When I planned the post on reluctant heroes, my first impulse was to speak on Samwise Gamgee from JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. After all, Sam spends most part of 1,000 pages wishing he can go home to his gardens, second breakfasts and girlfriend. However heroically he acts, however, Sam is not a hero. Instead, he is drawn along in Frodo’s shadow, only stepping up to save the day at the end when his friend fails.
Despite this shortcoming, however, Sam teaches the first lesson of reluctant heroes and protagonists in general: heroes are active. Reluctant heroes, despite being forced into hardship, rise to the challenge and embrace their heroism. I needed someone like Captain John “Black Jack” Geary of Jack Campbell’s The Lost Fleet and Beyond the Frontier series.
In the 100 years before the events of The Lost Fleet: Dauntless, Captain John Geary floats amongst the wreckage of his ship in survival sleep, the lost survivor of the firsts shots of the war between the Alliance and the Syndicate Worlds. Desperate for a symbolic hero, the Alliance government built an Arthurian-esque mythos around “Black Jack” Geary, making him the epitome of what a citizen and officer of the Alliance should be. Most importantly, the legendary hero, who has gone to rest amongst the venerable ancestors and the living stars, would come back to save the Alliance in their moment of greatest need.
When John Geary is found and revived, told of the death of everyone he’s ever known and of the greatness and expectations of his own mythos, he does the perfectly reasonable thing. He becomes reclusive, spirals into depression and tries to cope with is grief and loss. This is the second important lesson of reluctant heroes: no one respects and admires a petulant hero. Instead, a good reason for reluctance can lend sympathy and humanity to the hero.
Weeks later, when the mission to end the war results in the fleet being trapped behind enemy lines and deprived of all their senior officers, Geary finds himself the most senior captain in the fleet and must make a decision. Does he step up and become Black Jack or does he leave the important tasks to another? To compound the issue, in the years since his last command the Alliance military has lost the discipline and skills that would allow them to survive. In the end, it’s Geary’s sense of duty that draws him out into the wider world. This is the final lesson of reluctant heroes: when the call to action comes, the hero must have a good reason to set aside, partially or in whole, their reluctance and must choose to step up.
Even after the call to action, the hero can still show some reluctance, but I would be aware of the fine line between reluctance and petulance. Heroes are active, they are flawed like any other human, but most of all, heroes are people who are to be admired.Tags: Sequence 04: On the Shoulders of Giants