Friday, December 16, 2005

My Heroes

In one of my previous posts, the memory of which I’m trying hard to suppress, I had mentioned something about my admiration for the great heroes of popular fiction. In this post, I’m going to elaborate on that. Many of these characters aren’t really considered as great heroes; in fact, I’m sure there’ll be some you wouldn’t even have heard of. Yet these are the characters that have remained with me after I finished the book, the ones who have affected me the most. This post is my small way of paying tribute to the creators of these characters.

I hope they were inspired by real people.

Carlo Alfred Thomas ‘Cat’ Shannon, The Dogs of War

I may be a fighter, I may be a killer, but I am not a bloody sadist.’

I suppose that, at one time or the other, we are all tempted to say something as presumptuous as that sounds. But the difference here is, with Shannon, we believe it (atleast I did; I lapped it up with unrestrained glee) of him. One of my all-time favourite heroes, Shannon is the leading protagonist of what I believe is Forsyth’s best, The Dogs of War. He is a mercenary, a man who, I quote him, fights the wars because that's the way he likes to live. One of my favourite sequences in the book is his two-page monologue about mercenaries and his view of the world; he ends it with, again, one of my favourite lines in popular fiction, 'When I go, I'll go my way. I'd prefer to go with a bullet in my chest and blood in my mouth and a gun in my hand; with defiance in my heart and shouting, 'Sod the lot of you', than to flicker out in a damp basement with a mouth full of cardboard'.

The novel itself is more or less typical Forsyth, all craft and not much focus on character. But Shannon is something of an exception, because Forsyth has fleshed out his character almost completely. We are given insights (though limited) into Shannon’s way of thinking; this is unlike most of his other characters, whose actions speak for them.

Why Shannon? For doing what he did and going out the way he wanted to. In other words, for living life on more or less his own terms. But finally, after everything else, for Spanish Harlem.

Lyra Belacqua and Iorek Byrnison, His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass/ Northern Lights

Belacqua? No, you are Lyra Silvertongue’, he said. ‘To fight him is all I want. Come, little daemon.’
She looked at Iorek Byrnison in his battered armor, lean and ferocious, and felt as if her heart would burst with prid
e.

The reason I’ve put them together is because they make such an amazing combination. Their sequences together are, for me, the best in the book. There’s this incredible sequence wherein Iorek invites Lyra to fence with him, to make her understand how a panserbjorne fights. At the end of the session, Lyra is exhausted; she has tried everything, but she hasn’t been able to touch him. She asks him, “I bet you could even catch bullets. How do you do that?” He answers, “By not being human. We see in a way you humans have forgotten to.”

Northern Lights/The Golden Compass is the first instalment of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, the next two being The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. Never has a trilogy, or any other fantasy series (yup, including LoTR, for me) for that matter, begun as explosively as this one. Lyra Belacqua is the heroine, a rather wild 12 year old whose incredible journey begins, much like Narnia, when she hides in a wardrobe to eavesdrop on a conversation. She is a spunky little girl, an almost compulsive liar with the ability to make up stories on the spur of the moment to get out of a tricky situation. But Pullman describes her as an unimaginative girl; he says that had she been able to imagine the odds against her, she would have simply been overwhelmed. On her journey she meets Iorek Byrnison, an armoured bear or panserbjorne, as Pullman calls them. He is in exile, disgraced after having killed another bear in a drug-induced fit of anger, and his armour, which he says is his soul, has been taken away from him. Lyra helps him retrieve his armour in return for helping the Gyptians on their quest. And that, to use an oft-repeated cliché, marks the beginning of their truly beautiful relationship.

Why these two? Lyra, for doing what she believed she had to, against all odds. And Iorek, for not being human.

Liam Devlin, The Eagle Has Landed

Schellenberg smiled. 'Sometimes, my friend, I wonder how you've managed to last as long as you have.'
'Ah, well, it must be my good looks, General.'


Poet-philosopher and IRA gunman, Liam Devlin made his first appearance in Jack Higgins’ The Eagle Has Landed, his first international bestseller. Devlin was not the lead protagonist of this World War II thriller, yet it was his character which drew maximum attention and ultimately, stood the test of time. Devlin is featured in three later novels, written in the same style. But more importantly, his character inspired the creation of another equally compelling and possibly more complex character, Sean Dillon, a Devlin for the 90’s and beyond. Higgins writes with a sense of quiet drama, which can be corny to the point of silliness at times. Still, it is more or less effective, probably because most of his leading characters are suffused with a sense of sadness, and people generally have a tendency to think/say corny things when they are sad. But Higgins has gotten into a rut with the Dillon novels; his plots follow more or less the same pattern and his characters, including Dillon, are becoming more caricaturish with every novel.

Eagle is populated with real heroes in the old-fashioned sense of the word; that is, strong men of honour and dignity, not the tortured whiners (alright, I know that’s unfair, but I definitely prefer this kind) we see today on screen and in print. Devlin is a described as a man with a ‘perpetual lop-sided smile on his face, as though life had played a cruel joke on him and he figured the best thing to do was to laugh at it’. He is a man on a mission for the Nazis, but he manages to have a wonderfully narrated love affair with an 18 year old girl he meets in the tiny little village called Norfolk, which is the setting for most of the events in the book. He has to blend in with the village folk, which he does by playing the typical Guinness-loving, bog-trotting Irishman to the hilt. This part of the book is all Devlin; it is here that his charisma really shines through. He has killed often, and can be ruthless when required; but most of the time he’s almost unbearably cheerful, never seeming to take life seriously. Still, as with most of Higgins' characters, there is an air of wistful sadness/cynicism about him, which only added to my fascination for him.

Why Liam Devlin? For being the only character, among all of these, I secretly wanted to be like.

Paul Atreides, Dune

I have seen this place in a dream, he thought.
The thought was both reassuring and frustrating. Somewhere ahead of him on this path, the fanatic hordes cut their gory path across the universe in his name. The green and black Atreides banner would become a symbol of terror. Wild legions would charge into battle screaming their war cry: "Muad'Dib!"
It must not be, he thought. I cannot let it happen.


Paul, son of Duke Leto Atreides, newly appointed regent of the desert planet Arrakis/Dune, the only known source of the drug/spice mélange, arrives on the planet at the tender age of fifteen. And almost immediately escapes an assassination attempt. Thus begins what is considered to be science fiction’s answer to the Lord of the Rings, Frank Herbert’s the Dune Chronicles.

Herbert has borrowed heavily from Islam; references are found everywhere in the book. Dune, the first book in the series, is easily the best, though the third book, Children of Dune, comes close to equaling the sheer power of the first. The first book chronicles the rise of an Islam-like religion, with Paul as the equivalent of the Prophet Mohammed (he is even called Muad’dib, which sounds a lot like Mohammed). His prophetic visions are the result of spice-trances; in other words, he sees the future when he gets high. But Herbert adds a new spin to this: Paul doesn’t really see the future; he merely foresees various possible futures, out of which only one or two are viable. This basically means that unless he follows the path that leads to these ‘good’ futures, all is lost. Naturally, these paths are fraught with danger, not only to himself, but to his near and dear ones as well. He has to make sacrifices, all for the greater good that will be the result of his actions/choices. The sequels deal with the complicated politics and power-play that accompany any newly established religious government, as well as the implications of Prophet-hood on Paul and those close to him.

Paul is a hero in every sense of the word; he can fight, he is a Mentat, which basically means he’s a human computer, and how could I forget, he predicts the future too (a superb reason is given for his possessing all these abilities). But along with all this he still retains his sense of humanity. He tries his best to make sure the future his manipulations will lead to is the most humane, the one that’ll entail minimum killing (even though his Jihad leads to the deaths of millions).

Why Paul Atreides? Ah, because he was almost God, wasn't he?

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

Nitwit. Oddment. Blubber. Tweak.

Because when the seventh book comes out, I'm actually going to miss him.

P.S. The reason I haven't really told you a lot about these characters is because I hope I have provided just enough info to make you curious enough to actually check out the books. I think it'll be worth it. And I'm starting a new kind of tag with this post, hopefully more meaningful and more fun. I'd like you people to write about atleast two fictional characters, in print or on screen, who have really affected you. It can be done any way, not necessarily the way I've done it. Anybody who's interested can do it.

60 Comments:

At 9:45 PM, Blogger xtremely_insane said...

aaaaaah dear dumbledore!! yeah the seventh book made me,well,sad. as for the others, mmm i dont know much about them yet,thnx for the info.

 
At 10:01 PM, Blogger Ashmi said...

hey!i simply loved this post especially coz all the characters you admire are complex and undoutedbly interesting ones...haven't read any of these books but if can finish the bbok that i'm reading at present then i'll surely try reading at least one of them....the three most interesting characters that i admire are Heathcliff in "wuthering heights",Scarlett O Hara and Rhett Butler in "Gone with the wind" and Carton in "The tale of two cities"...there are more to the list...coz they are too good or bad to be true.

 
At 10:07 PM, Blogger ladyparadox said...

i never thought i would come across another person who reads offbeat books. yaaay! i stand corrected. brilliant choice of characters i say, old chap! quite spiffing and all that! The blog was a jolly good show, wot? heheheheh!

My favorite hero is the phantom - not just his lifestyle, but coz he has these cool 'sayings' - like - "an anrgy phantom freezes tigers blood." - old jungle saying. heheheh!

 
At 10:35 PM, Blogger vibha said...

complex characters and good quotes.

 
At 11:36 PM, Blogger A Hairy Snail said...

Yeah baby! Liam Devlin is a class apart.

But Dumbledore is brilliant in the first three books. Somehow during and after the Goblet of Fire he became a tad bit too serious. But miss him, we all will.

 
At 4:00 AM, Blogger cherubic_chipmunk said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 6:57 AM, Blogger cherubic_chipmunk said...

I'd be happy to take ur tag da- it'll certainly b a welcome change from the ordinary ones...and as for the books n characters u've mentioned here,I've not heard of Devlin or dune-and for the Forsyth book,dogs of war,though I own a copy,I've never read it for more than 10 pages or so-don' really kno the reason for that but now that U hav said,I'll try 2 finish it...and I've been trying hard to somhow lay my hands on His dark materials-som kins of mine recommended the book.It'd be very kind of u if u can lend me de book if u hav it in hostel...And of'corse all of us will miss dumbledore but somwher in de back of my mind i feel rowling will hav an interesting twist in de final book...and do drop by my blog somtime,though there aint anything of gr8 interest 2 u,I'd b honored if u wud...

 
At 7:22 AM, Blogger Nenlos said...

I've played the computer game 'Dune' but i was never a game junkie.
Will miss Dumbledore.
I'm done with the tag post.

 
At 1:20 PM, Blogger Neha said...

i have just read the last book out of all of them.. I'll definitely miss dumbledore, infact I'm still hoping he'll be back somehow!!

Definitely made me interested in the books ..:)
Oh and i also read ur other post incidently, the one where u mentioned your admiration ;) that was a good one!

 
At 8:36 PM, Blogger Accidental Fame Junkie said...

I am impressed because you mention Lyra and Iorek. Lyra and Will have been great protagonists to look upto. I will probably take up this tag and continue it. But I need to think first!

Thanks so much for writing about Pullman.

 
At 3:27 AM, Blogger the Monk said...

@Ashmi: I considered Carton, but Dickens isn't really popular fiction, you know...Yup, Heathcliff was a great character too...
@Ladyparadox: I was absolutely nuts about the Phantom when I was a kid...Now the sayings seem just funny though, and provide enormous scope for improvisation, example: When the Phantom farts, the whole jungle knows...
@junkie: you should read Dune...I think you'll like it, having liked Pullman...

 
At 7:46 AM, Blogger Phoenix Rises said...

I've sadly and unfortunatly not heard of the first 4 books. They do sound quite interesting. As I was reading through this post, I was thinking of the many characters in books that I've read that have remained with me still. I'm going to take this tag and come up with my "literary heroes".
I was quite heartbroken when Dumbledore died. Even when the funeral was taking place, I was hoping for a miracle to occur, and for Dumbledore to rise from his coffin. Well, that was not to be... :(

 
At 12:43 AM, Blogger Shy said...

i still wanna believe dubbledore is alive. nitwit blubber oddement tweak !!!!! he was great

shy

 
At 1:58 AM, Blogger Anjali said...

Yup, Liam Devlin was totally cool. Just the sort of cynical, tormented yet unflappable soul to make adolescent female hearts beat harder.
Yes, that was a shamefaced confession :)

 
At 2:46 AM, Blogger anuj said...

hey whens ur exms ??

sorry havent heard any of them :(

 
At 4:37 AM, Blogger aria said...

Lovely write-up n good choice too ..particularly liked the qoutes .. I hv read a couple of books mentioned n rest I'm gonna hunt for ..so thnks for tht ..
Btw Forsyth is my favorite ..

 
At 12:56 AM, Blogger dee iyer said...

sarcasm and profundity are a fun combination .. :)

 
At 12:56 AM, Blogger dee iyer said...

sarcasm and profundity are a fun combination .. :)

 
At 2:00 AM, Blogger Shy said...

i am tagged ?????? i'll do it

 
At 3:07 AM, Blogger ~*. D E E P A .* ~ said...

looks like i am pretty late :((((

 
At 3:08 AM, Blogger ~*. D E E P A .* ~ said...

i like Dirk Pitt .... ( Clive Cussler's hero )

 
At 3:08 AM, Blogger ~*. D E E P A .* ~ said...

will b back soon .. w./ a list of my fav char

 
At 4:40 AM, Blogger Shy said...

done wit tag post.

see it !!!

 
At 4:40 AM, Blogger Obi Wan said...

Great work. Know all of them except Paul Atreides, never really got my hands on Dune, though have wanted to start the series for some time now. Guess this post was the motivation I needed!!!
Lyra and Iorek- what a combination! Pullman really is God!
Interesting tag, will definitely write about my heroes very soon, but with a twist- my heroes will be from the world of movies too!

 
At 7:40 AM, Blogger karuna said...

Your right i haven't read any of those... no not even harry potter and that one i dont intend to read, some of hte rest however have made me curious.
*sigh* will i ever get through my progressively multiplying reading list.

 
At 9:49 AM, Blogger Mirage said...

Wo! What a list! I was fond of such fictional heroes...bt dont have a fav yet...

neway, good post buddy! :)

 
At 12:34 AM, Blogger ~*. D E E P A .* ~ said...

i like :

The Professor in Bang Bang you are dead

Michael Corleone and The Godfather in The Godfather

Scarlet O'Hara in Gone With The Wind

and above all

H O W A R D R O A R K
and
D O M I N I Q U E
in
The FountainHead

 
At 1:51 AM, Blogger Shy said...

if ya din';t hear I AM DONE WIT UR TAG

shy

 
At 3:08 AM, Blogger Shy said...

ya i have read eldest the second part of eragon triolgy not eragon.

 
At 3:47 AM, Blogger Shy said...

hi!!u r tagged. on my blog chk my blog out (www.shysblog.blogspot.com).. do do the tag !! the topic of the tag is 'Ten Phrases or Words I Often Use(like I dunno, wassup). ya know.
DO THE TAG, be a sport come on !
by the way ur blog is looking gr8.

shy

 
At 8:08 AM, Blogger the Monk said...

@ms. Iyer: Indeed, they are...
@shy: yup, I did see your tag...
@anuj:my exams are over, and our 6th sem has begun...
@deepa:interesting list...

 
At 10:23 PM, Blogger Dreamcatcher said...

Interesting post. thought provoking - shall do the tag when i get time.

 
At 11:55 PM, Blogger Shy said...

if ya tell ya me email id, will ya delete it later, on ur blog ?? or shuld I mail it 2 ya ?? c'mon privacy matters, guys ! try 2 make a tag on your blog please !!!!!!!!!!!! i like to avoid mails.

shy

 
At 12:47 AM, Blogger San said...

an interesting selection of characters, I've not read all of these books but this post is making me want to go dig them out.

:)

 
At 1:44 AM, Blogger Ellie said...

Awesome collection!This is almost the first time when someone has acknowledges Pullman's existence!Its heinous a crime to find that so-called 'well read junta' doesn't even know that it was Amber Spyglass that evicted Harry Potter out of the best seller's list!:) Way to go..

Dumbledore :( :( Well..he was DUMBLEDORE of course...have already cried a lot in my own post after I read the book.

Rhett Butler, Dagny Taggart, Elizabeth Dashwood are a few of mine ...will try and follow up the tag soon..and the rest of the books have zoomed really high up on the must-read list!:)Nice review.

 
At 7:41 AM, Blogger Vasu said...

I love Dumbledore... He's one of the most dignified yet approchable characters that one can find in fiction.
I dun think these attributes often go together

 
At 11:24 AM, Blogger Lightning Bug's Butt said...

What about Hank Reardon, Ayn Rand?

 
At 3:46 PM, Blogger sinusoidally said...

You are so well read, I feel dumb.

I liked reading your post. :-)

 
At 7:45 AM, Blogger Viveka said...

i luuuvvvv dumbledore 2...like hell we r gonnna miss him...good post...:)

 
At 10:17 AM, Blogger Neha said...

thanku so much!!
merry christmas!
have a blast :)

 
At 1:19 PM, Blogger Jithu said...

wishing u a merry christmas and a happy new year man! enjoy..

 
At 10:46 PM, Blogger the Monk said...

People, Have a great Christmas...

 
At 6:43 AM, Blogger Aditi said...

i loved Iorek too when i read dark materials...btw, have u read To Kill A Mockingbird? Atticus Finch is another memorable character

 
At 9:32 PM, Blogger Incognito said...

Fictional heroes .. Wanted to write about them. But I am ignorant of yours. So cannot comment much.
Never read Forsyth. Have 'The fist of God'. But always leaned back. Dont know why. You have any recommendations to start with?

Yes, we'll miss Dumbledore.

 
At 10:53 PM, Blogger Guruprasad Kini (Guru) said...

Cool! Read "Dogs of Wars" during my Forsyth trip way back in college but overlooked Cat Shannon's char-dev, I guess.
Dumbledore sure rocks (or rocked)!
I hated the whole Dune series personally (I was looking for SFF stuff, a la Star Wars) but the most character in the first was Gurney Halleck. Cool dude, liked him more than Paul.
This has inspired me to write a similar article myself - which I will soon.
Wish you a Merry X'mas and a Happy New Year! Cheers - G

 
At 12:10 AM, Blogger ~*. D E E P A .* ~ said...

hope u had a great xmas at ur insti ...

c ya

 
At 12:35 AM, Blogger dee iyer said...

I loved the first quote .Im going to use it ? ok ?

 
At 1:20 AM, Anonymous godolphin said...

man thats so interesting! well i liked most of the character u mentioned too!

 
At 5:18 AM, Blogger manuscrypts said...

interesting :)

 
At 9:01 AM, Blogger the Monk said...

@aditi: Nope, Harper Lee, right?it's on my list...
@incognito:Uh, I dunno...always better if you find out for yourself...maybe Icon...
@guru: yeah, Gurney was great too...
@deepa:it was ok...
@ms. Iyer:sure...

 
At 3:57 AM, Blogger Apoorv Gawde said...

Liam Devlin is totally cool, Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, Dusty (Guns of Navarone), Batman, Anand (from the movie Anand) are the characters that first come to mind.

 
At 8:01 PM, Blogger ~*. D E E P A .* ~ said...

happy new year !

[in advance ]

 
At 1:22 AM, Blogger Arunima said...

umm, you read a lot.

 
At 4:06 AM, Blogger Canary said...

after these never ending list of comments.. im sure mine will be easily ignored..boohoohoo..
anyways, happy new year..

 
At 11:01 AM, Blogger the Monk said...

thanks a lot,ppl....have a great year...

 
At 10:34 PM, Blogger Shy said...

u intend to post more..

 
At 11:07 PM, Blogger the Monk said...

@shy:Yes, in a couple of days...

 
At 6:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out http://www.dumbledoreisnotdead.com/ :)
~ R

 
At 10:23 PM, Blogger Sphinx said...

Have you tried any of Leon Uris books? You might wanna check out Exodus, Trinity, Battle cry, Armageddon. Who knows, you might end up with another hero on the list? :-)

 
At 11:39 PM, Blogger Dreamer Gray said...

Paul Atreides was a brilliant character; I agree with guru, so was Gurney.

Have you read the two prequel trilogies to Dune? One trilogy was the House Atreides/Harkonnen/Corrino one; and the other was the Butlerian Jihad/Machine Crusade/Battle of Corrin one. Both are awesome, and provide so many more incredible characters, it's unbelievable. A particular favourite would be Leto Atreides, Paul's dad, from The Houses trilogy.

 

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