Every Thursday, Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn leads a group of fellow bloggers on “Tough Travels”, a trip through the tropes that populate the fantasy and sci-fi world, using Diane Wynne Jones’ hilarious The Tough Guide to Fantasyland as a guide.
This week’s subject is “Pure Good”:
Let’s face it — the pure good character is becoming a thing of the past. In these days of grimdark anti-heroes, the noble, selfless and moral hero is no longer de rigueur. You’re more likely to run into a Tyrion Lannister or Jorg Ancarth or Logen Ninefingers nowadays. But here are some favorite characters from the past who epitomized goodness:
Errand is the archetype for this trope, as far as I’m concerned. A perfectly innocent boy, raised alone without any evil influences, for the sole purpose of being able to carry the Orb of Aldur. He is used by the evil wizard Zedar to steal the Orb, but he actually has a much larger role in the hands of the Prophecy of Light — ultimately becoming the beatific god Eriond.
This upstanding member of the City Watch exemplifies the ideal policeman. An orphaned human raised by dwarves, Carrot arrived in Ankh-Morpork at the age of 16, armed with a surprisingly ancient and sharp sword, and a dog-eared copy of “The Laws and Ordinances of the Cities of Ankh and Morpork.” He is often at odds with his superiors, thanks to his strong sense of justice and duty, as well as his tendency to arrest highly-placed citizens. But he also inspired his fellow watchmen, imbuing the corrupt slackers with his strong moral center.
Jesus the Lion, need I say more? Aslan is Lewis’s messianic figure in the Chronicles of Narnia, bringing the Pevensie children to battle the Winter Queen and lead the animals to salvation. He dies, resurrects and keeps showing up to lead with his wise goodness in this not-so-subtle Christian allegory.
I will argue to the end that Samwise is the main character of Lord of the Rings. He resisted the temptation of the One Ring; while others gave up against insurmountable odds, his perseverance and strength kept Frodo going — indeed, his steadfast friendship and loyalty towards Frodo are the only reasons that Sauron was defeated. He proved himself a leader in his own right as well, returning to the Shire, helping drive Saruman out and eventually becoming mayor.
Except Lily. Granted, we don’t know very much about her, but she does sacrifice herself to protect Harry, and she didn’t put up with James’ bullying crap, any more than she put up with her best friend Snape’s bigotry. The fact that she was able to be friends with Snape in the first place testifies to her goodness.
The perfect knight of Arthurian legend, Galahad was the bastard son of Launcelot, who had been tricked by the princess Elaine into breaking his vows to Queen Guinevere. Raised by nuns, Galahad is the epitome of knightly purity and innocence, and is the only Knight of the Round Table to be able to sit in the Siege Perilous, marking him as the one who would find the Holy Grail. He does recover the cup of Christ, redeeming Camelot.
People love to deconstruct Superman. Portray him as an expression of fascism, an ubermensch whose great power should be feared by mere mortals. Just look at that awful Man of Steel movie from a few years ago. Or The Dark Knight Returns. Fuck that. Superman is the ultimate hero, a selfless being whose morality was informed by his smalltown upbringing by Ma and Pa Kent. Superman wouldn’t level a city or kill an enemy. And anyone who writes a story like that doesn’t understand Clark Kent at all.
Come back next week when we take a look at “The Good Thief.”