The Bending of Blending: World-building in Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra


Ever since their first release, more than a decade ago, Nickelodeon’s two animated television series Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA) and Avatar: Legend of Korra (LOK) have made a considerable impact on their target audience. One of the most fascinating elements of this popular series is the world in which the stories are set. This paper delves deeper into the world building of Avatar and finds three main applications of the mental spaces and conceptual blending framework set out by Fauconnier (Fauconnier 1994; Fauconnier & Turner 2003). The main thread in the intertextual tapestry of the world is the integration of low-level elements from various Eastern and Western cultures. A network is identified that rests on the conceptual blending of PEOPLE and NATURE, similar to correlative networks in Chinese five-elemental theory (Yu 2009) and Western humourism (Geeraerts & Grondelaers 1995). The second application of blending is the unique blending of the fauna that populates this world: many hybrid animals, e.g. lemur-bat, platypus-bear, and rabbiroos (< rabbit-kangaroos) are just some of the animals that appear on screen. The third application is the blending of blending of modern elements into the previously established world of Avatar: The Last Airbender during Legend Of Korra, which is set seventy years later. This gives the series an updated feel, which greatly resembles the typical drawing style of steampunk. The underlying blends and low-level intertextual blends are greatly responsible for the success of both series and its cult status in current popular online meme usage. This paper is a revelatory application of blending theory to the multimodality of animation and cartoons.

The Polytechnic University of Hong Kong 香港理工大學