I’m taking a break from political blogging today since I have two political columns to write later and don’t wish to spoil my mood this early in the day.
It’s getting harder and harder to find something enjoyable to write about when it comes to politics. How many different ways can you write “They all suck?” Or come up with amusing ways to accuse the left of treason? Or the right of being heartless monsters? I’ve exhausted the thesaurus coming up with hateful adjectives to describe the utter stupidity of it all.
Besides, the left hasn’t really done anything treasonous lately which has kind of put a crimp in my style. It is very hard to save western civilization from the perfidy of liberals if they don’t cooperate by doing something totally outrageous and unpatriotic. So I would hope all my lefty friends would get their heads together and come up with some really gross, spectacularly anti-American action like spitting on John Wayne’s picture or something.
I probably won’t have too long to wait if the past is any guide…
And how in God’s name can I maintain my undeserved reputation as a basher of extremists on both sides of the political spectrum if the religious right behaves itself for more than 24 hours and doesn’t call for jailing homosexuals or burning feminists at the stake?
Best leave the former to Obama. As for the latter, Halloween is coming up and maybe someone will mistake Hillary for a real witch. If I was her, I wouldn’t go anywhere near Salem for a few days…
So what’s a blogger to do? I suppose I could write about sports but given the state of my dearly Beloved Bears, that’s a very sore subject at this point. And does anyone beside me really care that the Red Sox won the World Series?
In the past, I’ve given my top tens on a wide variety of subjects; Star Trek, movie villains, movie scores, movie lines. It’s a fun way to pass the time and always gets me in trouble with my readers whose choices are different from my own.
In fact, my experience with ranking Star Trek movies and series reminds me today of writing anything about Ron Paul; the nuts come out of the woodwork and use the most vile, personal language to tell me I’m wrong. The fact that most Paul supporters are reminiscent of Borg Drones is also somewhat relevant, although I’d give the Borg the edge in original thinking.
At any rate, in wracking my brains for something to write it suddenly dawned on me that a list of my favorite heroes of all time (since I did a piece on my favorite villains already) would be an interesting exercise.
What I found to my surprise was that almost all of my heroes are mythic heroes – real or imagined people who represent the best in all of us – the kind of people we should aspire to be; selfless, brave, fair, and with a personality larger than life.
Indeed, some of my mythic heroes are not the most attractive of characters. But their personalities were so gigantic that they dominated their world and had their contemporaries marveling at their deeds.
My choices and the ranking of them is sure to start an good debate in the comments. I have lifted the comment moderation function so that we can get a good back and forth going.
10. John Wayne
Probably isn’t close to most people’s top ten but think about it; is there any other film actor whose personae has leaped beyond the screen and made an impact on the consciousness of a nation? He is both icon and voodoo doll, a symbol of all that is good and evil about the United States depending on your point of view. To this day, he is the quintessential American in many parts of the world.
He was in many ways an unlovely character in the movies. He was loud, brash, given to speechifying and could be ruthless in pursuit of his goals. But he was also generous, fair to a fault, courageous, and self sacrificing. The world could do a lot worse in judging America by the actions of John Wayne in the movies.
9. King Kong
Yes, “’tis beauty killed the beast.” But oh what a beast! Kong has heroic qualities every male should aspire to; he was chivalrous, gentle, emotionally grounded, solicitous of his mate’s feelings and very protective. I much prefer the 1933 Kong to Peter Jackson’s overwrought 2005 release although the latter day ape certainly looks and acts more human.
Kong’s tragedy was in the unrequited love he felt for Fay Wray. It was a relationship that was impossible – not because they were different species but because of his size. And, of course, he could never fit in her world any more than she could live in his. But as a mythic hero, Kong had few equals in film history.
To the Italians, he is Orlando. In Spain, he is Rolando. To a half dozen other European countries, he exists in myth as the ultimate knight. Anyone who garners this much admiration has to make the top ten list.
Some believe Roland was a real person who died fighting the Muslims in the 13th century. If so, I hope he had his magic sword and horn with him when he perished. The Song of Roland may be one of the most inspiring works in western culture. I picture him in my minds eye as a tall, tow headed figure who fought for justice and against oppression.
7. El Cid
Yes, he was a real man (Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar) whose deeds were immortalized in one of Charlton Heston’s greatest roles. A hero in battle for both Spain and the Moors, at first glance, he may not be the most lovely of historical figures. He was vain and apparently something of a thief not to mention his desire to carve out his own kingdom later on in his life.
Ah, but the legend of El Cid is what concerns us. And the mythic Cid was every bit the hero. A tireless fighter for King Alfonso and Spain, he served his King even when he knew his sovereign was wrong – a sign of fealty that was probably not the case in real life but is certainly appealing. The film also depicts the legendary scene of Rodrigo’s death when, after getting shot by an arrow in a battle against the Berber invaders, he makes his wife Jimena promise that he will be at the head of his troops the next day no matter what. Jimena keeps her word after the Cid dies during the night by dressing him in his best armor and strapping him to his horse, sending him out at the head of his troops and leading them to victory.
Defeating an enemy while you are dead would get you on this list even if he had been a real jerk.
6. King Arthur
So much has been written about this guy that even the legends get confusing. In popular culture, you have your choice among a singing Arthur, an ex-Roman knight, an earnest demigod who has the help of a wizard to keep power, or Sean Connery dressed in a real cool blue tunic with Richard Gere not really wanting Julie Ormond but just unable to help himself.
I prefer an amalgam of the legends as portrayed in L’Morte D’Arthur. A great warrior as well as a respected leader, Arthur inspired those around him to be their best and live up to an impossible standard – the effort itself being life’s reward. As far his example of chivalrous behavior and sacrificing himself, their are elements of the life of Jesus in the story that are quite compelling.
5. Robin Hood
The legends and songs have worn well over the centuries. He is an “everyman” hero in that his deeds are used to underscore qualities in many eras from the age of chivalry to the present.
Like Siegfried and unlike Roland, his stories have remained constant through the ages; his love for Marian, the archery tournament, his first meeting with Little John – all the familiar parts of the narrative shown in a half dozen films about Robin Hood were told around medieval campfires and by Troubadours.
My favorite guy in the bible, bar none. He seems so real a person, afflicted with vanity and hubris as well as an independent streak that you kind of get mad at God for punishing. After all, it wasn’t his fault that he lost his hair.
But for making the case of man as mythic beast, Samson wins hands down. Slaying an entire army with the jawbone of an ass? Perfect metaphor for war, don’t you think? And taking your enemies with you when you go is a nice touch.
One of the more complex mythic heroes in that his deeds certainly make him a standout on anyone’s top ten list but his faults were equally gigantic. Overweening pride, over confidence in his own abilities (even thinking himself equal to the Gods), and a rather unattractive trickery to his methods all combine to paint him as an untrustworthy but courageous warrior.
But it was his long, eventful trip home after the Trojan War that makes Odysseus one of the most remarkable figures in literature. Taking everything the Gods could throw at him and triumphing in the end (with the help of a couple of friendly deities) pegs Odysseus as one who overcame incredible odds to succeed. And once home, his sweet revenge on his wife’s suitors is one of the most shocking scenes imaginable.
The film will be out next month and I’m not particularly anxious to see it given Hollywood’s treatment of classic literature (Brad Pitt as Achilles? Really now!). But the character of Beowulf has no rivals for the sheer power of his personality and awe inspiring deeds.
He not only killed the monster Grendel but Grendel’s mother too! And if the unnamed author had thought of it, it would have been great if he had slain the monster’s father as well so marvelously drawn were the fight scenes.
Defeating Grendel by tearing his arm off after battling him hand to hand for the entire night is just great storytelling. No human weapons had any effect on the the monsters so Beowulf had to rely on his strength and courage to defeat the both Grendel and his mother. The victory made Beowulf an object of worship by the people which, while unseemly, seems about right given the ferociousness of both.
What makes Beowulf stand out for me was the nature of the enemy; terrifying and pitiless. His victory over the monsters remains the most heroic acts of courage in western literature.
1. John Carter of Mars
Surprise! I told you that these were not necessarily the most scholarly choices or even the most logical. These are my favorite mythic heroes and for my number one, I choose John Carter, Edgar Rice Burroughs swashbuckling, impossibly perfect earthling who is magically transported to Mars where for 10 pulse pounding, mind blowing books, he saves the planet as well as his “incomparable” wife Dejah Thoris.
The best adventures are contained in the first three books where his skill as a swordsman and the sheer audacity of his personality unite all the creatures of Mars – 4 armed green men, black skinned men, white skinned men, and the dominant red skins – in a one world government.
Carter exhibits all the attributes of a mythic hero; handsome, strong, protector of the weak, fair minded, decisive, and the greatest swordsman who ever lived. And his wild Martian adventures make a splendid canvass that Burroughs paints his portrait of the perfect hero over. A truly remarkable series of books that has enthralled generations of youngsters since they came out before World War I.
Well, that’s my list. Let’s see you do better in the comments.