Stalling with Steele: Lazy hero


Steele Giles, Columnist

If you want a sure-fire way to incline me to ignore a piece of fiction, make the character the Chosen One. Unless fate isn’t a concrete thing, predestining the main character to be the one to vanquish the vaguely explained Ultimate Evil just removes all tension from the story.

Don’t get me wrong, those stories have their place in fiction. It’s one of the oldest tropes in human storytelling for a reason, after all. Luke Skywalker and King Arthur kinda lose their impact otherwise. Unfortunately, it does lead to some assumptions about the story.

Any chance of the main character dying immediately goes out the window, and let’s be honest folks—that’s the major fear of the audience nine times out of ten. Exceptions to this exist, of course, as some circumstances can lead to an immortal character, or you’re following the works of George R.R. Martin, at which point you’re just numb to the concept of grievous bodily harm where the hero is concerned.

It bugs me when you have all of this fiction touting that the predestined, superhuman-in-every-way hero is the only one who can save the world. There’s no agency in that, no choice. This person’s fate was, from the very beginning, to off Hitler Satanovich and his horde of Nazi Demon Zombies with the Sword of Eternal Justice.

That hero’s entire life, up to that point, was leading to that moment, and everything after that is just coming down from the high. It’s a cosmic version of crippling overspecialization.

Yes, they were perfectly optimized for bringing down their foe, but now there’s a life to live, and all this person knows how to do is fight Nazi Demon Zombies—a skillset of dubious usefulness now that there are no more of them.

One of my favorite book series of all time is “The Belgariad” by David Eddings. Imagine “Lord of the Rings” if the Latin Mass feeling was replaced with the general irreverence of a Monty Python performance, and you’ve pretty much got the tone of the story.

Funny thing is: it hits pretty much all of the issues I’ve listed thus far. What it does differently is the main character, Garion.

He starts off as this whiny, immature drag-along kid so far out of his depth that he should have gotten the bends halfway into his character development. He’s the Chosen One, but nobody bothers to tell him that until most of the way through the series. A canny reader will spot it by book two or three, but it doesn’t come out and say it until halfway into book four.

Where are the heroes who aren’t all that special? The stories where the random schmuck who decides to take a stand against evil is just that, a random schmuck? No fancy magic, no predestination, no world bending to accommodate their existence.

As the Harry Potter trolls are so fond of telling us, courage is a choice.

Maybe fiction should remind us of that.