What Was John Wick Reading at The New York Public Library?

By Rhonda Evans, Assistant Chief Librarian
May 17, 2019
Image result for John wick new york public library

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in the Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy reading room in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment.

By Rhonda Evans, Electronic Resources Librarian and Bogdan Horbal, Curator for Slavic and East European Collections

This weekend fans of the John Wick franchise are rejoicing in the release of the third installment, John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum. If you are not familiar with the John Wick films, they follow John Wick, played by Keanu Reeves, who is a world-class, multilingual assassin pulled out of retirement when a group of hoodlums murder the dog given to him posthumously by the love  of his life (for an excellent overview of John Wick 1 and 2  given by Keanu Reeves in 60 seconds, check out this video).

Very little is known about John Wick's personal life, but a little bit is revealed with each film. One thing we learn from Chapter 3 is that John Wick has a special relationship with books. In an interview with Uproxx, Keanu explains that  "In the first script they had John Wick described as working with old leather-bound books and book restoration."

We also learn that John Wick is a patron of The New York Public Library.

In Chapter 3 we see John Wick visiting the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, one of the four New York Public Library Research Libraries. This library houses NYPL's General Research Division; the Arts, Prints & Photographs Division, The Local History & Genealogy Division, our Map Library and of course our Rare Books, Manuscripts and Archives Divisions (for the full listing of the research divisions check out our Research Page). 

During John Wick's visit, he asks for "Russian Folk Tale, Aleksandr Afanasyev, 1864." John Wick's interest in this book will probably spark the curiosity of many, so our Curator for Slavic and East European collections, Bogdan Horbal did what librarians do best and did some research on this book, here's what he found...

Aleksandr Nikolaevich Afanas’ev (1826-1871) [his last name is also Romanized as Afanasyev, Afanasief, or Afanasiev] was a Russian scholar who published nearly 600 fairy and folk tales which he had collected from various parts of the Russian Empire. The first edition of his work appeared under the title Narodnyia russkīia skazki in 8 volumes which were printed in St. Petersburg 1855-1863 (available in HathiTrust). The 2nd ed. of this fundamental work was issued under the same title in 4 vols. in 1873 (also in HathiTrust) and was followed by the 3rd ed. in 2 vols. which appeared in 1897. The 4th ed. appeared in 5 volumes, 1913-1914 and is also available in HathiTrust. These were followed by numerous later editions of either the whole work or its parts. Afanas’ev’s work was translated into several languages including English (1915, 1945, 1967, 2006, and 2014). In 1859 he published Russian folk legends under the title Narodnyia russkīia legendy.

If you come to the library seeking the specific edition John Wick asked for, note that there was no edition of his main work issued in 1864. During the years 1864-1865 he published four articles on mythology, incl. Skazka i mif (1864).

If you plan on visiting The New York Public Library like John Wick, make sure you get your NYPL card!