“Every one of our greatest national treasures, our liberty, enterprise, vitality, wealth, military power, global authority, flow from a surprising source: our ability to give thanks.” – Tony Snow (1955 – 2008) White House press secretary and journalist.
“My father taught me to shoot a rifle and a shotgun. He used to take me hunting.”
“Ever kill anything?”
“A deer…I cried.”
Boone smiled. “Man’s a predator. He’s a hunter by instinct. I suspect he’s taken his living from the wild animals and plants as long as he’s been around. But he was a hunter first, bred to be a hunter.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“I didn’t suspect you did. But think of it. All the predators have their eyes lookin’ forward to keep their eyes on the hunted. The game that’s hunted has eyes on the side of their head so they can watch better. You take notice, ma’am, the wolf, the lion, the bear, all animals that hunt have eyes lookin’ straight forward. So does man.”
“I don’t like to think of that. I hope we’ve gone beyond such attitudes. Isn’t that what civilization does, Mr. Boone? To teach us to live together in peace?”
“I reckon that’s the ideal, ma’am, but all folks don’t become civilized to onct. There’s some of us lag behind, some of us have to protect the rest of you civilized folks from those who haven’t gotten beyond the huntin’ stage. When a man comes at you with a gun or a knife or a spear, you don’t have much time to convince him that he’s actin’ uncivilized, and he isn’t likely to listen. That’s when you yourself become uncivilized in a hurry or you die.”
“I wouldn’t want to kill a man.”
“No decent-minded person does, but if there’s somebody up on that ridge with a rifle who is about kill Peg’s mother, you’d better kill him first.
“You see, ma’am, when a man sets out to rob and kill, he’s strikin’ a blow not only at you, at Peg, Wat, and Matty here but at all civilization. He’s striking a blow at all man has done to rise from savagery.
“I’m not a scholar, but the way I see it is that men have learned to become what we call civilized men by stages, and every child growing up retraces that pattern during his lifetime.
“There’s a time when youngsters like to play capture games, a time when they like to build play houses and huts, if it is only to put a blanket over a couple chairs and crawl under it.
“There’s a time when they like to make bows and arrows, dodging around and hunting each other. Hide-an’-seek is one way of doing it. After a while, he grows beyond that stage, or most of them do.
“Some folks just lag behind. They never grow beyond that hunting and hiding stage. They become thieves and robbers.
“Only a few years ago, a young man could go to war, and if he did enough looting or captured enough horses or arms, he could come home a rich man. Most of those who originally had titles over there in Europe had them because they were especially good at killing and robbing and were given titles for doing it in support of their king.
“Well, we’ve outgrown that. Or some of us have. The others are still lingering back there in a hunting, gathering, and raiding stage, and if you meet one of them alone in the dark, you’d better remember he’s not a human being but a savage, a wild animal, and will act like one.”
“So I must descend to his level?”
“If you want to be civilized, ma’am, you’re going to have to fight to protect it, or all the civilized people will be dead, and we will be back in the darkness of savagery.”
“You sound like a philosopher, Mr. Boone.”
“No, ma’am, but out there in the night, sometimes with a campfire, a man has time to think. He can’t get his thoughts from books. He has to think things out for himself, and a man likes to understand what life he’s living and why he must do some things.
“I’m not sure all my thoughts are right. Some of them need a lot more thinking, but you don’t try to reason with a man who is trying to kill you, or else you will be dead, and violence will have won another victory over peace.
“You take that man who shot your husband, ma’am. He did it because he saw your husband as a threat to him, and when he tries to kill you, it will be for the same reason.
“Are you goin’ to let him do it?” – Exchange between Mary Breydon and Temple Boone in The Cherokee Trail by Louis L’Amour
She had been thinking a good deal about Temple Boone’s comments and had decided he was probably right. If civilization was to endure, those who believed in it must be prepared to strike back at the dark forces that would destroy it. Aside from that, she was Peg’s mother, and Peg’s mother had to live to ensure Peg of the education and the chance she would have. For that, she was willing to fight. – The Cherokee Trail by Louis L’Amour
- A concept or standard of supreme perfection.
- A person or thing taken as a standard of perfection.
- A high principle; lofty aim.
Funk &Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary, Vol. 1, 1969.
“Mom, what does ‘humble’ mean?”
“Check the dictionary, dear!”
“Dad, what does ‘patriotism’ mean?”
“I’m a bit busy right now. Look it up in the dictionary and I’ll explain anything you have a problem understanding later, okay?”
I am one of those fortunate people who had parents who would tell me what a word I did not understand meant – once I checked it in the dictionary! If they themselves did not know its meaning, or were uncertain of it, they would grab one of the (many) dictionaries in the house and find the answer there. When I was old enough, they taught me how to do it.
For a while, I found it irritating, not least because some of the definitions were as confusing as the word I was looking up. But after a while I grew to enjoy it; these days, I could literally spend an afternoon perusing the dictionary just for fun.
Anyway, not long ago I was thinking about one of my favorite things in the world – fiction. I was thinking about how professional critics like to praise really nasty characters these days. You know the ones I mean – Hannibal Lecter, Dracula, Moriarty, or characters like them. And I was trying to figure out what these people see in such characters. What do they like about them? I wondered. What do they find so interesting in these black holes that are void of everything that makes a person good? Why do they hate the characters with principles and extol the characters that have none?
The only answer I was able to come up with is that a lot of these critics seem to hate the standards the good characters embody or aspire to achieve. As an example, one of the things I heard said about Captain America prior to The Winter Soldier’s release was that Steve Rogers had the “most colorful” uniform of the Avengers but the “least colorful” personality.
I was confused by the statement. “How can Cap be bland?” I asked. “He’s a great leader, a compassionate man, and he will protect people who cannot protect themselves. He’s magnanimous, he’s just, and he is someone who will stand up to evil no matter the cost to himself. What’s so dull about that?”
Apparently a lot, if you listen to some people.
In contrast to what they said about Cap, professional critics babble endlessly about the bad guys and how “great” they are. How much “depth” they have and how the reader/viewer/audience-in-general can “sympathize” with them when they see the reasons for their behavior.
I am not sure I sympathize with the likes of Magneto or Khan Noonien Singh. They are both men who will kill indiscriminately in order to gain power. After all, in a world ruled by mutants, should not the strongest lead? What government was Magneto planning to set up after he achieved global mutant dominance? If his rule of Genosha in Wolverine and the X-Men was any indication, he had a Fascist/monarchal government in mind. Khan’s ideas were about the same: “My race is supreme and I am the most supreme of them all. As for you – well, if you’re a normal human, then you’re just scum. If you’re enhanced, like me, then you’re simply less brilliant than I am.”
Nevertheless, I do pity Magneto and Khan. They are two brilliant men who squander their intelligence by trying to subject the world to their will. They are smart enough to help society in so many ways, but instead they choose to force their idea of perfection on everyone else. So they are unwilling to hear anyone say, “No, I don’t want to do that,” because those words offend their pride. Those words remind them that they have no business ordering other people to live by their twisted wills, and their pride will not accept that. It is this that makes them so pitiable.
However, while I feel sorry for these characters, I definitely do not sympathize with the likes of Hannibal Lecter or Moriarty. At least Magneto and Khan tried to be good initially. Lecter and Moriarty went bad almost the minute they were old enough to decide between up and down. Such a choice is not going to engender even a drop of pity from me.
“But how can the critics hate the good guys?” some may ask. “They never say they do!”
As a friend of mine likes to say, this is where language matters. And this is why it is a good idea to look up words in a dictionary – or read it just for fun.
Professional critics rarely state plainly that they hate fictional good guys. They know that anyone who likes fictional good guys will not listen to them if they state flatly, “I hate Superman/King Arthur/Frodo/fill-in-the-good-guy-of-your-choice because they’re good.” So instead they use language that makes the good guys seem weak, unreal, and thin. They label Cap a “Boy Scout,” old fashioned, or the old standby of “idealistic.”
Now you understand why I started this post off with a partial definition of ‘ideal,’ readers. The full definition has been cut in most modern dialogue so that its adjectival meaning alone is present. So when one hears phrases like “He’s very idealistic” or “He has great ideals,” one immediately thinks that the person being spoken of is not in touch with reality. They get the impression that the ideals the person espouses are “Capable of existing as a mental concept only; utopian; imaginary” (also from Funk &Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary, Vol. 1, 1969). In other words, ideals are about as tangible as rainbows and as real as the Sidhe of Irish mythology.
Yet the definition of ideal goes beyond that. An ideal is a “concept or standard of supreme perfection;” it is a torch in the dark that you take up to give you light as you walk around. An ideal is a goal, like a dream job or a trophy. If you want it, you have to work for it. And that is hard, daunting, labor to say the least.
The particular ideal(s) we want can be societal or personal. Societal ideals, such as justice and honor, are hard to achieve. Personal ideals such as compassion, self-sacrifice, and related virtues are even more difficult to achieve. I know – I have been trying to attain them and others for years. In fact I am still trying to reach them. So I know from my own small experience that working toward these ideals is a tiring vocation.
The thing to remember about achieving an ideal is that those who choose to pursue it are never satisfied that they have actually mastered it. For instance, others might consider a compassionate person a great hero, but that person will always feel as though they are not compassionate enough. So they practice it more and more, becoming even more heroic in the eyes of others. But in their own mind they will always sense that there is more for them to achieve – something that does not make the puzzle complete, something just over the next hurdle that they have to reach in order to be perfectly compassionate. And they will feel this way until they must transfer from this life of time to the life of eternity. Why? Because this life will never let them be perfect.
But you know something? That does not stop these committed people from continuing to work at being perfect – at least until they are in forevermore and do not have to worry about it. Because once such people are in forever they become as perfect as they can be.
So what does all this have to do with good guys and bad guys in fiction? Good guys are, as I said above, either the embodiment of an ideal or they are striving after an ideal. That ideal can be societal or personal, but it is an ideal all the same. Galahad is the ideal of knightly virtue, Cap crystallizes all the virtues that define the U.S. as a country in his personality, and Aragorn is the consummate model of a good and noble king. Other characters like Spock, Teal’c from Stargate SG-1, or Jason Bourne are all pursuing an ideal. Spock pursues the ideal of humility, recognizing that he and the entire Vulcan species are not superior to humans, while Teal’c and Bourne are each in pursuit of redemption for their past evil acts.
The most important fact about all these characters is that they are trying to be something better. Even Galahad, Cap, and Aragorn are not satisfied with their current levels of what we could call perfection. They are not as perfect as they can be and they know it. They are still striving after perfection. It will always elude them because, unlike us, they will be in this world for centuries to come. We will be here only for a short time, and one day we will be allowed through the curtain separating this life from eternity. They will not follow us because they are here to help keep us focused on the goal they are not designed to attain.
Some of the critics who go into raptures over the bad guys know this. What is more, they reject it. Why, I do not know. And as the old saying goes, “Misery loves company.” Rejection of ideals, of the race that we each feel the need to run toward perfection, leads to absolute misery in the here and now. And it is an awful thing to be miserable in solitude, because one knows precisely why he is miserable. Excuses for it make a thin shield which is only strengthened when more than one person is using them.
This is why, I believe, so much attention is being given to fictional bad guys by professional critics these days. No, not all professional critics are bad. But some are making everyone else toe their line, just as Magneto and Khan each tried to make the people of their worlds follow their wills. If there is no one to try and disarm these mistaken critics of their flimsy defenses, then they have no need to battle their own inner darkness and can sit pretty on it.
How can we combat this evil that they have accepted? By liking the fictional good guys and explaining why we like them. An even better method is to imitate the good guys’ virtues as best we can – after all, that is why they are here.
The best response, though, is to never stop trying to be better than we are today. Our own real competition is with our own bad tendencies. We are naturally inclined to choose good and not evil, despite what others may say. And as long as we stick with the good, as long as we fight to keep it and make it grow, we are running the great race and fighting the good fight. There is no greater challenge in life.
I do not know about you, but I enjoy a good fight. And if it is with my own faults, then that makes it an even better battle. I hope I win.
But more importantly, I hope you win your own inner battles, readers.
Until next time!
The Mithril Guardian
One of my favorite songs in the whole world! ‘Nuff said. Enjoy!
The Mithril Guardian
“It’s useful work, Matty.” She voiced her thoughts suddenly. “What we’re doing here can be important. These are busy people, but they are often lonely people, too. They are making a long, hard trip, and many have no idea what to expect at the end of it. We can leave them with a bright, happy memory, and we can give them a friendly welcome when they come.”
“’Tis my thought exactly, mum. Travelers are either lonely folk all by themselves, like, or they are herded about like cattle, and a kind word is remembered long after.”
“We must have a word for each one if we can, Matty, and we must remember those who come again, as some will. It is flattering to be remembered and called by name.”
“Aye.” – Exchange between Mary Breydon and Matty Maginnis in The Cherokee Trail by Louis L’Amour
I do not often fool around with my camera settings when I am taking photos of the sky – unlike people, clouds cannot be convinced to stay put. But when I took these two photos I did play around with my settings, putting the camera on the dusk/dawn setting, if memory serves. These “purpled” clouds are the result. This is not what the clouds actually looked like, of course, but this is the way the dusk/dawn setting made them appear.
I confess I am rather fond of these pictures. There is something otherworldly, almost magical about the twilight shades on the clouds. The photos make me think of King Arthur, unicorns, and dragons. Why I do not know, but they do.
The photos also bring to mind something I was asked a while ago. After watching Avatar, a friend asked me whether I would want a tail or a set of ears like the Na’vi’s. I hemmed and hawed over the decision, as neither appendage really and truly appealed to me. But today, I know exactly what my answer to my friend would be. “Neither. I want wings!”
The Mithril Guardian
Confidence contributes more to conversation than wit. – Francois de la Rochefoucauld, French writer
Adventure is not outside man; it is within. – George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), English novelist
All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own. – Johann Goethe, German poet
He that respects himself is safe from others. He wears a coat of mail that none can pierce. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent. – John Donne, English poet
Tomorrow do thy worst, I have lived today. – John Dryden, English poet
Brevity is the soul of wit. – William Shakespeare
Deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence; they go stark, raving mad. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Russian novelist
As one grows older, one becomes wiser and more foolish. – Francois de la Rochefoucauld, French writer
The sooner you treat your son as a man, the sooner he will be one. – John Dryden, English poet
Beauty is all very well at first sight; but whoever looks at it when it has been in the house three days? – William Shakespeare
I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do. – Leonardo da Vinci
As we grow old, the beauty steals inward. – Ralph Waldo Emerson