Tuesday, November 15, 2022

What Makes A Hero? #9: Calm and Chaos


Here it is #9 in the What Makes A Hero in Fantasy series! A little later than usual, but still with plenty of reading time left in the month. ;-)
What makes a hero?

And of course, a Having Fun With Fantasy (tropes) post on the "Band of Brothers" by way of an off-course substitute. I do hope you've enjoyed the additional reading goodness. :D

Last Kingdom: the "band of brothers"

So where are we up to with the What Makes A Hero series? I started by focusing on what I considered essential elements in the making of heroes, from the Call through Commitment, to Courage and meeting the Challenge

More recently, I've been checking out qualities that may be more optional. To date, I've canvassed Charisma, Chivalry, and Clever vs Clueless. Today I'm taking a closer look at Calm and/or Chaos.

What Makes A Fantasy Hero – Calm and Chaos

At face value, an appropriate subtitle could be Berserker vs Stone Killer except for the niggle that killing and battle are not the beginning or end of heroism. 

Aragorn as healer, in "The Lord of the Rings"

As discussed under Courage in particular, the risk faced may also comprise:

"...unjust imprisonment, loss of standing and/or livelihood within a society, or outright exile from family, community, nation or species."

Consequently, answering the heroic call may require:

 "...physical and mental, or moral courage—or all three."

So I feel that Calm or Chaos is the better starting point. In other words, a protagonist may emulate Kipling's famous If,  and keep their head "when all about ... [them, others] ... are losing theirs", or hurl caution to the winds and charge headlong into the face of overwhelming odds.

Furiosa -- berserker hero

In that context, "berserker" still has its place and one of fantasy's more famous berserker heroes is the outcast Rek, who becomes the Earl of Bronze in David Gemmell's seminal Legend. His counterpart is Druss, a famous axeman and legendary hero: Druss the Legend, in fact. 


Druss is not a stone killer, and he's not really a warmaster either, although circumstances require that he steps into that role in the defence of the fortress of Dross Drelnoch. (Fortress aside, think a Thermopylae and the Three Hundred-style story.) Druss is unquestionably coolheaded, though, and keeps his calm in the thick of battle, while still taking the fight to the enemy.

Dalinar Kholin, in Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive, is an interesting example of a warrior who has been a berserker-style champion, but deliberately chooses to contain that part of himself, instead pursuing a warmaster's role.

Gideon and Harrow(hark), in Tamsyn Muir's Gideon the Ninth, are another chaos-and-calm combination. Where Gideon likes to hurl herself at an adversary, preferably wielding her broadsword, Harrow retains her cool--although that may be a be a matter of dire necessity in order to work her necromancy. 

Zeetha, in Studio Foglio's Girl Genius series, is another warrior who likes to hurl herself into the thick of every fray, and Agatha Heterodyne's  extravaganzas of mechanical creation are very berserker-like in their frenzy. Gil (Gilgamesh) on the other hand, is a far cooler-headed character, although just as much a "spark" genius. 

When it comes to outright mayhem, NK Jemisin's Nahadoth, in The One Hundred Thousand Kingdoms,  is a chaos god, and wreaks havoc when his power is unleashed. By contrast, the con artist Nahriin SA Chakraborty's City of Brassrelies on her wits, no matter how challenging the circumstances. 

One of fantasy's most interesting characters, in terms of the calm-chaos continuum, is JRR Tolkien's Galadriel, a continuum that has been illuminated in series one of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. In The Lord of the Rings (LoTR) proper, Galadriel is an elder statesperson and great power of the elven realm, who epitomizes calm. The Silmarillion, however, makes it clear the young Galadriel was decidedly hawkish and something of a fireeater. 

Galadriel: The Lord of the Rings

Over the intervening millenia, she has clearly changed a great deal, with the LoTR Galadriel displaying a wisdom that the young Galadriel lacked, which she demonstrates in refusing the ring.

Consideration of Galadriel's arc leads to another class of hero, that does not slot neatly into either the "calm" or "chaos" categories. This is the individualor "band of brothers"who is not necessarily trained to lead nations or armies, or overcome challenges, but is forced by circumstances to confront them.

Avatar, the Last Airbender -- another "band of brothers"

In many ways, this is one of fantasy's oldest tropes (which I've called "A Farmboy/Gal Goes On A Journey" in another post), but it's also the basis for "David and Goliath" tales that are enduringly popular in folklore and legend.

Nori Brandyfoot -- an everyday heroine

Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, and the four hobbit comrades of The Lord of the Rings, are probably the most famous example of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. They certainly don't hurl themselves headfirst into peril, and when peril finds them anyway, they would rather tun and hide than stand and fight.

Yet when in the thick of things, they stumble or crawl to do what needs to be done. One of the great examples is Merry, on the Pelennor Fields. He is dazed from being flung from a horse, but will not let Eowyn confront the Lord of the Nazgul alone, and so crawls to her aid. The result, between Eowyn and Merry, is one of the great deeds of the war, and turns the tide of the battle.

A desperate Merry stabs the Lord of the Nazgul

Myr, "the Mouse", is a similar character in Daughter of Blood (The Wall of Night, Book #3.) She is not a warrior and has no overt superpowers, and she is frequently terrified, but has the moral courage to walk a true course amid turmoil, and to avert destruction by remaining true to herself and those she loves.

It is because of characters like the hobbits and Myr, but also Galadriel and Dalinar Kholin, that this post is titled Calm and Chaosbecause it's a continuum that depends on circumstance and personality. Regardless of confusion or clarity, circumstances are also likely to create situations where both the cool and hotheaded heroes have their place.

The crows: cool, hotheaded -- & somewhere in between

So as with charisma and chivalry, calm and/or chaos are optional qualities for a fantasy hero, though eitheror a combination of bothmay greatly assist in getting the heroic job done.

© Helen Lowe


Previous Posts:

January: Looking Forward To An Heroic 2022

March: What Makes A Hero -- and The Call

April: What Makes A Hero #2: Circumstance

May: What Makes A Hero #3: Commitment 

June: What Makes A Hero #4: Courage

July: What Makes A Hero #5: Challenge

August: What Makes A Hero #6: Charisma

September: What Makes A Hero #7: Chivalry 

October: What Makes A Hero #8: Clever or Clueless? 


About The Author:

Helen Lowe is an award-winning novelist, poet, and lover of story. With four books published to date, she is currently completing the final instalment in The Wall Of Night series.

Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we.

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