Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Heroes and Sacrifice

Inspired by Amber's commentary on literary heroes, I'd like to present my favorite heroic trait: sacrifice.  This is what brings me back to Lord of the Rings time after time (granted, I mean the movies, not the book, but it's the same in either case).  The best moments for me are when sacrifices are made.  Frodo sacrifices the safety of the shire to prevent the One Ring from falling into evil hands.  He sacrifices the chance to go home by volunteering to continue on and take the ring to Mordor.  Sam sacrifices likewise in order to stand by his friend through the very worst of it all.  Bilbo, Aragorn, Gandalf, Faramir, and Galadriel sacrifice the chance to possess the ring of power, thus showing their "true quality."  All these characters recognize "the greater good," are willing to forgo comfort, safety, and power in the name of it.  These heroes are thinking of others ahead of themselves.

I just reread The Hobbit and observed that Tolkein used very similar themes in his precursor to Lord of the Rings.  Bilbo sacrifices his share of the dwarf's treasure in an attempt to avert a war over it.  He also sacrifices his safety numerous times in order to rescue his hapless companions from trolls, giant spiders, and mirthless elves.

I think the sacrifices made by the hobbits are particularly appealing because they are small, simple people, seemingly of little significance in the great big world.  They seem to embody the idea that anyone can do something great and noble, even if you think you are of little consequence.

The lack of this trait is the very thing that turned me off to the heroin of The Golden Compass.  Lyra is so self-absorbed that she seems willing to do anything to trample her way into what she wants.  I saw no willingness to sacrifice for the sake of anyone else.  In my opinion, this is why that story did not resonate in my soul and make me root for Lyra to succeed, even though the level of action, drama and excitement was fairly equal to that in Lord of the Rings.  Instead, I was left feeling rather empty and dark.

Truth resonates far more than fascinating characters or plots.  If the lesson is a lie, it will never have the same power.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Finding Your Heroes

My daughter recently wrote this in an e-mail to her teen writing club:

I think the most lovable characters, or at least the ones I love the
most, are those that are defiantly cheerful.

The ones who've had really hard lives, like REALLY hard lives. But
they turn around and laugh in life's face anyway, even though it
hurts, even though everything they've been through has left them
scarred in so many ways. I can think of several off the top of my head
and I'm going to rant about them.

 As I read through her list of defiantly cheerful characters I remembered how much I love characters like that. How much I love to write with characters like that. How much I want to be like that. I decided that my New Year's Resolution is to be defiantly cheerful. Within a day, my life seemed 100% better. Nothing had changed except my decision to laugh instead of cry at whatever came my way.

I have a friend in my local "Writing a Book Club" who told me that his parents didn't give him much moral direction as he was growing up. But when his friends started doing drugs or other irresponsible things, he remembered the characters he loved from "The Lord of the Rings." He thought to himself, "Aragorn wouldn't do that." So he didn't do it either.

That's why he wants to be a writer now. He wants to provide the same kind of direction for young people that he found in the characters he loved.

When I was a tween-aged reader I scoured the fiction section of the library, searching for something I desperately needed. I read book after book, hunting, hoping to fill this void in my soul. What was I looking for? I needed a hero. I wanted a young woman I could look up to and emulate. I needed to watch someone like me navigate the troubled waters of adolescence and come out on the other side as a successful young adult.

There are a lot of books out there about people who are less than exemplary. They make selfish choices that cause suffering to themselves and those around them. What I really want is to see someone who makes the right choices no matter what.

Who are your heroes from story? What kind of heroes are you going to give the next generation?