"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Here I come, to save the day!

What do we ask for in a hero? Is it different from what we ask in a heroine? Alexandra Sokoloff is dissecting protagonists today in her blog (http://thedarksalon.blogspot.com). She does a damn fine job of picking apart Jake Gittes, Jack Nicholson's character from Chinatown. I recommend you skip over there and read it, it's high quality brain food.

As usual, she asked her readers to share their favorite hero/ines, an exercise we had already done with our villains. Some readers like their heroes with deep flaws; some like them best when they're vulnerable underdogs. Since I'm a constant lurker on her blog, I wrote a rather long comment about all of the qualities I like in my protagonists, then I thought about specific characters I like - and I erased the comment. I wasn't certain my heroes all lived up to the qualities I'd listed. Instead, I listed the characters and said I'd have to think about what it is I like about them. I meant, of course, in the sweeping generalization sense.

One of the things I like about Alex's blog is that we truly have discussions - she makes comments about our comments. Her comment to me: "But I'd like to hear what you like about them."

So I thought, instead of taking up vast amounts of Alex's comment space, I'd discuss my who are my favorite heroes here (and why):

1. Sherlock Holmes. Okay, he's not the most two-dimensional character in history, but he set the standard for brilliant detectives. My heroes need to be smart. They have to outwit the villain, not outpunch him. It would have been nice if Sir Arthur had given us some inkling into Holmes' reasons for the drug abuse - I never quite bought his excuse of "ennui", but I understand that it wasn't important to his audience at the time. I remember enjoying the book The Seven Percent Solution, by Nicholas Meyer, which tried to take us a little deeper into Holmes' addiction.

2. Philip Marlowe. Whether reading The Big Sleep, or watching the Bogart version, I could really go for this guy. Tough, smart, and playful, something Holmes lacks. He stays ahead of the villains, most of the time, and when he gets caught, he's smart enough to find a way out of trouble. He could be seen as world-weary, which I'm not a big fan of, but he's still got that burning inquisitiveness that keeps him from giving up on humanity. He stays up late to figure out Geiger's code book (I'm talking about the movie here), and he continues to work the Sternwood case even when the D.A. and the general's daughter try to make him stop. This isn't a guy who's finished with life.

3. Eve Diamond. She's the intrepid reporter created by Denise Hamilton, a former (intrepid) reporter for the L.A. Times. I like Eve because she's good at her job, and she goes about it fearlessly. This is fairly sexist on my part; I assume my heroes are fearless, but I require my heroines to be so. Eve will go into any den in Hell to get the story, even if her heart is trying to claw its way out of her to escape. Her love life is usually a hot mess, but she's aware of the problem. Poor thing, she really does think the next guy will be The One, but she keeps choosing bad boys.

4.Flynn Carsen. This is the hero of The Librarian movies. If you haven't seen them, they were made-for-TV movies by Turner Network Television (TNT). Flynn is played by Noah Wyle; he is a supersmart geek (even by geek standards) who has a gazillion university degrees and a head chock full o' facts. He thinks he wants to get a steady job, find a girl, and live a normal life. Instead, he is recruited to be the "Librarian", in charge of collecting and maintaining a unique collection of artifacts - like Excalibur, Pan's flute, the Holy Grail, etc. Check it out here. What I like about Flynn is that he is smart, but hasn't quite accepted his fate as Keeper of Really Important Relics. He is also truly heroic in his desire to do the right thing, at any cost.

5. Rick O'Connell. The hero of the Mummy movies first strikes me as a lout, but as soon as the lovely Evelyn hires him and gets him cleaned up, he gets smarter. I like Rick because he is smart, but he doesn't want to admit it. Part of the reason, I think, is that his knowledge may be from an ancient source, which he doesn't believe in. I also love that he is intensely loyal to his wife, and later, his son. He's kinda yummy, too.

6. Ripley. Sigourney Weaver impressed me as a heroine because it was the first time I saw that kind of physical strength portrayed by a woman on the screen. She fought the Alien with her brain, and every weapon she could get her hands on.

7. Nick and Nora Charles. I don't think I'd like to see these two separately, but I love them as a team. Funny, smart, and snappy dressers!

The next three are strictly from TV-land:
8. Brenda Lee Johnson. She's a driven police chief in L.A. (The Closer) who keeps a stash of junk food in her drawer because she eats chocolate when she's stressed. Again, a smart cookie, I wouldn't say she's absolutely fearless, but she will leap into the thick of things, even when she's afraid.

9. Ziva David. She's not really the "star" of NCIS, but I like her character, the Mossad-trained Israeli who mangles English slang, threatens suspects with bodily harm, yet fusses over her teammates and occasionally, second-guesses herself.

10. Allison DuBois. Even if you don't believe in the power of psychics, this character on Medium is compelling. She has spent a lifetime fearing this ability, being told to ignore it, trying to drink it away. Now that she's allowed to use it, she doesn't always know what the dead are trying to tell her. She's supremely human, trying to be a mom and a wife and a responsible member of society - and I like her because she's like me in some ways, trying to juggle all the balls, plus add the one marked "Me" in every once in awhile. Only she gets to discover the murderer and save the day!

So those are mine. It's clear I want my hero/ines to be smart, funny, fearless people. I don't care if they have flaws, as long as they are at least human.

What are your favorite traits in a hero/ine? Are they the same for both?


Diana Black said...

I'll start with my favorite TV character right now ... Holly Hunter's Grace Hanadarko on "Saving Grace." She's raw and real and wild and crazy and gives one million per cent. I think she's one of the most honest characters developed for any medium in a long, long time.

My favorite book character is Atticus Finch, his daughter Scout a close second.

Those two characters have helped mold my life since first reading it waaaay back when.

I think the setting and my identification with Scout are instrumental in my relationship with those characters. Plus who wouldn't want to have the intelligence, bravery and heart of an Atticus Finch.

Thanks for opening up the discussion, Gayle Carline!


Gayle Carline said...

No, thank YOU for sharing, Diana. Holly Hunter definitely takes on controversial characters, and I, too, like Grace, if only because she is unapologetically who she is. It forces us, as viewers, to think in more complex terms - we have to admire her for doing her job well, but her personal life is such a HOT mess! Bravo to TNT for their investment in our brains.

Karen from Mentor said...

Hi Gayle,
Enjoyed the post. In a rush at the moment, but wanted to say I love Nick and Nora, but they wouldn't be anything without Asta!
Karen from Mentor

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