The Librarian: Quest for the Spear

IMDB : Wikipedia
aired originally December 5, 2004
index and explanation of these posts

The plot: 

Flynn Carsen, a 30 year old perpetual student with 22 degrees, is forced out of his school and applies for a job as a librarian at the Metropolitan Library. Once hired, he discovered that The Library holds a wide number of mystical and powerful artifacts, and that his job is to protect them and find those that might cause damage in the larger world. On his first day of work, members of the Serpent Brotherhood steal one of three parts of the Spear of Destiny. You can guess how the plot goes from here, with chases, adventures, and various death traps.

The commentary: 

Opening Scene: The fourth dynasty is indeed when the pyramids at Giza were built, but those heiroglyphs there? They’re huge and wouldn’t actually convey much information.

(Can we not call people primitives, Flynn? Thanks. Also, here is the point at which I begin to think I should make a text expansion trigger for “Flynn monologues again.” We are 2:15 in.)

Ok, 22 degrees. This is functionally impossible and exaggerated (especially the ‘four degrees in Egyptology’ bit). Does anyone want the extended explanation of why that is?

We’ll just slide over the horrible embarrassment of the rest of this scene. It is badly handled from the professor’s side (even allowing for the necessities of the plot) and it makes me wince a lot. (Also, it is presumably around March, given the ‘middle of semester’, ‘three months’ and ‘six months’ references.)

Flynn and his mother: (Olympia Dukakis is really sort of awesome here in that particular character way.) The “I need to change my life” line is lovely.

Interviewing: One of the first things I liked about this movie when I saw it the first time was the range of people interviewing. (And it’s really fascinating to watch this again having seen the opening of the new series.)

I love Charlene’s question. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very hard one to answer in an interview. But I love how it gets to the heart of the question. And how Flynn does the thing that so many people do, that think that being a librarian is about loving books.

Don’t get me wrong: books are awesome. But it’s Flynn’s actual answer – after the “Everybody knows that, they’re librarians.” bit – is what made me love this movie.

“I know … other stuff?”

[…] “Tell me something you know that nobody else who has walked in here could tell me.”

“You have mononucleosis. Your marriage broke up two months ago. You broke your nose when you were four. And you live with three cats. Is that what you had in mind?”

I won’t transcribe the full explanation for that Holmesian feat, but what I love about it is not the showing off of random knowledge, but how he puts it together. And how, when it comes down to it, he answers her more specific question, telling her something she hasn’t already heard a hundred times today.

Many librarians are generalists. We know bits about lots of things, and more things about some. But what makes great librarians, in my view, is how we put that together to help our patrons (and our colleagues and our libraries) out, when they have questions.

And then we get Judson’s question: “What’s more important than knowledge?” and Flynn answers with what his mother told him. “The things that make life worth living can’t be thought here, they must be felt here.” – not brains but heart. Because yes, libraries are a place of knowledge, but knowledge that no one does anything with is a waste and pointless.

I love the look on Flynn’s face when he sees The Library. I love how it stretches out in front of him. This scene (and the scene from the new series with the same moment) are things that are very right with the world.

Pandora’s Box: This physical item strikes me as very Not Greek. (See here for some images of more likely designs). I do love Judson’s “I think it’s best not to repeat her mistake.” (Librarians! Learning from history!) And then his bit about how cell phones are utterly amazing. No wires!

Telling his mother: Librarian? And her assumption it’s about putting books on shelves. Now, if you’ve read this far, you probably know that (except in pretty small libraries) the librarians are doing rather different things than that. Putting books on shelves is often the work of student workers or pages or library assistants.

Here’s the thing, though. The work of the librarian is to help people find information. We have cataloging systems to help us do that. We have call numbers so we can find the book on the shelf when we need it. Putting books on a shelf may not sound thrilling, but it’s the thing that everything else involving that physical book in that physical library rests on. Ranganathan’s five laws of library science (1931) are relevant here.

It’s just, y’know. Also only a tiny part of our job. Because besides putting it on a shelf, someone needs to decide what books we’re getting, process them, catalog them, make sure it’s added to booklists or displays or other ways we say “Awesome book! Right over here!” And then all the other things we do, like using those books to help people find answers to questions, and suggesting things people might want to read/look at/listen to/watch/refer to, and being a community resource in all sorts of ways.

Waterfall: Off a waterfall. With a priceless book. I whimper. A lot. This PDF from the Preservation Division at the University of Michigan Library gives tips on if you need to dry out a soaked book. (Spoiler: it should not be readable as quickly as it is.)

We’re also going to gloss over a lot of the pulpiness of the setup of doom and traps in temples here, because I appreciate and enjoy the genre, and sometimes attempting to make the facts work make my head hurt. (Um, especially the one with the last piece of the spear, because languages, not transferable like that ow.)

The pyramid: Among plot points I am just glossing over, why are we using a pyramid to charge a spear from 2500 years later, and a somewhat different part of the world and cultural context? (I am just assuming that ‘we happen to have this handy pyramid with capstone lying around, and if it were summer solstice, this plot would be about Stonehenge or something instead’, but I did want to mention the incongruity somewhere.)

The footnotes:


The Great Pyramid at Giza was the tallest building on the planet until 1200ish C.E., not “A hundred years ago” as Flynn says. See the history of the tallest buildings in the world. Flynn might be referring to the Eiffel Tower with the hundred years ago line.

Aristotle. Voltaire. Jung.

Welcome to The Library: 

The Mona Lisa. Part of what amuses me with this, of course, is the story of the theft of this painting in 1911, the making of six copies (something referenced in sources as varied as classic Doctor Who‘s “City of Death and Leverage’s The Mona Lisa Con“)

(We are not putting my lengthy digression about whether Excalibur would have looked like that, because we’d be here a while.) However, Excalibur and the sword in the stone are generally considered to be two different swords.

I’m still contemplating whether that snake is *the* Garden of Eden snake, or whether it’s something else.

While I hold to the argument (for good reason, feel free to ask) that Monty Python and the Holy Grail remains one of the most accurate of the Arthurian movies, I have to agree with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade that the actual shape of the Grail is probably less gold and more workaday ceramic.

(I am resisting deploying my rant on the topic of the destruction of the Library at Alexandria, but let’s just say it was likely not one single destruction: this article has a good overview of some of the theories and links to more information.)

The Amazon: 

Not sure what the butterflies are, but here’s a guide that sorts by colour so you can look at the pretty.

Constellations: Sheliak (traditional name for Beta Lyrae). Terebellum (four stars in Saggitarius). Cassiopeia. I do actually have the tools to figure out whether those stars would be visible in the same night sky (with some guesswork about what month), but I am not quite that obsessive and want to get through this movie.

(Except then someone asked me about this. Internal plot logic suggests the main plot takes place around March, because of that ‘three months’ thing and the end scene being summer. The full moon in April in 2004 was April 7th, so let’s call the main action beginning around March 31st, give or take a few days. It looks like Cassiopeia is below the horizon at night, and that Lyra sometimes is, that time of year – they’re certainly not very close together in the sky as the shots imply.)

Headhunting (historically occuring in more places than you might have thought). Kugapakori. Yanomanis. Amahuacas. (All three languages referenced are from roughly the right place.)  Portuguese, of course, is the national language of Brazil (and six other countries.) Other people on the web have some useful and relevant commentary about the depictions of indigenous cultures in this movie, here and in later scenes.

Fortress of Ollantaytambo (an Incan city). Chichen Itzá. (Note: there are interesting congruities between Toltec sites and Chichen Itzá, but my understanding is that ‘sacked’ is not the thing to say about it.)

Precession is not constellations around the galaxy. Precession is how the equinoxes shift over time. (See here again.) This article gives a good overview of the discovery theories, but probably not Mayan. Teotihuacan. A quahuitl is about 7.5 to 8 feet long. Note, it’s an Aztec measurement, not Mayan. (Buddhism, not the only religion to believe in reincarnation.)

A waltz rhythm is basically a dactyl, if you want a slightly less absurd reason for the timing of the trap. (I tried to figure out whether Mayan poetry ran to dactyls, wasn’t able to sort it out in a reasonable amount of time, but did discover the fact that it’s possible the word ‘shark’ comes from the Mayan xoc.)


Shangri-La is a mythical city (yes, in the Himalayas) – Mount Kailas is a sacred mountain in several different religions. While hidden cities in the area are mentioned from various sources, the actual name Shangri-La originates in a 1930s novel.

I suppose a temple of monks, one of whom speaks perfect English is not actually the most implausible thing in this movie.


The Schumm scale appears not to exist.

The rest of the movie is, in fact, action sequences without interesting footnotey bits we haven’t already talked about.

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2 comments to The Librarian: Quest for the Spear

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

More about my job and a day in the life

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