Sunday, September 22, 2013

Book Museum

"I have always imagined that heaven would be some kind of library." -Jorge Luis Borges LeVar Burton must be God, right?

So sometimes my brain gets high on life and starts trying to make connections between stuff. This evening, I get home from work, and I see the above quote on my iGoogle. And the first thing that my brain thinks of is example number two from below. And then I keep thinking about it, and the other two examples come up! YAY So good at finding patterns! Even when !!! Anyways... that's why I'm writing it down so YOU can decide! Am Ihere? Or am I ?

Disclaimer 1: As you may have noticed, I've referenced a Bible verse already. I will be referencing other stuff like that later. I'm not a theologian and this little rant isn't evangelical or spiritual at all. It just so happens that western culture is influenced greatly by Christian theology, and I was really into church when I was young, so I know a lot of Bible stuff. I'm referencing it here as a culturally important tome, not as anything else. And I'm not gonna lie, I do have a guilty pleasure in referencing the Bible because our mostly secular culture strangely still gives stuff like that extra weight (latin-sounding chanting in movie soundtracks, what shows up on TV news, religion-themed magic/fantasy TV shows, books, etc.)

Disclaimer 2: Since this isn't an official paper for school or anything, I'm not tracking down direct citations beyond my own knowledge and Wikipedia. I imagine that there is only enough significance here to warrant a little, "hmm, that's interesting," not to back up a graduate thesis. I found it worth exploring here, hopefully you do as well, and if your "BULLSHIT" alarm starts going off then fine, you don't have to read it.

All righty. Let's get into it. *rolls up sleeves*

Three examples of the idea of heaven as a library, from three different animated TV shows:

First example: Final episode of the anime Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Second example: Episode 47: "Acperience 4" of the anime Eureka Seven. Third example: Episode 10 of Season 2: "The Library" of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Interestingly all could fall under the category of "anime" (even though Avatar: The Last Airbender was made for an American audience and produced in the US, stylistically it is closely related to anime, and in fact the show was produced in close collaboration with a Korean animation studio.)

WARNING!! SPOILERS ABOUND for Avatar: The Last Airbender, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Eureka Seven.

First let's go to the final episode of .

Mokoto Kusunagi, our heroine, finally tracks down the "villain" of the show, the hacker behind the "Laughing Man" incident. The show is a sci-fi crime drama that takes place in a world where pretty much everyone has a direct connection to the internet through their brain, allowing all sorts of crazy things to happen, including taking control of other people's bodies, directly sharing memories, and writing computer viruses that cause hallucinations. So it's rather significant that the main antagonist, a super-duper amazing savant hacker, hangs out in a library, or rather, a "Book Museum," as the subtitles show the place is called. So Mokoto ends up here chilling with this guy and they talk about all the stuff that went down.

So why is the library heaven? Well first of all it's called a "Book Museum." In the futuristic cyber-world of Ghost in the Shell, books are literally history. So already we're talking about something that's in the past, that's in a sense, "dead." Dead people go to heaven. Second, the events preceding this meeting involved Mokoto having to fake her own death, which caused her to actually "die," in that her mind was simply floating through the internet like a ghost. Not only that, but in order to meet the Laughing Man, she had to share memories with him, which in the world of the show is very dangerous because there is a possibility of entirely losing one's own individual self, dying in another sense. This second aspect also brings up ideas of an afterlife that I've heard of where an individual becomes at one with the spirits of their ancestors, or one with a deity.

Finally, there's a little bit of visual analysis. The library is depicted as circular, and I have heard that the symbol , a circle, can be said to represent "enlightenment," which is something that in western cultures we equate with "heaven." The library is also depicted as golden, awash with sunlight, which brings "heaven" to mind for me. One other tidbit- besides the Laughing Man, there seem to be no other people in the library, only book-sorting robots that putter about busily. The dynamic there seems to me not entirely removed from the idea of God in heaven, with legions of angels that offer songs of praise, never ceasing and never tiring.

The episode is episode 26, you can use your to stream semi-legally it various places, or if you have HuluPlus you can watch it there, and it used to pop up on the AdultSwim website sometimes.

All right let's move on...

"Acperience 4" from

It's been a bit longer since I've seen this anime, so don't expect this to be super accurate, but I think the connection is there.

Eureka Seven could be simply described as a coming of age story, with some aliens, mechs, and romance. Renton, the young protagonist, an avid "boarder" on this rainbow-wave stuff through the sky, runs away from home and gets caught up with the battle for survival of humanity on this weird planet they landed on thousands ofyears ago, which is covered in this weird crust that's kind of alive, called "Scub Coral." The story is told partly as a narration he gives in letters to his sister, Diane, who went missing a few years before the show takes place.

Various adventures later, he ends up fighting the bad guys and crashes on this desert/beach thing. Suddenly he sees a figure in the distance, and from what he can tell, it's Diane! He starts running towards her, and this mirage-thing happens, and then he's in this library sort of place, it's all monochrome, and there are people all over reading books. He sees Diane, who explains what's going on.

Turns out that the planet covered in Scub Coral is in fact Earth. , right? The Scub Coral is actually a very intelligent alien race that landed on Earth after the colonists left, and absorbed all sentient life there in order to understand it. The library they are in is sort of the "brain" of this planet-sized organism, which is mostly benevolent, and the people inside the library are the people who got absorbed way back when, as well as a few people who recently stumbled across it, like Diane. They are allowed to exist in this little world, not eating or sleeping, but poring over the vast amount of cosmic knowledge the Scub Coral has.

So! What do we have that makes this library "heaven?"

Well, it is the first place where Renton gets to see his sister, which is a tearful reunion because he loves her very much, and hasn't seen her for years, and in fact worried that she was dead. To me, this all sounds reminiscent of the idea that in heaven, when you die, you are reunited with the loved ones who you had lost. It's even more like heaven in the fact that Diane doesn't exist as a person with a human body anymore, she's basically a spirit within this complex system that appears to her as a huge library.

Also, the Scub Coral Library is also not just some random spirit world, it's created by a vastly huge, benevolent creature with knowledge far surpassing that of all learning collected by humanity. Sounds a bit like the western God, yes? Although it isn't infinite or omni-anything, it is at a large enough scale that I can make the connection, especially when combined with the whole millions of people who are "dead" that chill there for a long time and are basically happy.

Finally, as I mentioned above, the people there don't have to eat or sleep, and they're kind of immortal, having been there for ten thousand years and not seeming to have aged or atrophied.

Unlike Heaven, Renton and the main characters he's with are able to leave and get their bodies back. Then again, Renton and his half-Scub Coral girlfriend Eureka have a pretty messianic role in the whole story, so maybe it fits, since Eureka is sort of lady-alien-jesus.

Now the final example:

"The Library" from

Here's the final example of a library as "heaven." Avatar: The Last Airbender follows the journey of Aang, the messianic boy whose destiny is to bring balance to the world by defeating the rather evil Fire Nation. Along the way, Aang and his companions run into Professor Zei, an archaeologist whose dream and mission is to find the legendary library of Wan Shi Tong, the god of knowledge, said to be curated by the God of knowledge himself. Right away we have a library run by a God, which slightly associates the library with an idea of Heaven. Also, Professor Zei has the zeal and lifestyle of a pilgrim, traveling alone and having singular focus on finding the library.

The library was said to be started by Wan Shi Tong, the god of knowledge, and was accessible to all humans for a time. However, many humans began coming to the library out of a lust for power, using the knowledge to destroy their enemies. At this point Wan Shi Tong shuttered the library and hid it from humans. This story parallels the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden, in which God evicts human beings from paradise because of their misbehavior. Although Eden is not Heaven per se, the idea of Heaven only being accessible to the righteous is somewhat echoed in the attitude displayed by Wan Shi Tong when Aang and the others finally encounter him.

With the help of Appa, Aang's flying bison, they are able to locate the library half-buried in the middle of the desert. They enter it, at which point Wan Shi Tong arrives in the form of an enormous owl, and states that because of his mistrust of humans, they must prove that they are only coming to the library out of the love of knowledge. Although this is true for Professor Zei, Aang and his companions mainly joined him out of the hope that the library would show them a way that they could defeat the Fire Nation. On a sidenote, this is such an excellent morally gray area to bring the protagonists into, especially for a children's show, a genre that often relies on very clear cut "good guys" and "bad guys." It is clear that the Fire Nation are bad guys, but how far are our heroes willing to bend the rules of the Gods in order to defeat them? Such a good show.

Anyways, some smooth talking and a show of good will by Aang, the Avatar, convinces the monstrous owl-god to let them peruse, at which point they sneak off and discover a planetarium, which reveals the date of a future solar eclipse. The sun being the source of the Fire Nation's power, this gives them a great chance to overthrow them. Unfortunately, Wan Shi Tong discovers their betrayal, and lengthens his neck in a terrifying manner while chasing them out. Though Aang and his friends escape, Wan Shi Tong buries the library, never to be seen in the human world again. Professor Zei doesn't even try and get out, being so enraptured with the pursuit of knowledge that he plans to spend the rest of his life in the library. Hopefully him and Owl-beast can be study buddies. Interestingly, this end for Professor Zei brings his pilgrim-ish character arc to completion, having earned his way into a legendary spirit realm through purity of intent and dedication. Although it is unclear if Zei will live forever, thematically it has some similarities to the Christian narrative of followers behaving in a prescribed manner with the goal of transcending into a better place once they die, where they will hang out with God and his Angels.

It also is interesting where in the organization of plot in these stories the libraries are encountered. In Ghost in the Shell, our heroine finds the library after the climax and high stakes have been resolved, and has a very personal conversation with the extremely enigmatic and up until now faceless driving force of the entire 26-episode series. This is third-act, resolution stuff. In Eureka Seven, Renton has been writing letters to his sister every day, and has fought many battles including a rather climactic one with his antagonist immediately preceding his familial reunion and entry to the "library." "Acperience 3" is episode 47 of a 51-episode series, so again we're talking about third-act timing. The pattern kind of falls apart with "Avatar," as "The Library" is almost directly in the middle of the series. But, the story of Aang was never building towards this Library, it was not mentioned until this episode. For Professor Zei, a side character for whom the library is Mecca, it occurs at the end of his journey. To me, all of this is in line with the western theologically-based idea of Heaven, it's somewhere you end up at the end.

So, that was the easy part: convincing you that at least in these three examples, libraries are thematically associated with heaven. Here's the real question: if these examples are more than coincidence, and there is something intrinsic about associating Heaven with a Library, where does that association come from? When you read the quote at the top there, did you relate to it? If so, what do libraries and heaven have in common in your mind? If you do not relate, or perhaps if you think a library is the last place you'd call "heavenly," why?

A couple thoughts from me:

* Libraries are full of books, many which were written by people now passed on. It being now impossible to see these people face to face, these books are essential in shaping our idea of the authors in our minds and in our culture. So in a sense, each book is the "soul" of the author.

* Libraries are quiet

* Through the incredible power of written language, libraries are a place where it is easy to feel as if you are transcending time and place, able to explore worlds that are impossible to create in reality

* For academic/literary/introspective/extra-sensitive people, (the kinds of people who are often poets, artists, culture-makers) a library can be an oasis from the stress and perceived danger of social situations, a refuge, much like heaven is a refuge from the mortal burdens of illness and aging.

Thanks for reading!
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