This has been an interesting and exciting exchange. I've asked about your fiction heroes and the responses so far (there is still time to get in on the conversation, so feel free to post a comment or you can e-mail me at email@example.com) have been diverse, introspective, and fascinating.
I wanted to share with you some bits and pieces of responses, and add my thoughts to yours. I thought about jamming every one's responses together in one long post, but that idea ended up offending me (way to go Bonnie, you manage to offend yourself with your own brain!).
Your responses, each one, while very different from each other, were obviously deeply thought out and felt. Our heroes, or lack thereof, have shaped us in ways that are difficult to talk about, only because it is much like talking about ourselves - complex, changing, shifting, unreliable, and doomed (we fear) to be misunderstood.
One response to the post came via e-mail. It was a fantastic note about childhood, friendship, tobogganing, and Tolkien. The Hobbit - and books following - changed this person's life.
She told me about how she and her friends, imaginations captured and held by the larger than life characters inhabiting middle earth would mount their trusty steeds (toboggans [sleds] they loved and even named as one would a trusty steed) and fly down snowy slopes together. They formed a secret club (oh, how I remember the heady joy of belonging to a secret club!) based on The Lord of the Rings and its inhabitants.
Fantastic stuff, that. As I read her e-mail I was transported to my own childhood and, I confess, teen years, where fantasy made up at least 75% of what I did each day. The author of this note is a fantastic writer, and even her e-mails contain a sort of power, or movement, or convincing voice that makes you want to go where she takes you, and I went - slogging down the hills with her and her friends, calling out our fictional names, giggling when others looked at us with questioning faces, wondering what these girls could be up to.
But Bilbo and pals played a role in her life beyond childhood fun - she read and re-read the books throughout her teen and adult years. Always finding some spark of truth, some archetype of virtue by which she could learn, ape, and admire. She lists these for me, and I find myself nodding in agreement. Yes, these pages are filled with characters, both minor and major, who display for us the finest of humanity - the deepest of confusion (he who is passionate about life must learn to kill in order to preserve it), and passion, the longings for greatness, and the searching in small places to find it.
It was enough to make me want to swoon. But, since the days of swooning women is long gone, I smiled instead. She ended her all to short e-mail with a vibrant quote from one of the books. You see, there is this fine lady in the books, one Lady Eowyn who, royal and grand as she is, follows her heart into the grit and blood of battle in order to fight for what she believes in. I'm quoting my friend as she writes about how a fictional moment has helped shape her self understanding:
"Oh and how could I forget Lady Eowyn who masquerades as a man to follow her heart into battle? As she dares to step outside the norm for her gender, she kills the evil Lord of the Nazgul who according to prophecy will not be killed by any living man. In one of my favourite fictional moments, the Nazgul says, “No living man may hinder me!” Then Eowyn removes her helmet and says “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman,” and then delivers the death blow. I found this heartening as a young woman who often found herself outside typical gender roles."
There is a complex depth to how this scene makes its way into the hearts and minds of those who read it, and, in some way, identify with it. My e-mailing friend is no sword wielding killer, no marauding warrior. She's a nice person with a good job, a family, and a heart for Jesus and people. But, something fantastic in Lady Eowyn reached into this woman's heart and gave her a drop of outrageous courage, gave stay to the idea that she could be who she felt called to be, even if that meant leaving certain expectations unfulfilled.
And, after I had read her e-mail, I was left thinking: There are heroes in fiction.