After you finish watching Nickelodeon’s animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender – which is now available on Netflix – you may find yourself pondering the question: what, exactly, is the Avatar? Of course, we know that the Avatar is a person who can control all four elements, but the show never really explains how this legendary figure came into existence.
When the series ended, most fans simply assumed the Avatar was like God, a supernatural being whose origin is, by definition, inexplicable. However, these same fans were dealt a huge surprise when the show’s hotly-anticipated sequel, The Legend of Korra, actually revealed how the Avatar came to be.
In the show’s second season, Korra finds herself unable to beat a certain villain. Feeling lost, she enters the Avatar-state to seek guidance from her previous lives. Much to the shock of viewers, the person who comes to her aid isn’t Aang, or Roku or even Kyoshi, but a guy who calmly introduces himself as the very first Avatar that ever was.
Long before the world was divided into four nations, the EPs reveal, people lived on the backs of giant lionturtles – the same species of animal which gave Aang the ability to take away Ozai’s fire bending ability in the finale of the original show. Back then, humans would leave the turtles’ backs to hunt in the spirit wilds. Because these places were dangerous, the turtles would grant them the power to bend the elements, a power which they would have to yield upon their return.
The first Avatar, named Wan, fled his turtle and, as such, never returned his elemental powers. While traversing the wilds, he eventually encounters two spirits doing battle. Wanting to do a good deed, he used his powers to interfere. Little did he know, however, that the two spirits whom he broke apart were the spirit of light and the spirit of darkness, who are meant to be locked in eternal combat over the fate of the world.
And that’s not even the worst of it. See, when Wan came across the battlefield, it looked like one was killing the other. As luck would have it, the spirit whom he helped turned out to be the spirit of darkness, while the one he hurt the spirit of light. In an effort to undo his mistake, Wan then teamed up with the spirit of light to confront the spirit of darkness, and when they do their energies merge and become one.
When Wan died, the spirit of light left his body. As it did, it took with it the ability to bend all four elements which it, in turn, passed on to its next host. As the centuries went by, this happened again and again, until these powers finally arrived at Aang, and Korra after him. So, there you have it: The Legend of Korra certainly leaves no stone unturned.