Tag Archives: humble hero

Grimm (TV Show)

Well, I guess I will foray into television shows. Probably will not do that very often, but since the Grimm’s Fairy Tales were among my favorites (and still are) I wanted to write about this show. The show starts with the premise that the Grimm’s fairy tales were warnings, not just stories. Warnings from people who could see the underlying monsters in what otherwise appears to be people to those who cannot. Those that see the monsters are called Grimms and those that cannot are everyone else.

For instance, the story of the big bad wolf and little red riding hood are based on the ‘real’ existence of Blutbaden. Basically the people/ monsters what do this undergo a physical change mostly related to their faces, and physiological changes like added strength when they take their monster form. The main character is a new Grimm (apparently the ability to see these monsters comes after a related Grimm dies.) who is also a police detective. Well, enough with this, the real question is how is it in terms of fairy tales.

The show has two failings. This first is actually only a partial failing. It seems like most really evil things done by people are actually done by the bad wesen (generic name for the shape changers). This is really more of a fault of the setting. For instance, every detective show features way too many clever murders, so here, obviously all the nasty things done are done by the wesen. This strikes against the nature of man. However, the show does redeem itself by using these wesen as models of a very Christian understanding of the nature of man. If one looks at the wesen, the bad ones are driven by evil desires they are born with. However, a few we meet are actively fighting their nature to try to be good. This is never represented as the wrong thing for the wesen. For instance the main secondary character is a reformed blutbad (werewolf) who fights his evil nature in a way strikingly reminiscent of the battle between the old Adam and the new man in a Christian.

The other failing is that it took a while to warm up. The first few episodes were fairly predictable and almost lame. The show hobbles along on the crutches of a few unique ideas and the hope that they will pick up some of the darkness from the Grimm’s fairy tales. Because, really, without darkness, the light of hope of the hero (which in Grimm’s is an ordinary fellow trying to do the right thing.) looks tepid. However, sometime around episode four the story catches up with the feeling of the Grimm’s fairy tales, and by episode 10 the show is downright macabre.

So, to sum up, the show is a fun twist on fairy tales, while it took a while for it to catch the right spirit, it has turned out to be a great re-look at some of the best, most insightful, most human storytelling of all time. (That would be Grimm itself. Don’t believe me, ask Chesterton 🙂 ) The show also gives a realistic portrayal of the trials of sinful people in its main character, and its major supporting characters.

Charles Williams (War in Heaven)

If you are looking for a new author, here is one you might not have heard of/ decided to read. Although he was an associate of C. S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams for some reason has managed to escape the notice of many. This is a great shame. His novels are strong, brave, philosophical and complex. For now, though, I will write a little bit about my favorite, because this is my blog 🙂 For beginning with Charles Williams I suggest War in Heaven.

War in Heaven is about a war to protect the Holy Grail in modern (at Williams’ time) England.  The battle takes place between an unlikely set of men called to be guards of the Grail, and a man much like Dr. Weston from C. S. Lewis’ ‘Out of the Silent Planet’.  The best distinction here, however, is that Lewis’ character is scientific who is taken over by supernatural evil, Williams’ character starts with the knowledge that the supernatural exists, and seeks to take and use it to his own ends. This same character shows up in the book ‘Many Dimensions’ as well.  This character uses different tactic and means to steal the Grail.

I don’t really want to discuss the plot or hash it out. I do want to comment on two things that are more generally related to Charles Williams than perhaps War in Heaven. These are 1) The archetype characters and 2) William’s treatment of the spiritual, the supernatural, as real, everyday experiences.

First, the characters. These characters are so solid, so true to the kinds of people you meet, that they are living breathing archetypes. (Like when the Archetypes get lose in The Place of the Lion also by Williams.) Characters are not exactly like real people, (Not like Mr. Micawber anyway) but the sum up people very well. In fact, I would swear that a character in War in Heaven is modeled after me (and my Mom would too) if it weren’t that I was born an 30-40 years too lat (At least) and an ocean away.

Second, and perhaps more important, is Williams introduction of spiritual warfare as humble. Unlike the spiritual warfare one finds in Frank Peretti and so forth, these spiritual warriors are not special. They live with flaws and as if God’s grace really is sufficient for them. Another import aspect is that sometimes they are required to do things (Like Ransom finally has to actually physically fight the un-man in Perelandra.)

I guess this is a bit short. My mind is a little pre-occupied with a few sonnets I am trying to write, to crush my opposition. But, if you want a new author, Charles Williams is a great place to start. Other than War in Heaven, I think All Hallow’s Eve, The Place of the Lion, Many Dimensions, and Descent into Hell, and The Greater Trumps, to be great… ok, that is probably most of them except Shadows of Ecstasy which, quite frankly, I will have to try again. I sort of felt I missed something the whole time. (Might have been the shadows… or perhaps I never saw the ecstasy….)  I guess every author one reads probably has at least one book that has that effect on any given reader… (Like Chesterton’s Manalive…. Just never clicked for me)

The Superman

Take a good look at this man:

This is my model for discussing the superhero. As I have mentioned in passing, I believe that Superman and his ilk actually represent neither the Christian nor democratic* idea of a hero. Let us consider Superman’s traits: strength, x-ray vision, ability to fly etc. all due what amount to be genetic superiority. He is the last of a super race of people from a planet called Krypton. Now, while he uses his powers for ‘Truth, Justice, and the American way’ the mentality of his creators, of his archetype, and also that of Superman/Clark Kent himself is distinctly Nietzschean.

Nietzsche taught ideas like the will to power, that actions are justified by the power of the one committing them. However, the most obvious connection is the Übermensch (Superman). This is the man whose will, whose power is so much above all others that he has the natural right to rule mankind. Well, I really do not intend to discuss Nietzsche more. Suffice it to point out that the combination of Nietzsche and Darwin was horrifying and terrifying in Hitler.

However, Superman, and all other superhero’s of this category, fall easily into the category with Achilles, Siegfried, Aeneas and every pagan hero of legend, and many modern superheros. These characters are strong and powerful by nature of their birth, their parentage, and being ultra-powerful, they are exempt from the moral codes of the normal people around them. Sure Superman fights off villains of super (if odd) villainy, but he also: lies, stalks Lois Lane, turns back time for his own reasons and so forth. These are little compared to what Achilles got away with, but it proves the point that the two fall into the same category.

So, what is the Christian hero like? Well, keeping with comic books so as to limit doctrinal discussion, let us look at Batman.

Ok, now that we have looked at Batman, the us consider his traits. He is human, flawed and does many things wrong. This is a key difference already with Superman. When Superman acts it is assumed to be the right thing, when Batman acts we hold him to human standards. (Which standards we should hold Superman too as well.)  He gets his ‘power’ through determination, training, and his dad’s money. No matter how good of a thing he has done, he avoids the accolades that would come his way. In the most recent movies, (thanks to Christopher Nolen, batman is awesome) Batman is an individual trying to do the right thing. He is an individual with an inordinate amount of training and vast amounts of money, but he acts in such a way as to do the role that he can do, the sacrificial role. In The Dark Knight, while Batman is the one who wins the physical battle against the Joker, Gotham (and specifically Gotham’s criminals) win the moral battle.

So, Superman is a good model of the pagan superhero, and Batman (at least in his recent incarnation) embodies fairly well the Christian hero. As for the others, of course they may fit one place or the other. I have compiled a list that I think might help categorize the heroes of any story into one of these two categories. (Or at least to find which category is the best fit)

 Pagan/ Nietzschean/elitist:

  • Has powers, or abilities based solely on pedigree (genetics)
  • Is less responsible to moral judgment in relation to the increase of his power
  • Disrespect of ‘normal’ people (disregard of laws etc)
  • Whether or not he does the right thing, there is little personal cost
  • Not expected to sacrifice much or anything

Christian/democratic:

  • Has power based on determination and hard work
  • Is held (by author, by readers/ audience) to the same moral standard of everyone else real or fictional
  • Respect for and camaraderie with, eminently average people
  • Does the right thing regardless and in spite of personal cost
  • Sacrifices himself, his goals, his reputation, and his life (in increasing order)

(* For the connection between Christianity and democracy… read some G. K. Chesterton…)

Treason: Orson Scott Card

This is actually a story of honor and fidelity, despite perception of treason. The obvious reason the book is called Treason is that the planet on which it takes place is known as Treason. The more subtle reasons for the name treason come in the plot of the book. The main character Lanik Mueller, is believed to have been more than treasonous. Various people throughout the book believe he has committed treason. Later it is believed that he did worse, that he actively lead armies that pillaged and destroyed his homeland (due to a look-alike…). Another good reason is that the book is actually about the opposite of treason.

The simple cause of the planet’s name was that millennia before the book takes place, the best and brightest families in the galaxy were exiled to this planet for staging a coup against the government. Ostensibly because they were tired of having their great intellect and abilities being used by the masses without having a say themselves, however it revealed later that they may have all been deceived. How this is revealed, I will not say (it gives away major plot) but it is so.

On this planet, there are no hard metals that would enable these really smart people to build spaceships or weapons, they can only acquire iron through the ‘Ambassadors’, machines in each family’s (read kingdom) capitol that will trade iron for things the great people think of. Since small amounts of iron go a long way in battlefield dominance, the great families become basically idea slaves, though they do not realize it.

The major SciFi catch in the novel is that, in order to get enough iron to ‘build a spaceship and leave’ (never is enough sent, just enough to make the wars between families bloodier) each family perfects what it originally did. The story revolves around a young man named Lanik Mueller, whose family has perfected genetic engineering and breeding, making themselves able to regenerate whole limbs and survive almost any injury. Lanik, however, is a radical regenerative which means he grows back even things he doesn’t need, extra arms, legs, breasts… etc. Even though he is the king’s son, he is exiled.

Lanik learns many things, learns skills of other families (especially ones thought to no longer exist) and discovers the horrible plot planned by a race of deceivers. These people can make people think they see whatever they (the deceivers) wish. Lanik who has learned to adjust his time flow goes around the whole world and exterminates them.

I perhaps have gone too far into the story, although I do not think I have given anything away. The most important things I wanted to bring up required this much information. Namely, there is a great debate about Lanik’s final actions, of exterminating an entire race. However this is not phrased correctly. The true way to describe the different families is the ideas, and the battle of those ideas. All the different groups that Lanik meets are defined by their ideas and their moral fiber (or lack thereof). As such, when Lanik exterminates the ‘race’ of deceivers, it is much more like he is killing the ideas that motivate them, and the horrible powers they have.

Many other deep and difficult ideas are explored in the book, but I do not want to emphasize them too much. I often write about the ideas in the fiction since many readers miss the fact that ideas and philosophy are vital to the story they are reading. However, this book was a fantastic read. The language control that Orson Scott Card displays is really impressive, and the story is tightly knit, without any flab or distraction, just story. Treason is a great book to spend a few days with (or an afternoon, if you read fast and without breaks) and it also grapples with difficult ideas. I would complain that Lanik is not a believable hero, that he is too much like the ubermensch,  except that enough of the people in this world have ‘superpowers’ that claim would be false. In fact, so others are powerful that Lanik’s only claim to be better than others is his determination, and his desire to do what is right and best for his home. Quite an impressive feat of imagination of OSC’s account, making a super powered man like a humble hero, impressive indeed.

Dracula: Bram Stoker

I think it is certainly unnecessary to recap the story of Dracula. It has riveted the imagination of enough people, and created almost innumerable spin-offs. However, the actual book Dracula seems to have gotten lost amidst its many descendants. Modern vampire stories, almost exclusively in film, usually fall into a different category altogether from the original. There are the ‘good’ vampire stories, the glorification of the vampire stories, and especially the stories of the special elite ‘hunter’ who terminates vampires and looks cool while he does it. (I’m looking at you, Van Helsing.) None of these capture the spirit of the original Dracula, which is gripping, but not graphic. It a masterpiece that implies and leaves off-stage the really vile things that Dracula does. More importantly, however, is the ethic that it adheres to. This is the principal that I will call the humble warrior. The people who fight Dracula are only extraordinary in their courage and determination, in all other ways they are ordinary. They do not battle Dracula with the power of an ancient bloodline nor with vampiric  powers of their own only used for good, but with the determination and courage of solid folk.

I remember reading somewhere (unfortunately I cannot remember where, otherwise I would credit properly) the notion that Dracula himself is villain uniquely horrible to Christian belief. Of course, a vile undead being that drinks blood to perpetuate its unhappy life is a universally upsetting character. However, the vampire is the evil, twisted, analog of the Sacrament of the Altar. In the Eucharist, Christ gives his body and blood to ‘everlasting life’. In Dracula, the monster drinks people’s blood as a demonic perverse eucharist.

I contend that this is only half the picture. It is true that Dracula is a horrible perversion of the doctrine of the Eucharist, upon reading the book there is no real doubt. The real Eucharist is used to cleanse the monsters hideouts, and protect the people. However, the other half the picture, the half I want to point out, is that in Dracula, the heroes are also of a uniquely Christian archetype. This is the archetype of the humble warrior. In almost every modern story, an elite fighter, someone with special, Nietzschean superman powers, is required to overcome the vampire. This is the hero of pagan man. This is Achilles, half god, dipped into a river of immortality; this is not St George, the Roman soldier. It is the idea of the humble warrior that runs through the book Dracula that makes it especially pleasing to read. The people are not immune to the assaults of the monster, they are not stronger, or cleverer, or anything except brave, and full of faith. This is the hero of the common man. That is, an ordinary man (and his wife and a few others) put into extraordinary situations, and persevering through vary dark trials with courage and resolute character, and finally conquering the monster. This is a truly democratic hero.

So yes, I do recommend the actual Dracula. It is written as a series of journal entries and letters, a style I find tiring, but the story, the villain and especially the grand humble heroes are worth it.