Episode #246 and Like a Hood Ornament 6 – The Reluctant Hero
This week’s show is about the idea of the reluctant hero, an archetype in literature and film to describe an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and as a result does things beyond what he or she could ever had imagined. We also talk about various definitions of the word “hero,” from the ancient Greek usage, to hero in terms of an idol, to a hero in terms of someone who does something selfless to help someone else, whether in the everyday or out of the ordinary sense.
I didn’t read this segment in the show, but here a chapter in The Thirteenth Hour which describes this idea where Logan, the main protagonist, first becomes a reluctant hero:
The day before the end of basic training, I went into town to find a shoe repair shop. A buckle on my left shoe had broken a few days ago and now, every time I stepped down with that foot, my heel would slide out of the shoe. It was getting annoying, but I’d finally managed to put together enough money to cover what I thought it’d cost. One gold piece came from a poker game where I’d gotten lucky, and the rest I’d gotten from picking pennies off the street, which is what you do when you don’t get paid.
I asked a man on one of the crowded streets for directions. When I got to the shop, there was a big sign that said, “CLOSED FOR REPAIRS, WILL REOPEN IN TWO WEEKS.”
“Figures,” I thought to myself. “Two weeks? Maybe there’s another shop in town.” I went back to kicking a stone and trying not to fling my boot off in the process as I wandered through the downtown merchant sector, considering what to do next.
So there I was, minding my own business when I heard an ear–piercing scream. I spun around, forgetting all about my shoe and the rock. Right in the middle of the dirt road lay an old man, struggling to get up. About ten yards away, barrelling down the road at full speed was a four horse carriage. The driver in front was shouting out commands to his horses, but they weren’t listening. There was a big crowd of people watching from the sidewalks. I saw the woman that had screamed; she was still screaming.
“Somebody do something!” Apparently, that didn’t include herself.
In fact, everyone stared around blankly, waiting for someone else to make the first move. A few people new to the scene made faces and hurried off.
“Do something!” she screamed over and over.
Aw, shit, people, the lady had a point. Though I had half a mind to throw something at her to get her to shut up, I pushed past the people on the edge and jumped into the middle of the road. The next few seconds seemed to be in slow motion. Unfortunately, in what was to become regular pattern until progressing to a more advanced stage of cognitive development, I didn’t think first before doing something idiotic.
At any rate, the man was sitting up, dazed. I don’t know how close the carriage was, but it couldn’t have been far, because as I dove at the old man, tackling him around the waist, a horse clipped the loose heel of my boot, the busted one, sending it spinning off into the gutter. We rolled to the other side of the road, missing the remaining hooves by a heartbeat.
I sat up and looked around. The old man looked all right as far as I could tell, just a little shaken. Suddenly what seemed like hundreds of faces crowded around us.
“Are you all right?”
“Bravest thing I ever saw.”
“Somebody call a doctor!”
“That was a pretty rough fall that old fella took, is he okay?”
I stood and bent over the old man. He was breathing, but his eyes were closed. He looked like he was in pain, but he didn’t utter a sound when I asked if he felt alright.
“What happened? What happened? I didn’t see,” someone yelled.
“Well, this old fella was walking across the street, he tripped, and he couldn’t get up … mebbe ’cause he’s so old. Anyway, doesn’t matter now ’cause that’s when the kid jumped in. Tackled him around the waist.”
“The kid’s a hero!” said someone else. They looked at me, expecting me to say something.
“Well …” As usual, words failed me.
“Now, don’t be modest, you’re a hero, son.”
Okay, if these people wanted me to be a hero, then what the hell. Heroes are entitled to certain privileges, like new boots. Any takers?
Just then, a man in a white coat pushed his way through the crowd saying, “It’s okay, I’m a doctor!” He bent over the old man, briefly examining him.
After he had finished, the man said, “Probably just a twisted ankle. No serious injuries I can see from here, but let’s get him on that stretcher. Watch his head, and keep his neck still. We’ll carry him to my office. It’s just a few blocks from here,” said the doctor.
“I don’t need no damn stretcher!” yelled the old man.
“Everybody goes on the stretcher,” the doctor said emphatically.
“Ah, go to hell! At least let me talk to the kid that saved my rear end! Hey kid! Come over here!”
I walked over.
“I just wanted to thank you. My name’s Wally. What’s yours?”
“Well, nice to meet you, Logan. I’m been living in this stinking kingdom for eighty–five years, and now I guess I’ll be able to stay for a few more years, huh?”
Now was that a good thing?
“You know, kid, you got a real set of marbles to do something like that. Hell, I wouldn’t have done that even for me! But hey, no complaints, glad you did. I could use a kid like you. What do you do for a living?”
“I’m … a soldier, I guess, in training.”
“No kidding! That’s perfect. Meet me at this address tomorrow; you won’t regret it!” he said, handing me a little white card.
“What’s it for?”
“Let me put it to you this way. You ever see a magician?”
I said I had once.
“And did you like it?”
I said I’d enjoyed the show.
“But weren’t you disappointed when you discovered that he was a fake? I mean, that he wasn’t using real magic, just tricks?”
I said I was disappointed when he told us that there was no such thing as magic.
“Nonsense! The lousy bastard didn’t know what he was talking about! See, you have to understand, real magicians like to keep that a secret … until it’s needed! So, of course there’s magic. I’m really not supposed to be telling you that, but, what the hell, kid, you just saved my life.”
“How do you know about magic?”
The old man looked both ways suspiciously. Motioning for me to come closer, he said, almost in a whisper, “I’ll get to that in a minute. This is what I’m proposing. How would you like to learn some genuine, old–fashioned magic? No bull now. Just the real thing. And get paid for it!”
“Well, sure, I guess.”
“Alright. You like traveling? Seeing new places?”
“Well, I haven’t really done any, but I would like to.”
“Great! How about sports? You like running, climbing, jumping, fencing, things like that?”
“Um, yeah, they’re okay.”
“Would you like to be better at those games? You’ll get better in this job!”
“Sure … I guess. What is this job, anyway?”
“Yeah, so it’s all set then. Meet me tomorrow. I’ll see to it that an announcement is made tomorrow morning.”
Just then the doctor motioned to his assistant, who picked up the other end of the stretcher.
“Umm, that’s nice and all, but I live in the castle training grounds. It’s awfully hard for anyone from the outside to get inside there.”
“Oh, silly me! Did I mention that I am one of King Darian’s wizards? Well, that’s me. Wally the Wizard at your service. I’ll see you tomorrow!” he shouted as he was being carried away.
Wait a minute, I thought to myself. Something sounded fishy here. What was one of the King’s wizards doing outside the castle walls? They supposedly always stayed locked up in one of the remote wings of the castle. This one was an awfully smooth talker. I wondered if this had something to do with what those two knights were talking about; one of them had mentioned the King’s wizards. Something didn’t sound right. He never even told me what the job was. And …
“Wait!” I yelled. “What’s the catch?”
But the wizard was too far away to hear.
“Ah, shit,” I muttered to myself, finding my left boot wet and slime–covered in the gutter. I wiped it off on some grass and secured the loose buckle as best I could. It squished every time I stepped on it. Something wasn’t right, but like the proverbial stinking turd, I’d stepped right in it.
Well, I thought, kicking another stone the rest of the way back to the castle, on the bright side, at least I am walking away. Of all the ways to end up dead or in the hospital, getting trampled was not one I’ve ever wanted to experience.
This little animated .gif is, of course, from the point in the movie where the Rocketeer, not above a little self conscious vanity, asks how he looks. Peevy, not above a little blunt honesty, says “Like a hood ornament!” The Rocketeer blasts off for the first time, Peevy gets blown backwards into the hangar, and I get a name for this part of the podcast!
I first learned of the term “reluctant hero” from an ad for The Rocketeer. Cliff is not motivated initially by much other than a desire to make some money and get in the good graces of his girlfriend, a rising starlet with an eye for the finer things in life (at least from Cliff’s perspective). There are lots of other great examples from cinema and literature.
One of my favorites is from the 1992 movie, Hero, with Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis, Andy Garcia, and Joan Cusak. The Dustin Hoffman character is a minor conman, if I recall right (I need to watch the movie again) who becomes a reluctant hero after he saves a bunch of people from a plane crash but can’t take credit for the act. I love this ending scene – both for its life lessons as well as its insight into human nature. As hinted above in The Thirteenth Hour passage, a lot of people don’t want to do heroic things, especially when eyes are on them. They might act when someone else initially steps in, but making that first step (like Logan does above or Bernie does in the scene below), takes a certain, well, heroic disregard for what other people think, and as social animals, that’s not always the easiest thing for humans to have.
Although I hadn’t seen Hero yet when I originally wrote The Thirteenth Hour, I had seen The Last Starfighter – many times, in fact – and the way Alex Rogan behaves through most of the movie is very much in keeping with the way of the reluctant hero (as well as one of the influences in the creation of Logan). Here’s when he’s first offered the chance to be a Starfighter:
Stay tuned for more Rocketeer gear talk next week! Stay safe!
There are now Thirteenth Hour toys! If you’d like to pick up one of these glow in the dark figures for yourself, feel free to email me or go to the Etsy store I set up (https://www.etsy.com/shop/ThirteenthHourStudio) and get them there.
If you haven’t checked out “Arcade Days,” the song and video Jeff Finley, Brent Simon, and I finished one year ago, click on the link below to do so!
Empty Hands, the synth EP soundtrack to the novella, Empty Hands, is now out for streaming on Bandcamp.
Stay tuned. Follow along on Spotify! There is also a growing extended Thirteenth Hour playlist on Spotify with a growing number of retro 80s songs.
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