Often, the heroes in genre fiction are embodiments of physical prowess and exceptionalism. Some genre fiction even villainizes intellectualism, by featuring big bads who wield knowledge like a deadly weapon. But just as often, the mind is ultimately thwarted by the brawn, subtly reinforcing that there’s more value in what we can do with our hands than our heads.
TNT’s colorful adventure fantasy, The Librarians, a spin-off of a TNT movie franchise of the same name, challenges that trend. The action-packed series premiered in 2014, and follows three seemingly ordinary people—Ezekiel Jones (John Kim), Cassandra Cillian (Lindy Booth), and Jacob Stone (Christian Kane)—tasked with an extraordinary job. Under the protection of guardian Eve Baird (Rebecca Romijn), the Librarians in Training (LITs) are charged with collecting and protecting the world’s most magical items, as well as The Library in which they’re housed.
“The thing I loved about [the original movie] wasn’t that they were infected by radiation and suddenly could grow or run from a lightning bolt,” The Librarians showrunner Dean Devlin told The Portalist during a panel for the show at New York Comic Con in October. “It was that they were really smart. The Librarian was a guy who studied really hard and I thought ...this is the kind of message I want to give. That there are rewards for actually knowing things, for having an intellectual pursuit.”
Devlin and the show’s developer John Rogers worked against the “book worm” archetype to give each character a set of unique and extraordinary talents to represent different kinds of intelligence.
Ezekiel is a master thief and “master of technologies” who has hacked everyone from the London Police's security network to the NSA. Cassandra is a mathematician with synesthesia, a condition that jumbles her senses. Meanwhile, Jacob Stone is an oil rig worker from a small town in Oklahoma with an I.Q. of 190 and deep knowledge about art history and architecture.
Since season one, each of the characters have grown more secure in their abilities, illustrating how diverse and powerful intelligence can be. For John Kim, the actor behind Ezekiel Jones, “that’s the coolest thing about [the] show.”
“It shows that you don’t actually have to punch all your problems away,” Kim told The Portalist. “You can actually outthink your opposition.”
Kim acknowledges that his character’s intellectual heroism is on the darker, more mischievous side and might not “seem like it would have too much value in a hero context.” However, Kim says that’s a perfect illustration of the many different ways to be intelligent.
“He [Ezekiel] is definitely not your upstanding citizen, but he’s got a heart of gold — probably quite literally,” Kim said. “That’s the thing I love about it, you can’t forget that there are books smarts and then there are street smarts.”
For actor Christian Kane, playing with knowledge as power is a great way to engage viewers.
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“I think in the last two years, intelligence has become very sexy,” Kane told The Portalist. “It's the new cool thing to do… [In The Librarians] not only do you get to learn, you get to be entertained and you get to laugh …. You know about three to four different things that you didn't know—that actually make you a better person by knowing it—watching one episode of The Librarians.”
The nature of The Librarians’ work unsurprisingly requires its three leads to do a lot of reading, problem solving, and deciphering, which can be fun or frightening depending on what part of the magical Library they’re accessing. While Kim and Kane may not have as much time to sit with a book as their characters, they do have their own literary favorites.
Kane shared that while he’s not a die hard fan of Paulo Coelho, his “favorite book of all time” is the Brazilian author’s international best-seller The Alchemist. “[It] has always been my go-to book,” Kane told The Portalist. “Not only is it spiritual for me, there's magic in it. Paulo Coelho's a very religious writer, but he also puts magic in there. It's a fantasy world [that’s] got so many quotes that you can [use] in life.”
Kim shared that he’s more recently gotten into graphic novels like Saga and Preacher, but that Roald Dahl was a big influence growing up. “He's really good at penning words that you can really envision and put yourself into,” Kim said of the children’s author.
Devlin teased that season four is really about confirming these intellectuals for what they are: superheroes.
“This season, it's really about the consequences of being a superhero, and in a way, the librarians are,” Devlin told the crowd. “There's a lot of sacrifices for being a librarian. I think… the reality of the life they've chosen has started to sink in, and some real consequences are going to come from that. The librarians are gonna have to decide if they want to stay librarians.”
Featured still from "The Librarians" via TNT
An earlier edition of this article incorrectly stated that the character Jake Stone was a farmer before becoming a librarian, rather than an oil rig worker.