When dealing with things straight out of myth, folklore, and legends, it’s important to have a bookworm or two on your side.
Fantasy and science fiction are often allegories for complex social and political issues in real life – or extended metaphors for daily human struggles, seen through a lens so the author’s message can be absorbed subconsciously. It’s a great method for prompting exploration and curiosity outside the medium, and that got me thinking that there’s one lesson common to a lot of genre entertainment that doesn’t get enough credit: Since knowledge is power, literacy is good.
In fact, more often than not, a tome of some kind is crucial to stopping the Big Bad. For every action character there’s a bookish sidekick whose role is just as – if not more – important to saving the day. And beyond the idea of stories having real power, these properties give respect to Those Who Came Before; when it comes to magic and monsters, nothing is more valuable than past experiences, which are usually committed to paper for the benefit of future generations. Learning from history is important, people.
With that in mind, here are five characters whose appreciation for the written word made all the difference:
Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) – The Scooby Gang spend an almost unhealthy amount of time in their high school library until it’s blown up in the third season finale (at which point the precious books are relocated), but while Giles is the official librarian and responsible for Sunnydale High’s obscene collection of tomes on the Dark Arts, it’s Willow’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge that most often provides the key to the whole shebang. At the very least it should be appreciated that while she was being held hostage she took time to leaf through the pages of the Books of Ascension, and recognized their importance even though she couldn’t read the language.
Nick Burkhardt (Grimm) – Yes, his aunt’s trailer is full to brimming with deadly weapons and bottles of things that vary from disgusting to impossible, but it’s the Grimm diaries that save Nick’s skin time and time again. Studying history is absolutely vital to the work of a Grimm, and fortunately Nick’s ancestors (bastards though they may have been) were great notetakers. Grimm powers also seem to come with some artistic ability, so with the Spotter’s Guide, identifying, cataloging, and fighting wesen is super easy. I’m just disappointed that no one seems to be referring to the volumes as Grimmoires.
Hermione Granger (Harry Potter) – Let’s face it, without Hermione’s big brain Harry would have been dead a dozen times over. Her first resort is always a trip to the library where she usually finds her answer. Special credit should be given to Albus Dumbledore who gifted Hermione with his copy of Beedle the Bard introducing the Trio to the mysteries of the Deathly Hallows. Unlike others on this list, Hermione, most likely due to her Muggleborn background, has a little difficulty accepting the idea that there’s truth in even the most fictitious of fiction, but once she grabs hold of it, she applies her signature tenacity to decoding the book’s secrets.
Sam Winchester (Supernatural) – Aside from discovering the Bible as a useful tool in averting the Apocalypse, since taking up hunting full time Sam has put his faith in folklore. His research-mode and tireless combing of newspaper articles and internet journal entries has made the difference in defeating demons time and again. Dean Winchester is no slouch in the research department – his preferred resource is his dad’s journal, which like the Grimmoires above is an important historical tool in the fight against evil.
Evelyn Carnahan O’Connell (The Mummy) – Admittedly, in Evelyn’s case reading almost destroyed the day too. “What harm ever came from reading a book?” she asks just before unleashing Imhotep. But while reading from the book set the monster free, it’s also the key to stopping his reign of terror, and in both The Mummy and its sequel, reading hieroglyphics (and understanding their historical context) saves the world from an undead army or two. Take that Bembridge scholars!