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

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.