Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Not Your Standard Hero Type

Nobody's SonIn a world where your very name is defined by who your father is, Shielder's Mark is nobody. His mother is dead. His father walked away when he was a child. Driven to make something of himself, Mark walks into the Ghostwood determined to break the spell of Red Keep, and win the King's reward of anything he asks for. He asks for the King's daughter - which is when things really get difficult.

Nobody's Son, by Sean Stewart, is one of my all-time favorite books, one of those change-my-life books that I refer back to again and again. It's about what it means to be a man, what it means to be a father, a son. It's about having a relationship with your father, when your father isn't there, when your father has chosen not to have a relationship with you.

So, here in this corner, we have the stereotypical hero: all alpha, all the time. He has no emotional needs, no weaknesses, no doubts, no regrets. He always knows what to do, the best way to do it, and he has no problem getting other people to go along with his plans.

And over in that corner we have Shielder's Mark, who is nothing like that.
"...What has tha done that harpers sing? Cracked a kingdom? Drank dragon-blood?"

"Uh, not exactly," Mark admitted.

"Climbed a mountain's sun-spiring snowpeak?"

"I don't think so."

"Arm-wrestled oliphaunt?"


"Diced with the Devil on a throw of bones?"

Mark shook his head. "Not as such."

Husk glared at him. "Were ye nought then but breathing? Dost tha come armoured in air and girt with hoping?"

"That's me." Mark fished a hank of haywire from his pocket to fiddle with, unable to meet Husk's eyes.
In Mulan the song I'll Make A Man Out Of You portrays the standard hero type, the ideal that Mark is trying to live up to.
I'll Make a Man Out of You(Be a man)
We must be swift as
the coursing river
(Be a man)
With all the force
of a great typhoon
(Be a man)
With all the strength
of a raging fire
Mysterious as the
dark side of the moon
Throughout Nobody's Son, Mark keeps searching for some way to mold himself into this ideal, some way to prove himself to his father. At one point Stewart describes this longing for a father as lust, so intense is Mark's desire.
... He wanted to beg the Old Man to fill him up, to give him shape, to teach him how to be a man.

He had never had that. Never had a man to show him what a man should be. Never worked at his father's side, never rambled in the woods with him. Never learned to ride and shoot and hunt with Duke Richard, never learned swordplay from Sir William.

He'd taught himself as much as he could, but something had gone wrong, terribly wrong; now his dreams were dust and his love was ashes and his fine castle lay abandoned behind him. But he dared not beg the Old Man for his teaching, for fear of showing how soft he was.
In the end, Mark has to find his own way to becoming the type of man that he is content to be. Not a false image of manhood, based on misunderstanding, but a man with flaws and feelings, who is, nevertheless, someone worthy of respect.

Books: Nobody's Son, Sean Stewart
Music: I'll Make A Man Out Of You, Mulan

1 comment:

Cannwin said...

Lol, I was just thinking today about the requirements we place upon men in our societies.

Like expecting to be their equals, but also expecting them to adhere to the adage 'Women and children first.'

That song really shows exactly how hard it is for them. They're in a pretty tight spot.

Not that I'm saying that we shouldn't be their equals, it just sometimes feels like women are trying live a double standard and men are trying to live a fantasy existence where they are and strong as a raging fire, but as soft as a spring breeze.

I don't think I'd ever caught how ridiculously impossible that song makes manhood out to be. But at the same time how extremely attractive. ;)


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