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This article is about a place. For the episode with a similar name, see "The Library". For the spirit who owns this library, see Wan Shi Tong.
"This library is more valuable than gold, little lady. It is said to contain a vast collection of knowledge, and knowledge is priceless."
— Professor Zei to Toph.[1]

Wan Shi Tong's Library, also called Wan Shi Tong's Spirit Library or just Spirit Library,[2] is an enormous library located in the Spirit World,[3] devoted to preserving all existing knowledge. Until 100 AG, however, it could be found in the central Si Wong Desert and was a popular destination for many adventurers. The library was considered to be very difficult to locate, as it was almost completely buried under desert sand.[4]

History

Early days

The grand edifice of the Spirit Library has been a wonder of the world since the time of its creation. For much of its history, Wan Shi Tong kept it in the Spirit World,[5] but a few thousand years before the Harmonic Convergence of 171 AG, Wan Shi Tong moved the library into the mortal realm, in the area that would later be known as the Si Wong Desert. He hoped that this would give his Knowledge Seekers easier access to the human world's knowledge and thus ease the library's expansion.[5] Before long, humans learnt of the library, and became eager to learn from it. Wan Shi Tong initially responded positively to this development, allowing mortals to access his library in return for sharing their own knowledge.[5][6] Over time, the library developed a flourishing trade with the local Si Wong tribes, which would trade books and other knowledge with Wan Shi Tong and brought travellers from far and wide to the location. The tribespeople also helped to keep the massive structure from sinking into the ground by using their sandbending.[6] For eons, the relationship with humans was more or less beneficial, and while some sought to abuse its knowledge, these individuals were few and far between. The world was wild for most of its history, so those who visited were often nearby and had an interest in a stable relationship with Wan Shi Tong, or came from afar and were in sync with Wan Shi Tong's beliefs.[5]

Despite the efforts of the Si Wong tribes, the full shape of the library had long sunk into the Si Wong Desert by the early life of Avatar Kyoshi, and only a few remaining towers poked out of the sands. Regardless, enterprising academics and scholars traveled to the library with the hope of the Si Wong tribes. The tribespeople still traded with Wan Shi Tong, delivering valuable texts and knowledge in exchange for access to the library's archives and its useful information.[6] During this time, a daofei group known as the Paper Knives stole a tome of great value that detailed secrets of Ba Sing Se's construction. Wan Shi Tong was furious, and sent his Knowledge Seekers to find them and alert the Avatar. Kyoshi did not have time to retrieve the book, as she was dealing with human crises and did not fully understand the tome's importance, but she sent others to find the tome through her network of friends and allies.[7]

By the life of Avatar Roku, more of the library had sunk into the sands. As the world became more and more connected, those with darker interests came to seek the library, and the way Wan Shi Tong felt about humanity began to change.[5] The Si Wong tribes' association with Wan Shi Tong grew more fraught, as sojourners who came to the library did not seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge alone, and instead sought ways for their nation to gain an advantage over others. Wan Shi Tong blamed the tribespeople for the actions of those they delivered to the library, and banned them from any future access to the vast depository of learning. Without reason to return, they no longer kept the library from sinking beneath the sands.[6] Some Fire Sages and Fire Nation officers planned to search the library for knowledge of ancient weapons and war machines that could benefit their nation. After the Fire Sage Bu Kujian failed to subtly discourage this from going ahead, he hired people to escort him to the library, planning to burn the most dangerous pieces of knowledge inside, even if it incurred the wrath of Wan Shi Tong.[7]

Zhao searched for knowledge about the Water Tribes in one of the many rooms of the library.

During the Hundred Year War, access to the library was harder than ever before, with many believing that a journey to the library was no longer worth the risk. Only its topmost spire visible from above ground. One day, Zhao, who was a lieutenant at the time, found the library, and shared his knowledge of Fire Nation war machines with Wan Shi Tong.[6] Because of the library's otherworldly origins, its collection contains a great amount of information concerning the spirits. From this, Zhao learned that the Ocean and Moon spirits, Tui and La, were located at the Spirit Oasis and were the key to defeating the Water Tribe. Zhao had the portion of the library that had information on the Fire Nation destroyed to stop anyone from discovering his nation's weaknesses.

100 AG

Professor Zei and Team Avatar rediscovered the library.

With the help of Professor Zei, Team Avatar rediscovered the library. Wan Shi Tong begrudgingly allowed them to peruse the library after each of them had made a contribution to the collection, on the condition that no knowledge from the library would be used for violent purposes. During their visit, Sokka found a small note reading "the darkest day in Fire Nation history." With only that small line and a date on the top, he decided to go deeper into the library to find out what happened to the Fire Nation on that day.

After finding out that the entire wing of the library dedicated to the Fire Nation was destroyed by firebenders, Sokka further expressed his determination to find out more about the note. Subsequently, a Knowledge Seeker appeared and led the group toward a domed planetary calendar room in the library. This calendar revealed the date of the upcoming solar eclipse to Team Avatar, who used this information to formulate an invasion plan.[1]

Outraged at the betrayal of his trust, Wan Shi Tong completely buried the library in order to "take his knowledge back". While Team Avatar escaped, Zei stayed behind, declaring that he could spend an eternity there.[1]

171 AG

Jinora discovered Wan Shi Tong's Library suspended upside down in the trees somewhere in the Spirit World.

The dragonfly bunny spirit Jinora had named Furry-Foot brought her to the library in the Spirit World. The young airbender remarked that the building, now suspended upside down in the trees, looked like an "awesome tree house", before realizing that it was the spirit library. As she entered the building and looked around in awe, she stated that she could spend an eternity there, reading. She was interrupted by the arrival of Wan Shi Tong, who pointed out the skeletal remains of Professor Zei, the last person to make such a statement. The owl spirit reminded the young airbender that he no longer allowed humans in his library, but when Jinora revealed to him the true inner workings of the radio and her affiliation with the Avatar, Wan Shi Tong permitted her to stay.

Unable to find a map to the spirit portals, Jinora asked a nearby Knowledge Seeker for help, and the creature immediately found Jinora a book that contained information about the portals. Jinora discovered that if both portals were open when Harmonic Convergence occurred, Vaatu would be strong enough to escape his imprisonment, putting the mortal world at risk once more of being engulfed in darkness. Jinora attempted to leave the library to warn Avatar Korra, only to be confronted by Wan Shi Tong and Unalaq. The airbender tried to back away from the waterbender, but the present dark energy transformed the gentle Furry-Foot into a dark spirit, capturing the young girl on Unalaq's wishes.[3]

During Harmonic Convergence, Avatar Korra successfully defeated Unavaatu, and chose to keep the spirit portals open, which led Wan Shi Tong to reexamine some of his beliefs. As humans could enter the library once more by passing through the portal, Wan Shi Tong decided to give humans a second chance. He still required every visitor to bring new knowledge, and remained wary, trying to ensure that no human would learn simply for the sake of power, but was willing to do his part to bridge the gap between humans and spirits. He was aware that humans had made incredible advances that his Knowledge Seekers had not discovered, and that he could learn them all through humans themselves.[6] A new airbender named Gyume wanted to search the library for an ancient airbending training tool preserved from the Northern Air Temple, though Tenzin explicitly forbade her from the mission. She pleaded with others to accompany her through the spirit portal of Republic City, hoping to get to the library and find the artifact.[7]

Known information kept at the library

The planetary calendar room depicts the location of the sun and moon in the sky at a certain point in time.

Known visitors to the library

Trivia

  • A depiction of the entire library structure in an illustration bears a resemblance to the Taj Mahal in India and its massive size is also consistent with the mausoleum's most conspicuous characteristic.

The writing means "Wan Shi Tong's Mysterious Library".

  • The writing at the bottom of the Library's illustration reads 萬知堂神祕图書館, meaning "Wan Shi Tong's Mysterious Library".[8]
  • One of the books within the library illustrates a lion turtle.[1]
  • On the domed calendar's mechanism are the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, which represent the years. This is unusual since most animals in the World of Avatar are hybrids.
  • There are many depictions of owls in the library; the owl is the symbol of the Greek goddess Athena, who is the goddess of wisdom.
  • A statue in the likeness of a dragon bird spirit can be found in one of the library's halls.[1]
  • The concept of having to contribute to the library's collection before being able to use it is similar to Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose, where the abbey's library may not be used without a priceless manuscript being handed to the abbot.
  • There seems to be an error concerning the bridges at the center of the library. When Aang and the others enter, the bridges are "+" shaped, offering four paths of access. Yet near the end of the episode when Wan Shi Tong is chasing the group, the bridges only go one way across.
  • The library being upside-down after it moves to the Spirit World is used to illustrate the topsy-turvy nature of the spiritual realm.[9]

References

See also

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