I Need A Hero

And he’s got be strong

And he’s got to be fast

And he’s got to be straight from the fight

So sings Bonnie Tyler at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBwS66EBUcY

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, this post is about writing and the hero’s arc and the need for a hero, with a twist. It’s on something I learned about writing. That the most interesting heroes you can write about aren’t chiselled jawed hunks in homo-erotic spandex. No.

The most interesting heroes are ordinary men with flaws who can do heroic deeds. And jumping over tall buildings isn’t one of them.

I’ve met many heroes but I always remember the day I realised I’d met one. He was first hero so to speak.

I worked in an office and in a wee corner office there were two men jammed in sharing a desk. They were both small men, hunched and combed-over. Shiny trousers and jackets with patches at the elbows. Grey men. They were the butt of many office jokes.

But through work I got to know one of them well. He did a job that required exceptional concentration and great attention to detail.

One Friday I offered to buy him a drink after work, I was getting married the next day and frankly he was the only one in the office that I’d buy a drink.

Anyway, he limped alongside me to the pub then he took a half pint of heavy beer then stood to say goodbye. He had 5 miles to walk home and with his bad leg it took a him a while, he said. I looked at him, perhaps seeing him for the first time. He had curvature of the spine and his sight wasn’t so good. A National Health hearing aid was stuck behind his right ear.

I offered to drive him home, by way of compensation for keeping him late. He accepted and I got my car and headed to his house. He explained that his wife was profoundly deaf and her eyesight was worse than his. She fretted if he was late. He was the only person she knew in the whole world.  As we drove we talked about the latest rumours that the company was downsizing. I was worried because I was about to be married, he was concerned because  he had no savings and he needed to support his wife.

We got to his house. A terraced house idential to the thousands of others in the housing scheme he lived in. The garden was neat and tidy, the door was freshly painted and at the window stood a slight woman staring out with a look of worry on her face.

He wished me a happy marriage got out the car and limped slowly up to his house.

I wish I could say I empathised with him, but i didn’t. I was a callow youth with my own worries and a future to get after.  But years later I thought about him and I realised that he was, if nothing else, a hero. 

Men who swing into battle are not heroes. They have courage, grit and determination. But heroes? No.

People who can endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, people who can stoop to rebuild their life’s work with worn out tools. People who can keep their counsel and look after another human being while being ridiculed for things that they have no control over. People who live with their disabilities and still continue to have a life rich in meaning beyond the grasp of callow men. These are the heroes. There is probably one close to you right now.

And so, to return to writing. Writing can be about men who wear their underpants outside of their tights but it’s unlikely to be interesting. Real interest lies in people who are flawed, but come the time they are there for another person. And they endure.

Above all else, they endure.

 

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Movies You Thought You Knew – 1 The Searchers

I keep a list of my most watched movies and The Searchers is consistently near the top. But it wasn’t always so because as a teenager I thought it was just another ‘cowboys and indians’ movie – until the first ever female director of the Edinburgh Film Festival showed it as her opening film. I wondered why someone would pick that film and I investigated. 

Image

“That’ll be the day”

What makes it such a compelling movie?

John Wayne plays a psychopath.

Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a man embittered by the American Civil War, a man who lived as an outlaw before returning home only to have his family wiped out in a brutal attack by the Comanches. Along with his nephew (who is 1/8th Comanche) he sets out to find his niece Debbie who was captured in the attack.

 John Ford, the director, took Wayne’s provenance as a ‘hero-cowboy’ and used to show how the American Dream had soured. It was John Ford’s last ‘western’ following a string of hits with ‘The Horse Soldiers’, ‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’, etc…

To my knowledge John Ford never explained how he came to the realisation that the Indians were not savages killing peaceful white folks, but were the native population hunted to near extinction by rapacious Europeans. Europeans who gave Indians blankets infected with Anthrax (biological warfare was commonplace in European wars). White men who saw a great prize and mobilised every weapon they had (including white man’s religion) to demonise, slaughter and acquire the land. The rest is history. 

As Ethan’s search for his niece stretches out over years, his nephew starts to realise that Ethan is not going to save her, he’s going to kill her. As a white woman ‘defiled’ by the savages she has to die.

Mix in the scenery of Death Valley and you have a movie that rings all the bells. 

Watch it just for the ending.

Enjoy!

ps Buddy Holly liked Ethan’s constant use of the phrase ‘That’ll Be The Day’ so much, that he made a song out of it. 

For a full list of Jim’s More Interesting Movies. go to 

http://www.imdb.com/list/U6TV–tDs-k/ 

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