Avatar Wan in The Legend of Korra

Time for an ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ History Lesson—Get To Know the Very First Avatar

Everyone’s heard of Avatar Aang, Avatar Korra, Avatar Roku, and Avatar Kyoshi, but who wielded all four elements first? Who was the very first Avatar? Thankfully, Avatar: The Last Airbender’s sequel series, The Legend of Korra, gave us the answer.

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In The Legend of Korra, Book Two: Spirits, Avatar Korra became infected by a dark spirit, which caused her to lose her memory and her connection to her Avatar power. During a vision of her deepest Avatar memories, a vision meant to help her reconnect with the Avatar state, Korra remembers the story of the very first Avatar: Avatar Wan.

Who was Avatar Wan?

Avatar Wan in The Legend of Korra
(Nickelodeon)

Before he became the Avatar, Wan was a well-meaning, if somewhat devious, commoner, hoping to steal food for himself and his friends so that they may survive. Wan and his friends lived in one of the four great Lion Turtle cities, protected by the ancient beast from the dangers of the Spirit Wilds.

Each Lion Turtle showed an affinity for one of the four elements: Fire, Air, Water, and Earth. When Wan volunteered to join the warriors of the city on a hunt throughout the Spirit Wilds, the Lion Turtle granted him and his comrades the power of Fire so that they may protect themselves. And yet, while the warriors were expected to return the Fire to the Lion Turtle once they came home from the hunt, Wan instead kept the power for himself, hoping to use it to change the city’s status quo.

Wan’s plan was unsuccessful, however, and he was banished to the Spirit Wilds, though the Lion Turtle allowed him to keep the power of Fire to protect himself. In the Spirit Wilds, Wan connected with another part of himself, the part that wanted to protect all life, including those of the animals and the spirits. The spirits saw his selflessness and proceeded to treat him as one of their own, and Wan’s ability to Firebend grew. After a time, Wan decided to set out to find the other Lion Turtles, learn more about the Spirit World, and discover the other elements.

On his way to the second Lion Turtle, Wan encountered a fight between two incredibly powerful spirits: Raava and Vaatu. Oblivious as to who these spirits were, Wan used his Firebending skills to help Vaatu escape from Raava’s grasp, unknowingly unleashing darkness upon the world. After the damage was done, Raava explained that as the embodiment of the light, it was her duty to keep Vaatu in check. Every 10,000 years, during the Harmonic Convergence—when the planets align and the Northern and Southern spirit portals merge, amplifying spirit energy and cocooning the world in an aura—Raava and Vaatu would engage in a battle to determine the fate of the world.

Wan offered to help Raava find Vaatu, but she refused, leaving Wan to find the next Lion Turtle city instead.

Vaatu’s influence on the world soon became clear. Once peaceful spirits became violent and vengeful. Though Wan was able to save some villagers from Vaatu’s dark spirits, and Raava was able to chase Vaatu away, Wan was determined to rectify his mistake. He asked the second Lion Turtle for the power of Air. No human had ever wielded more than one element at the same time, however, and the Turtle ordered Raava to be Wan’s teacher and hold the element for him until he was able to master it. Together, the two set off on a journey to help Wan master all four elements so that he would be ready to help Raava fight Vaatu when the time came.

During Wan and Raava’s year-long journey together, Vaatu became bigger and stronger, while Raava only became weaker and smaller. When the Harmonic Convergence began, Wan and Raava entered the Spirit World to defeat Vaatu once and for all. But Wan was no match for Vaatu alone—despite the danger to his life, he and Raava merged as one, allowing Wan to master all four elements and almost defeat Vaatu in the process.

But Raava’s influence took its toll, and Wan almost died, until the Convergence happened, and Raava and Wan were fully able to become one as a result of the amplified spirit energy. This was the first time Wan embraced the Avatar State, and he used his newfound power to defeat Vaatu and imprison him in a tree within the Spirit World.

To stop the violent cycle, Wan promised to close the spirit portals forever, ensuring that no human would ever be able to free Vaatu from his prison and unleash his darkness upon the world. The spirits of the Spirit Wilds returned to the Spirit World, and Wan became the first bridge between the human world and the Spirit World, otherwise known, of course, as the Avatar.

Wan’s actions changed the world. The Lion Turtles no longer needed to protect the humans from the Spirits Wilds and retreated, leaving the humans to fend for themselves. Wan was determined to bring different groups of humans together and usher in an era of peace, but it was not to be. Humans warred with one another despite Vaatu’s imprisonment. Together, Wan and Raava vowed to keep fighting until peace was achieved, and Wan’s death kickstarted the Avatar Cycle, his and Raava’s combined spirit living on in all other Avatars since.

If you want to experience Wan’s Avatar journey for yourself, you can watch The Legend of Korra, Book Two: Spirits, episode 7, “Beginnings: Part 1,” and episode 8, “Beginnings: Part 2.”

(featured image: Nickelodeon)


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El Kuiper
El (she/her) is The Mary Sue's U.K. editor and has been working as a freelance writer for various entertainment websites for over two years, ever since she completed her Ph.D. in Creative Writing. El's primary focus is television and movie coverage for The Mary Sue, including British TV (she's seen every episode of Midsomer Murders ever made) and franchises like Marvel and Pokémon. As much as she enjoys analyzing other people's stories, her biggest dream is to one day publish an original fantasy novel of her own.