• Jason

5 Heroes that Turned Things Topsy-Turvy

Tor.com has this 5-book thing they do that often initiates conversations and/or invites new reads. After skimming yet another, I thought I'd share a set of 5 of my own. I've gone for the 'this character/author did something to rock my understandings' vibe and restricted selection -- not to the fantastical -- but strictly to the heroic. Fair forewarning - spoiler alert.


Max Brand's THE SEVENTH MAN (1921) literally devastated me as a young impressionable lad. An avid reader of Westerns and with many Max Brand titles beneath my belt, I came to Dan Barry in this book, not knowing it was the third to feature the impossibly gifted and immensely misunderstood figure. A fourth title completes the Dan Barry story, but unfortunately does not feature the hero - who did not survive this book. Prior to this, I had never lost a hero I dreamed of being. Sure, I'd experienced the death of team members, second-string characters, sidekicks; never the star of the show. I was dumbfounded and heartbroken. Immediately, I found and read the first two books and cried again at having lost such a man, then again after reading the fourth. I have obsessively adored Dan Barry ever since: he is the first character I would become if ever a djinn granted me three wishes. The Dan Barry cycle consists of THE UNTAMED (1919), THE NIGHT HORSEMAN (1920), THE SEVENTH MAN (1921), and DAN BARRY'S DAUGHTER (1924).

Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman gave me Raistlin Majere in Dragonlance (introduced in 1984, the particular book shared on the left collects Raistlin's 1997-99 duology). Super powerful mage with a darkness to his soul who had a twin brother who was more like my usual idolized hero. Caramon, the hugely muscled, axe-wielding, big-hearted warrior who put his brother first. But I loved Raistlin more, even after/despite his choosing to slaughter his brother in pursuit of more power. I'm not certain, but I believe Raistlin is the first Lord Byronic-hero I wanted to be. Sure, there were some characters who preceded my discovery of him that later turned out to be such (e.g., I grew up on Western lore, so Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday come to mind), but at the time he was the first out-right not-so-good-guy I dreamt of becoming -- even though my heart was sickened by his betrayal of his brother. Quick Ben, of Steven Erikson's MALAZAN BOOK OF THE FALLEN, is much more fun and desirable as a character one aspires to be, but Raistlin is my first love of human magic-users. The pair of them as my sidekicks is a one-two punch of colossal proportions I'd choose over any magical duo anyone cares to suggest (though Black Adam and Pug would be nice additions). The Dragonlance cycle that includes Raistlin's story is extensive.

SHANE (1946) by Jack Schaefer rocked my world by introducing bittersweet to the taste of my hero's victory. The 'Rider from Nowhere' is perhaps the most in-solitude hero I can recall, and his walk alone left me feeling drained and not so jubilant. The movie is almost as powerfully evocative as the book, but did not quite deliver the double-edged whammy of sorrow I felt for both Joey and Shane as the latter rode away.

There are numerous tales of epic gunslingers seeking anonymity and an escape from their locked-in lives (for as many reasons as there are stories); this one could very well be the moment in life I truly learned the distinctive flavors of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos -- and that being the winner doesn't always mean winning. There is no Shane cycle.

Edmund Dantès, Alexandre Dumas' THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (1844), is perhaps my earliest literary hero. I don't remember dates or ages, but I do know this tale of epic revenge has long been a favorite story and the book I call my 'classical favorite.' First introduced to Dumas via THE THREE MUSKETEERS (also a favorite novel yet nothing shockingly learned about myself via reading it other than discovering I was alarmingly inept at swordplay), I quickly grabbed the next title of his I found in the library. Dantès rocked my world. Betrayal followed by damnation and loss followed by sorrow, bitterness, hope and a plan -- always a plan. Despite always loving this romantic adventure and practically idolizing the Count, even as a boy I wondered whether Edmund was truly heroic. This is honestly a story about personal revenge against everyone solely for personal gain. No greater good, no reluctant heroics, no moments of standing-in-the-gap or changing the course of anything at all, until the very end. Talk about solitary heroes -- yet Edmund made his own loneliness and embraced it. Hell, he fostered it to cultivate his own cruelty at one point. So does finding a heart and opening it for a new shot at love and to share his secret really make him heroic in the end? Great story, great plan, great comeuppance -- but not so great heroics. Edmund Dantès makes but one appearance, but in his unabridged version it is massive.

If you know me at all, you'll know this list could not be complete without an appearance from Steven Erikson's MALAZAN BOOK OF THE FALLEN (MBOTF) (1999-present). While there are other characters I love more, Anomander Rake is the one who most tossed my world about. And there is no better rendition of Anomander than that of Michael Komarck's cover for the special Subterranean Press version of GARDENS OF THE MOON. The entire series is a romance of the original meaning with jaw-droppingly powerful beings committing noble and ignoble acts, all of it in pursuit of Erikson's stated theme: Compassion. While there are many embodiments of the empathetic noun exposing and expressing numerous of its view points in this series, Anomander encompasses all of its aspects and is its Walking Avatar. The magnitude of his performance is staggering, mind-blowing the deeper one grasps it. From the start of the first book his heroic heart is evident, making his ultimate plan and sacrifice that much more traumatic. Anomander is by far the most powerful character on this list using any definition of the word. While perhaps less personally impactful than those that precede him here (most likely due to the ages at which I read them), his heroic attributes are the most astounding -- and simple. I truly hope Erikson is allowed to publish the final book of THE KHARKANAS TRILOGY detailing the final pieces in the motivations of this wonderful character. The MBOTF is substantial in length and depth -- I highly recommend it.

And so I close my list of 5 personal literary heroes who rocked my understanding of heroics. From learning heroes can be betrayed and betray to discovering they can lose while winning, be bastards and lovers, and win while losing, I've run the gamut of my emotions tonight. If you're willing to expose yourselves, I'm interested in learning what characters have tossed your conceptions into a tizzy.

#MaxBrand #DanBarry #FrederickFaust #TheSeventhMan #MaragaretWeis #TracyHickman #Dragonlance #Raistlin #Shane #Joey #JackSchaefer #AlexandreDumas #EdmundDantes #CountofMonteCristo #MBOTF #StevenErikson #AnomanderRake #GOTM #Kharkansas #MichaelKomarck #revenge #betrayal #hope #compassion #sacrifice #heroics

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