At Kill Zone Blog, this post by John Gilstrap: Courage in Fiction.
That’s a title that instantly catches my attention, as courage is such an important quality in fiction. That is, regardless of what other qualities the protagonist may have, he or she or it must have courage. Not necessarily gung-ho leap-upon-them do-or-die physical courage, but very definitely some type of courage.
So let’s see what Gilstrap has to say about this crucial protagonist quality …
Okay, there is a long intro about important vs commercial fiction — given that this post is at Kill Zone Blog, you can imagine the general tenor of Gilstrap’s comments on that topic. Then basically one paragraph about courage, at the end:
Every week, my DVR records episodes of “12 O’Clock High”, starring Robert Lansing as General Frank Savage. I remember watching it as a kid, but all I remember are the scenes of aerial battle. The stories are really very complex and often quite moving. When you consider that the series aired when World War 2 wasn’t yet 20 years in the past, and that more pilots died in the 8th Air Force out of England than did all of the Marines in the Pacific theater, the story lines are particularly courageous. Battle fatigue (PTSD), cowardice, reckless bravery, loss of friends and the futility of war are all addressed in those episodes. They entertain because they resonate, and they resonate because we care about these young men who are forced to take exceptional risks for the benefit of others. We see courage in action. And it’s inspiring.
Those last few sentences are where I sort of thought the whole post would linger, but not really. I find the post a bit disappointing because I don’t think it does enough with the suggested topic. Let me just poke around a little …
Here is a post at Stylist: Fifteen books that taught us to have courage and be kind.
That is probably a more satisfactory post. I imagine that you can hardly throw a dart at fiction without hitting excellent examples of courage. Well, maybe literary fiction. But basically you’re going to find courage absolutely everywhere. Kindness is probably only a little less common. Hard to imagine picking out fifteen books that particularly exemplify these qualities. I would say that to teach the reader to have courage and be kind, the protagonists who demonstrate those qualities should be ordinary people, not too overwhelmingly outside normal experience. That is, Frodo, not Aragorn. Almost anybody rather than the Count of Monte Cristo. Let’s see what books this post picks out of the infinite possibilities …
Ah! The Lord of the Rings, right at the top. For exactly the reason I suggested:
They are distinctly ordinary – and so, when the world cries out for a hero to rise up and fight against evil, Frodo, Samwise, Merry and Pippin initially worry that maybe they are not good enough, or smart enough, or strong enough, to make a difference. That an ordinary person, living an ordinary life, can never hope to do something truly extraordinary.
But over the course of the trilogy, they are proven wrong. Time and time again, they are forced to stare darkness in the face – and, time and time again, they prove that anyone can do anything, so long as their courage holds, their spirit does not fail and there’s a warm dinner to look forward to at the end of it all.
Yes, yes! I’m now feeling good about this post. What are the other fourteen books this post picks out? Okay, a bunch of stories I have read, some not very recently, like To Kill a Mockingbird, and some much more recent, like The Hunger Games. I see almost nothing here I would disagree with.
My favorite book on this list: Little Women. I wouldn’t have thought of that one! But it’s a very good choice for both courage and kindness. Oh, and Charlotte’s Web! Another surprising and excellent choice. By all means click through and see what other books on this list surprise and please you.
It’s practically impossible, as I said, to pick out anything myself given near-infinite choices. Let me see. Courage AND kindness. Hmm.
Okay. I’m thinking of specific characters; for me, that’s the easiest way to manage this.
Terry Pratchett’s Captain Carrot is a good choice for a character who exemplifies both qualities. I detest those stupid names Pratchett gave so many characters, so it’s all I can do to type the above sentence, but Carrot IS a great character for this kind of list.
Maia in The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.
Paksenarrion in the titular series by Elizabeth Moon.
Cordelia in the Vorkosigan series.
And what the heck, I will end with one of mine:
Aras in Tuyo.
Aras Samaura may be the kindest important character in any of my books. Or I might say, the kindest protagonist. Although, I have to add, he is also one of the most ruthless.
If you were picking out one character in SFF who shows both courage and kindness, who would it be? Do some name dropping in the comments. Gold star if it’s a book I haven’t read, because this sort of character is exactly the kind who’s likely to lead to expansion of my TBR pile.