

“An Introductory Powerpoint: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury” by Christine Samantha Anderson, SlidePlayer

In a dystopian future — one again, like in The Handmaid’s Tale, is too eerily familiar to modern times — books are forbidden and burned when discovered. In this future, firemen are trained to burn books, rather than prevent fires. Neighbors are encouraged to spy on one another and report those they suspect have books. Information (or rather, propaganda) is spread through television, called “wall screens,” as well as through comics-like publications, as seen in the screenshot below.

Reel Librarians | Montag "reads" the comics while in bed with his wife, in an early scene from 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)

Montag “reads” the comics while in bed with his wife, in an early scene from ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

The hidden library scene

A turning point in the film comes almost exactly halfway through the film, when Montag is called to the house where he knows Clarisse lives. Clarisse is described as Montag’s “rebellious, book-collecting mistress” on the back of the DVD case, but her role in the film is much tamer than that description suggests. His supervisor, Captain Beatty (played by Cyril Cusack), discovers a “hidden library” in the attic and cannot hold back his glee at the prospect of burning all those books:

I knew it. Of course, all this — the existence of a secret library was known in high places, but there was no way of getting at it. Only once before have I seen so many books in one place. I was just an ordinary fireman at the time.

It’s all ours, Montag.

Once to each fireman, at least once in his career, he just itches to know what those books are all about. He just aches to know. Isn’t that so? Take my word for it, Montag, there’s nothing there. The books have nothing to say!

Reel Librarians | Captain Beatty and fireman Montag discover a hidden library in 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)

Captain Beatty and fireman Montag discover a hidden library in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

During this scene and monologue — only the captain is talking, Montag only reacts — Captain Beatty expounds on different types of books and genres, dismissing each in turn. At the end, he finally reveals the reasons behind this society’s book-burning:

We’ve all got to be alike. The only way to be happy is for everyone to be made equal. So, we must burn the books, Montag. All the books.

This scene reminded me of the forbidden magazines scene in The Handmaid’s Tale and the reasons the Commander gave for their totalitarian regime. The reasons in The Handmaid’s Tale were different, that they needed to “cleanse” all the dirt and filth and sex from the world. The reasons expressed in Fahrenheit 451 come off as a search for a mythical, Utopian, and elusive “pursuit of happiness.” A generic happiness, but happiness nonetheless.

Modern martyrs

The captain’s assertion that “the books have nothing to say” is directly contradicted in the next scene, in which the older woman refuses to leave her books.

Fabian, another fireman, rushes in to say that the woman won’t leave. “She won’t leave her books, she says.

Woman:  I want to die as I’ve lived.

Captain Beatty:  Oh, you must have read that in there. I’m not going to ask you again. Are you going?

Woman:  These books were alive. They spoke to me.

And so the older woman lights the match herself, to die as she lived, with her beloved books.

Reel Librarians | Book burning by choice in 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)

Book burning by choice in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

Truffaut also lingers several minutes over the burning of the books, with several close-ups.

Reel Librarians | Book burning closeup from 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)

Book burning closeup from ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

In the final act of the film, Montag and his firemen troop are called to his own house. He is forced to burn his own hidden collection of books.

Reel Librarians | Montag torches his own collection of books, in a scene from 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)

Montag torches his own collection of books, in a scene from ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

He is chastised and criticized by his captain:

What did Montag hope to get out of all this? Happiness? What a poor idiot you must have been.

His captain tries to grab the last book from Montag’s hand — we find out later this is a collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, Tales of Mystery and Imagination — but Montag finally breaks, blasting Captain Beatty with the fire hose instead.

Reel Librarians | Montag torches his own captain in a scene from 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)

Montag torches his own captain in a scene from ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

Now compare this photo, of his captain lying facedown in the pile of books, ablaze, with the previous screenshot of the older woman, standing upright, proud and defiant. Both are martyrs of their own kind, but the woman chose to go up in flames.

The book people

Montag goes on the run then, hunted by the state, but he manages to escape to a hidden Utopia, deep in the forest, where others have escaped and banded together. These people are known as the “Book People,” as they have memorized a single work of literature and recite their tales for anyone who wishes to hear. The “book people” scenes were also filmed last.

Here’s how the leader of the camp describes how they came together, the 50 or so at their station. But he mentions there are more of the books:

In abandoned railway yards, wandering the roads. Tramps outwardly, but, inwardly, libraries.

It wasn’t planned. It just so happened that a man here and a man there loved some book. And rather than lose it, he learned it. And we came together. We’re a minority of undesirables crying out in the wilderness. But it won’t always be so. One day we shall be called on, one by one, to recite what we’ve learned. And then books will be printed again. And when the next age of darkness comes, those who come after us will do again as we have done.

And the book people also burn books themselves! But like the older woman in the house, they choose to do so, for their own specific reasons.

Yes, we burn the books. But we keep them up here [pointing to the brain] where nobody can find them.

The book people have literally “become” their chosen book and even introduce themselves as such:

“Are you interested in Plato’s Republic?”
“Well, I am Plato’s Republic. I’ll recite myself for you whenever you like.”

“I am The Prince by Machiavelli. As you see, you can’t judge a book by its cover.”

“That man over there hasn’t much longer to live.”
“He’s The Weir or Germiston by Robert Louis Stevenson. The boy is his nephew. He’s now reciting himself, so the boy can become the book.”

The film clip below is a combination of the final two scenes from the film.

The Book People of Fahrenheit 451” uploaded by Andrew David, Standard YouTube License.

In a special “making of” featurette in the DVD’s special features, film historian and professor Annette Ensdorf gave her own interpretation of the film’s final scenes among the “book people,” stating that the people reciting their books at the end are just as self-absorbed as the narcissists we saw at the beginning of the film. Ensdorf sums up the finale and the “book people” as:

…instruments of the text — not really existing as a completely integrated social community but rather as individual icons.

But there’s the feeling of a certain muted triumph, namely that the book people will maintain a portion of civilization, that someday these books will still be alive, even if they are recounted rather than as written text.

Classification and connections

Although the people literally become books in the end and could therefore be argued to be the only thing left resembling a librarian in a futuristic sense, I have to categorize this film in the Class V category, films with no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries. There are definitely library and censorship themes in the film, but no actual, identifiable librarians.

This contrasts with the “Books” in another sci-fi classic, Soylent Green. In Soylent Green, “Books” are former librarians and professors who become personal researchers in a dystopian future, a world in which books have ceased to be written and published. Books become rare commodities, precious treasures to be hoarded — but not due to fear of burning. Rather, books — and the people who take care of them, who then are referred to as “Books” themselves — are almost revered, and they have a unique power of their own.

In Soylent Green, the “Books” guard the past, but there is little hope for the future.

In Fahrenheit 451, however, the “Book People” guard, or consume, the past because they are the only hope for the future.

Reel Librarians | The book people in 'Fahrenheit 451' vs. the Books in 'Soylent Green'

The book people in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ vs. the Books in ‘Soylent Green’

Books in Fahrenheit 451

Here’s a list I compiled of all the books mentioned in the final scenes, in the order they are mentioned. The leader mentions there are around 50 or so around their camp, but says there are many others out there. A southern camp is also mentioned in the last scene.

These are some of the books we know that will live on:

  • Plato’s Republic
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • The Corsair by Byron
  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Alice Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
  • Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
  • Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
  • Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Jewish Question
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  • The Prince by Machiavelli
  • Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, volumes one and two
  • Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Memoirs of Saint Simon
  • The Weir of Germiston by Robert Louis Stevenson

Book-burning in Fahrenheit 451

On the “making of” feature on the DVD, producer Lewis M. Allen shared this tidbit about censorship he experienced during the making of the film:

An interesting thing about censorship is that when we were doing the book burning scene, the studio… wanted to eliminate all books that were by living authors that were not in public domain, and the fact that they may be sued or whatever. And we just ignored that. We said, the hell with it, because I think everybody, anyone who was around who had a book being burned in there would be very much flattered by it. … So we ignored that and went right ahead.

Reel Librarians | Books in 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)

Books in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

Allen also shared an amusing anecdote about how they compiled and played with all those books for the book-burning scenes:

To me, the most interesting part of the film… was the burning of the books, which went went on and on. And we had those books in our offices, we had hundreds of books, from the beginning of the film. And he would play with them. We’d go round and pick ones out, play with them, and toss them, and put piles and so on. Every day this was done, as a kind of ritual, which was fun to do, ‘cause we’d come up with strange books.

Homme livre/libre

The screenplay was originally written in French, as it was director François Truffaut’s vision, so there were several puns that got lost when translated into English.

One of the best puns focused on “homme livre” versus “homme libre.”

The original script had a moment between Clarisse and Montag, in which Clarisse explains about the “homme livre,” which translates to “book man.” But in French, “homme livre” sounds very close to “homme libre,” which translates to “free man.”

Reel Librarians | Screenplay puns in 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966)

Screenplay puns in ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (1966)

As producer Lewis M. Allen shared on the “making of” DVD feature:

That was a nice pun, about the book people and the free people, livre and libre, which could not be translated.

Definitely an attempt to preserve the nature of the original pun in French, but it’s a pale ghost of the original.

Homage to the written word

"fahrenheit 451" by CHRIS DRUMM is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“fahrenheit 451” by CHRIS DRUMM is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The ultimate message of Truffaut’s film version of Fahrenheit 451 gets discussed by several people in the DVD features.

From film historian and critic Annette Ensdorf:

What you’re going to get is Truffaut’s really passionate homage to literature, to the written word, to the notion of a text as a living, breathing entity and process that can still affect us.

Ensdorf’s thoughts on the ultimate significance of the book people’s actions:

You learn it [the book] by heart, through the process of love. […] Is there not freedom in the very choice of which book you want to be?

From producer Lewis M. Allen, who praised Truffaut playing down several of the more overt sci-fi elements in the book, like the “mechanical hound,” because:

It would be very distracting, in fact, from the simple story of the books, which was really what he was interested in most of all.

From Steven C. smith, biographer of composer Bernard Hermann, who composed the music for the film and who was personal friends with the book’s author Ray Bradbury:

The act of reading becomes… the most romantic thing in Fahrenheit 451.

And in the music feature on the DVD, Ray Bradbury summed up the themes of the film’s musical score and its connection with the story itself:

What we have is a romance with books.

Final words from the author himself

The DVD that I checked out of this film also included in its special features an interview with Ray Bradbury, who talked about how he first wrote the book in a library basement and how the title came about.

"Ray Bradbury, Miami Book Fair International, 1990" by MDCarchives is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

“Ray Bradbury, Miami Book Fair International, 1990” by MDCarchives is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

On reflection in 2002 special feature on the DVD by Universal Studios, Bradbury remarked:

I am a library person. I never made it through college you see. I’m self-educated in the library so anything that touches the library touches me.

You can also read a bit more background info and personal quotes from the author in my obituary post for Ray Bradbury, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 91. He was a lifelong and vocal supporter of libraries, and as he stated in 2009:

Libraries raised me.

Here’s to the “book people” around the world who stand up to censorship and advocate for reading, books, libraries, and librarians. ♥


Have you read the book and seen the film version of Fahrenheit 451? Please share your thoughts and leave a comment below.

Any reel librarians in the AFI Top 100 list?

Last week, when I was talking with librarian colleagues about movies, one colleague asked how many movies I had seen from the Top 100 list compiled by the American Film Institute (AFI).

The AFI compiles “best of” lists periodically, including a Top 100 movies list, which was determined by a jury of 1,500 film artists, critics, and historians. The AFI, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary this September, is a nonprofit educational arts organization that “provides leadership in film and television and is dedicated to initiatives that engage the past, the present and the future of the moving image arts.”

AFI logo

This conversation with a fellow librarian movie buff gave me the idea of comparing the AFI Top 100 list with my own Master List of reel librarian films — was there any overlap? Sometimes, an idea for a blog post is as simple as that. 😉

Good news, there ARE overlaps! I count 12 so far, but that comes with a caveat that I need to rewatch several of the films listed below to verify if there is actually a librarian (versus a library scene) in them or not.

Without further ado, below I’ve detailed the overlaps between the AFI Top 100 list and my own Master List. (Also, please note that the numbers on the list below correspond to that film’s ranking on the AFI Top 100 list.)


1. Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane is classic saga about the rise and fall of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane (played by Orson Welles). A reporter visits the Thatcher Memorial Library of Philadelphia to research Kane and runs into the steely, no-nonsense presence of the librarian. This library scene provides the structure for the entire film.

Posts or pages that include Citizen Kane:


17. The Graduate (1967)

I need to rewatch this film! The first time (and only time, thus far) I have watched this film was right before I went away to college, so… perhaps not the best timing or circumstances to watch and appreciate this movie! I do remember a major scene in the library, but I need to rewatch the film to see if there’s an actual librarian in the scene.

Here’s an excerpt from the film’s summary on the AFI site:

Benjamin Braddock, filled with doubts about his future, returns to his Los Angeles home after graduating from an Eastern college. His parents soon have a party so they can boast of their son’s academic achievements and his bright prospects in business. Mrs. Robinson, one of the guests, persuades Ben to drive her home and there tries to seduce him, but her overtures are interrupted by the sound of her husband’s car in the driveway. Blatant in her seductive maneuvers, she soon has the nervous and inexperienced Ben meeting her regularly at the Taft Hotel. As the summer passes, Benjamin becomes increasingly bored and listless; he frequently stays out overnight and returns home to loll around the pool.


20. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) falls on hard times and is granted the wish to experience life as if he’d never been born. In this alternate reality/nightmare, his lovely wife, Mary (Donna Reed), becomes an old maid librarian. The short scene in which George sees Mary as a librarian serves as the catalyst for wanting to return to his life.

Posts or pages that include It’s a Wonderful Life:


21. Chinatown (1974)

I also need to rewatch Chinatown! It’s on my Master List, but I don’t actually remember a librarian, or even a library scene, in this film. If you have seen this film and do remember, please leave a comment and share!

Here’s an excerpt from the film’s summary on the AFI site:

In 1937 Los Angeles, private detective J. J. “Jake” Gittes, who specializes in adultery cases, is hired by the well-dressed Mrs. Evelyn Mulwray to follow her husband Hollis, chief engineer for the Department of Water and Power.


44.  The Philadelphia Story (1940)

In The Philadelphia Story, a rich socialite’s (Katharine Hepburn) ex-husband (Cary Grant) and a reporter (Jimmy Stewart) show up right before her planned wedding, and romantic complications ensue. In one scene at the public library, Hepburn and Stewart discuss his book, and a Quaker librarian shushes them.

Posts or pages that include The Philadelphia Story:


50. The Lord of the Rings:  The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

The first in a film trilogy of the well-known saga of Middle Earth, involving a hobbit’s quest to destroy a powerful ring. In one brief but pivotal scene, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) visits the archives to research background info about the ring, and the Gondorian Archivist (Michael Elsworth) leads Gandalf down a winding staircase to the archives.

Posts or pages that include The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring:


63. Cabaret (1972)

This film is on my Master List, but I need to watch this film — which I’ve actually never seen all the way through — to see if there’s a library scene or librarian in it. If you have seen the film and do remember, please leave a comment and share!

Here’s an excerpt from the film’s summary on the AFI site:

In 1931, naïve Englishman Brian Roberts, seeking to broaden his experiences and further his education, arrives in Berlin, where he hopes to support himself by giving English lessons. Brian goes to the shabby boardinghouse run by Fraulein Schneider and there is greeted by Sally Bowles, an exuberant American singer. Sally, obsessed with becoming a movie star, is oblivious to the economic and political turmoil in Berlin, especially between the Nazis and Communists, and instead revels in the decadent atmosphere of alcohol, sex and excess.


70. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Another film I need to rewatch! I remember at least a mention of a prison library… If you have seen the film and do remember, please leave a comment and share.

Here’s an excerpt from the film’s summary on the AFI site:

Sometime in the not-to-distant future, gangs of teenage thugs roam rubble-strewn streets, terrorizing citizens who sequester themselves behind locked doors. Alex, the leader of one of the gangs, and his “droogs,” Pete, Georgie and Dim, distinguish themselves by wearing all-white, cod pieces, bowler hats and walking canes as the spend their nights committing rapes, muggings and beatings for entertainment.


72. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

In The Shawshank Redemption, young banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife. Andy maintains his innocence and plots to escape, with the help of fellow inmate Red (Morgan Freeman). Andy works as an assistant in the prison library and becomes friends with the prison librarian, Brooks (James Whitmore).

Posts or pages that include The Shawshank Redemption:


74. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Another film I need to rewatch! I remember research materials playing a pivotal role in this film — perhaps materials from the FBI Library? — but I need to rewatch it to doublecheck any scenes that include or mention a library or librarians. If you have seen this film and do remember, please leave a comment and share!

Posts or pages that include The Silence of the Lambs:


77. All the President’s Men (1976)

I recently rewatched All the President’s Men! This film follows the Watergate scandal uncovered by reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford). After several attempts by the reporters to locate information, a library clerk at the Library of Congress helps by giving them library checkout slips.

Posts or pages that include All the President’s Men:


91. Sophie’s Choice (1982)

In Sophie’s Choice, a Southern writer (Peter MacNicol) moves to New York City, where he meets Sophie (Meryl Streep), a Holocaust survivor with a troubling past. In a flashback scene, Sophie goes to a library to look up works by Emily Dickinson; she faints after an unpleasant exchange with the librarian (John Rothman).

Posts or pages that include Sophie’s Choice:


And if you’re wondering about the question that started the idea of this whole post, I have so far seen 80 films on the Top 100 list, including 17 of the top 20 titles and 43 of the top 50 titles. Can you guess which titles I haven’t seen?

Please leave a comment and share how many of the AFI Top 100 films you’ve seen!