Fans of any engaging fantasy setting are bound to have a million questions, and Avatar: The Last Airbender is no different. With the series' central focus on mythology, history and politics, one other aspect to its fantastical world is too often ignored: the animal kingdom. But the recently announced Beasts of Four Nations guidebook may be the chance to change that.
The trend for worldbuilding in Avatar has always been to tease a few fascinating details to whet fans' palettes and then only give enough information to keep their appetites hungry for more. Since the series' debut in 2005, only eight Avatars have even been named among the hundreds that existed in the world's 10,000-year history. Despite its richly textured and varied cultural landscape, only a thin slice of Avatar's history has ever been detailed. When it comes to the world's fauna, so seldom a central focus in the series, that lack of information is all the greater.
One of the biggest mysteries involving Avatar's animals dates back to the origins of bending, depicted most immediately in The Legend of Korra's two-part episode "Beginnings." In the original series, many animals were said to have taught humans the art of bending the elements. The dragons taught firebenders, the sky bison taught airbenders, and the badgermoles taught earthbenders. When "Beginnings" depicted the lion turtles granting benders the ability to manifest elements with energybending, the explanation was that those animals merely honed humans' ability to bend into the martial arts that would make up their forms. But the key question remains: Where did the animals gain the ability to bend in the first place?
Waterbenders were always the odd ones out, with their own legends saying they learned their elemental art from the moon rather than an animal. Does that mean there are no waterbending animals, or are there more bending animals than fans previously realized? Creatures like the Unagi or the sand shark of the Si Wong Desert display arts akin to bending, yet without encyclopedic data on those beasts, their ability remains a gray area. Beasts of Four Nations offers the perfect opportunity to answer exactly those kinds of questions.
The official description for Beasts of Four Nations even promises insight into one of Avatar's most mysterious corners, calling the book a "collection for images and information on Avatar and Korra’s creatures large and small, including many from the spirit world!" The Spirit World is a frequent source of seeming contradictions and curiosities. While some spirits like Hei Bai or the dragon bird spirit are inarticulate and animalistic, others like General Old Iron or the aye-aye spirit are perfectly sapient. Instances like the Painted Lady and Fang even evidence that humans and animals alike can become spirits after their death -- yet almost nothing is known about the origins or reasons for differentiation among these mysterious beings.
Just how far into these questions the book will delve remains a mystery, but fans can be more hopeful for answers than ever before. For so long the animals of Avatar were a major attention-grabbing part of the world, yet they are so rarely discussed that many are chomping at the bit to find out more. Beasts of Four Nations will provide fans just the opportunity they've been looking for: it's time to talk about the elephant koi in the room.
Beasts of the Four Nations — Creatures From Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra will be available on October 13th, 2021.