Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ordinary, everyday goodwill heroes

Over the past couple of decades we've seen the rise of the troubled, flawed, angsty anti-hero, with a dark side or a bad boy attitude. And that character was very much needed in fiction, an antidote to the holier-than-thou goody two shoes heroes of past eras - those down-to-earth, reputable, reliable lawmen, cowboys, space jocks, soldiers, doctors, local boys-or-girls-made-good, who were once upon a time the only way a heroic figure was portrayed.

But let's not let the goodwill, heart-of-gold hero disappear altogether.

Let's not turn our nose up at the genuine good guy. There's a place for him as well.

We may not all be perfect, but not all our heroes need to be mean-spirited, crazy, unhinged, haunted-by-dark-secrets individuals. (Don't get me wrong, I enjoy these characters and their stories, Dr Gregory House being one example, and TV's Dexter, a serial killer who kills serial killers, does provide a harrowing glimpse, and warning, of a darker reality and the evil that's lurking out there.)

But in real life there are also real, genuine heroes doing a hard days work for ordinary wages, men and women who believe in doing the right thing, who wrestle with their conscience, toiling away as policemen, as firemen, as rescue workers and paramedics, as counselors and doctors and lawyers (okay, maybe not lawyers), as footie coaches and computer geeks, some of them Moms and some of them Dads, and we don't want them to fade away from representation in our fictional landscape. They may or may not be rare, but they're certainly not extinct.

And they never will be.

There's a brand of TV drama, that's been a staple for many years, the on-going series with an ordinary, everyday, well-meaning protagonist, who helps those around him while pursuing a difficult quest of his own. It was around way back when , in 1960's 'The Fugitive,' as Dr Richard Kimble provided impromptu assistance to those he encountered, while fleeing from the law and searching for his wife's killer. In 'Quantum Leap,' good-natured scientist Sam Beckett leaps from one time zone and one life to another, setting right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next "leap" will be the leap home.

In 'Early Edition,' out-of-work, guy-next-door type stockbroker Gary Hobson receives a newspaper each morning that contains tomorrow's news stories, thus compelling him to try and avert calamities that are only hours away from happening.

In mystery, suspense, thriller novels about hardened law enforcers, and agents and cynical journos, I haven't come across too many examples of the ordinary, everyday goodwill hero. So I greeted him like a long-lost friend when, in Stephen King's new opus, '11.22.63,' a guy who is a school teacher, and who is not dissimilar to you or I, goes back in time and endures living in the world of half a century ago, in order to help out an old friend. He also undertakes a much grander mission. The juxtaposition of today's world with that of the 1950's, is fascinating, as is the irony of a 'small' person grappling with changing a 'major' historical event, the JFK assassination.

Indie author M P McDonald's novel, 'No Good Deed,' is the first in a series about another "regular" person, a photographer named Mark Taylor who finds that his newly acquired antique camera provides photos of future events. Tied in with his prophetic dreams, he finds it leads him to try and save nearby people from terrible fates. Taylor is a guy with a conscience, a strong sense of doing the right thing without profit for himself, however setting out to do "good deeds" leads to unexpected consequences. My review of the book is here, and I for one hope to see these kinds of so-called "old-fashioned" heroic characters still turning up from time to time.

There's a place for them in the world of fiction, just as there's both a place for them and a need for them in the real world.


  1. I just saw your review yesterday. Thank you for such a thoughtful review.

    I also read 11/22/63 (my brother was actually born that day!) and agree that I loved that the hero didn't have any superpowers, just the ability to go back in time and try to fix things. Since you read my book, you've probably figured out that all the tv shows you mentioned are favorites of mine! lol. I even blogged about Person of Interest a few days after it first aired.

    If you find any more books with those kinds of heroes, give me a heads up because I would love to read it.

  2. You're welcome, Mary, I loved the way 'No Good Deed,' embraced the spirit of that genre of storytelling, the reluctant hero lending a hand whilst sidestepping disaster. A rich vein for authors and scriptwriters. I've noticed that whilst there many U.S tv series of this kind, I'm not aware of many from other countries. Seems to be a particularly American thing? I've wondered why that is, and it's probably an investigation for another time. I saw your post on 'Person Of Interest,' it's certainly shaping up as an interesting series. Meanwhile, keeping an eye out for other novelists who've written books of this type.