Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Solitary Hero

ShaneSometimes a song doesn't work with just one book; the emotion and lyrics remind me of too many books to narrow it down.

Green Day's Boulevard of Broken Dreams reminds me of every book I've read that featured the emotionally isolated, sometimes bitter, sometimes anguished, loner. The hard-boiled detective, the gunfighter, the protagonist who greets danger with a joke or a grim look - but ultimately faces it alone. Few happy endings here - this type of character starts out alone, and usually finishes up the same way.

What I always think of as the classic example of this (and the book that broke my heart when I read it in junior high school) is Shane, the gunslinger who dreams of leaving his violent past behind, only to reclaim it in order save the people who gave him his best chance of a new life. He winds up riding off alone and lonely, possibly dying, certainly never to be free to have the peaceful life he longs for.

"I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don't know where it goes
But it's home to me and I walk alone"

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

This kind of hero doesn't necessarily choose to be alone. He's doomed to his loneliness, like it or not.

"A man is what he is, Bob, and there's no no breaking the mold. I tried that and I've lost. But I reckon it was in the cards from the moment I saw a freckled kid on a rail up the road there and a real man behind him, the kind that could back him for the chance another kid never had ... There's no going back from a killing, Bob. Right or wrong, the brand sticks and there's no going back." Shane, Jack Schaefer

Frequently the protagonist doesn't like the loneliness at all, and seeks to find the companionship that seems to come so easily to everyone else.

"Each passing second his mind expanded more, his whole body felt warm with the richness of pure joy. The sky was blue and cloudless the sun was bright, and all the world was fair! It was like an intolerable weight lifting. All these years everything had depended on him. The great weapon he held in trust for that future world he sometimes dreamed of, held suspended like a monstrous sword of Damocles over the destiny of human and slan alike by the single, fragile threat of his life, and now, there would be two life threads to control it." Jommy Cross, Slan by A. E. Van Vogt

Slan: A Novel"My shadow's the only one that walks beside me
My shallow heart's the only thing that's beating
Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me
'Til then I walk alone"

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

It can never last, though:

"One touch on one button, and he would have been blasted into nothingness. But Jommy Cross made no move, spoke no word. Colder, harder grew his mind, as he sat there. His bleak gaze stared impersonally at the man, then at the dead body. And finally the measured thought came that the possessor of atomic energy could have no heart, no love, no normal life. In all that world of men and slans who hated so savagely, there was for him only the relentless urgency of his high destiny."

I could go on. I have a least an arm's length list of books based on this kind of character, but I want to hear what you think. Of all the literary characters who walk alone, who's your favorite?

Books: Shane, Jack Schaefer
            Slan, A. E. Van Vogt
Music: Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Green Day

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