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In literature as in life, heroism does not necessarily demand a Great Thing, such as Superman turning back the world to prevent widespread calamity. More often it seems that a hero becomes a true hero when he intervenes on the everyday level.
Readers became attached to Bilbo Baggins long before he entered the dragon’s lair. They cared about him as much for his hesitancy to go on a journey, for his love of second breakfast, a good pipe, and a comfortable spot in front of his own hearth as for his quick wit and commitment to his fellow travelers.
So here’s what I’m thinking. Heroes who are ordinary, at least on the outside, might be the most engaging. Would Superman be someone we would love if he didn’t present to the rest of the world as Clark Kent?
Let me turn a corner and extrapolate from some thoughts posted by blogger Khanya in Hobbits, Heroes, and Jesus – TGIF . First she brought up somehing G.K. Chesterton said:
fairy stories are not about extraordinary people, they are about extraordinary things happening to ordinary people.
This coincides with the concept she refers to earlier, that “most myths have a big story and a little story.”
The Lord of the Rings’ big story is Frodo saving Middle Earth by destroying (with Gollum’s help) The Ring. The little story within the big story is Sam choosing to go with Frodo instead of staying with the others in the fellowship. Or the little story is Frodo offering grace to Gollum—saving grace, as it turns out. The little story is Merry and Pippin escaping captivity and stirring up the Ents.
But the little stories and the big are so much more heroic because Hobbits performed the deeds. Hobbits, who might define ordinary. These were not folk who loved adventure, but they took it on because they were needed.
And isn’t that one thing, at least, that makes readers connect with a story or love a character? An ordinary person doing an everyday heroic act on the way to saving the world. Sounds like a book I’d like to read. 😉
Originally posted, though in a less edited form, at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, December 12, 2008.