The hero’s struggle

This is a little rant about the hero’s struggle as seen in books vs modern movies.

I am sure that somewhere in the last year or so someone at LHP has mentioned their grief over how certain characters were portrayed in a movie adaptation. Just read Brian’s post, where he brings up the problem of Peter in Narnia and Faramir in LOTR. (by the way, I agree with Brian’s assessment)

Anyway, my rant is on the hero’s identity.  We all have identity issues. And when I say we, I mean the civilized world at large.  You don’t really see identity issues in third-world countries, I think they are still to concerned with the need for food and other basic necessities to feel the need to question who they are.  But it is something the those of us with more time and knowledge have struggled with.  We question the meaning of life and what we are to do with our gifts and talents or the positions we have been placed in.

We portray this identity crises through the heroes in the movies we make and in the stories we write.  But not all our stories have heroes that struggle with identity.  In LOTR, Faramir and Aragorn are two such heroes who in book form are confident and self-assured, where in the movie they are given complexes.  Aragorn struggles with his love for Arwen and his “destiny.”  You have him running away from both at any given time in the movies.  But in the books, Aragorn is waiting patiently for the right time to reveal himself as king and Arwen waits for him, weaving Aragorn’s kingly banner all the while. These are not the signs of characters struggling with who they are, but characters who know who they are and who take their responsibilities seriously.

Why did we make Aragorn needlessly struggle over his identity as King? Why do we have to make Arwen agonize over her love and duty to Aragorn.  Why did we have to give Faramir daddy issues?  Is it because we struggle so much over our identities and what we have been called to that we cannot even begin to relate to characters who don’t?  Shouldn’t we look to characters like Aragorn (the book version) and find comfort and strength in the fact that we can know who we are and take up our responsibilities with dedication and devotion? Shouldn’t we see Arwen’s devotion and dedication to her love as something to be admired?  She is not forlorn or shaken in her identity or Aragorn’s, but she embraces the responsibility and love that her identity requires of her.


8 thoughts on “The hero’s struggle

  1. Because faith without question is a worthless thing. A character that knows everything about themselves has no arc, no progression beyond the action of the story. Its unrealistic to expect perfection from human characters that the reader is meant to relate to. In a fantasy setting the writer must inject as much realism as possible into the story.

    1. One wonders, then, why both Lewis and Tolkien were able to write captivating novels with compelling heroes that did have this self-assurance and an arguably huge number of readers both identified with them and respected the ‘reality’ of them. (Theoden is another one that Jackson reworked to be a doubter when in the book he was fiercely brave)

      I think part of the issue here is not that we need characters who grow: Peter and Aragorn both do in the book. The problem is that modern screen (and book) writers don’t think an audience can relate to a character unless they are ‘brought down to our level.’ Instead of allowing us to aspire to be like great heroes who struggle, yes, but also are possessed with strong characters to begin with, we are fed characters who must begin as doubters, immature, or weak so that we can feel like they are ‘like us.’ It’s certainly not wrong to have characters who begin this way and grow, but being able to create a character like Peter or Aragorn who is so noble and strong, but still has a journey to make is a true accomplishment that needs to be recognized, not regurgitated Hollywood-style.

      In the end, I agree with what you mean about characters needing a story arc, but I think characters can start at all different levels. They don’t need to have fatal flaws heaped on them to beat just for the sake of making them ‘real’. There are other very legitimate forms of real out there.

      1. Indeed story arc is very important and so is character growth. My main concern is the issue of self doubting and the identity crisis. What is wrong with having a character start out knowing and embracing who he or she is and growing deeper in that understanding? Why must we make strong characters like Aragorn or Peter weak by having them question who they are? Is not the fight against evil character-building enough? There is no doubt that the man Strider, who the hobbits meet, is not entirely “ready” to be King but that does not mean that he questions the reality that when the time comes he will be called upon to be king. There is growth, we see Strider become Aragorn and Aragorn become King and there is lots of growth but his identity, who he is, is never questioned.

      2. Ha, I agree with most of what you both say (for some reason it wouldn’t let me reply to Rachel below to continue the discourse), and likely I spoke a little hastily, but I’ve always been somewhat disinterested in perfection. Maybe because I am the second son of a second son (and we are nothing if not notorious for our issues with our elder and younger siblings; both brothers in my case and the fairy-tale quality of elder and younger brothers tends to be high and the worth of middle sons much less so) but I always found Peter Pevensie to be an arrogant ass and Edmund the much more compelling character. Much as I love Narnia, Peter and Susan always annoyed me in their purity and Edmund and Lucy intrigued me. I think Lewis knew this which is why the younger characters feature more in the story despite Peter and Susan being the truer heroes.

        In LOTR, Boromir’s betrayal and subsequent self sacrifice is one of, if not the, most emotionally moving scenes in the book. Boromir believes that taking the ring will allow him to save his land and his people. He doesn’t fully (and how could he) understand the corruption of the ring and the great need for its destruction. His realization that his behaviour is in fact evil is a powerful scene (in print and on film); so powerful that maybe nothing Aragorn or Faramir do compares on an emotional level. While the heroes Aragorn and Faramir are indeed fine characters, their paths (in the books) are more straightforward: cut a swath through wholly evil enemies until you can regain your land and restore your title to one of glory.

        We will all (maybe just most) choose to do right and good when the choice is easy. Choosing to do right when the options are more ambiguous is more difficult.

        1. Really interesting point about Boromir’s lack of understanding and his subsequent change of heart. There are so many good things about the characters in LOTR books, which the movie missed but I am glad to say that they did get Boromir right.
          And I agree with you about Peter and Susan, which is partially because I am the youngest of four: two older brothers and an older sister. In many ways I always saw the Pevensie dynamic as a reflection of my own family and how I saw my older sister and oldest brother. They always took responsibility almost too seriously. But than again this could be my own failing.
          Thanks for you insight.

      3. Rachel, I don’t disagree that the movies missed the mark on a lot of things (though I am ridiculously excited for The Hobbit, I always preferred Bilbo’s tale to Frodo’s and think Martin Freeman is going to knock it out of the park, which is a weird thing to imagine a Brit playing baseball) but Tolkein has days (I presume that’s how long it takes most people to read all three books) and thousands of words to let the reader identify with Aragorn or Faramir, the films have but hours and in the case of Faramir probably less than thirty onscreen minutes to get the audience to connect. As readers, we don’t mind taking the time to mull things over in our heads but Jackson only has three hours to cram hundreds of pages of dense plot and rich characters into the viewer’s face. So liberties have to be taken in order to form a cohesive and moving story in the adaptations. Maybe one day they’ll do it as a tv series like HBO’s Game Of Thrones (albeit without all the juicy bits and moral ambiguity) where the producers have the time and space necessary for a more literal translation.

        1. I have always been very very forgiving of book-to-movie translations because I know that it is impossible to turn a book into a movie. MAYBE a miniseries, but not a movie. Some have come close, but mostly, they have to pick and choose what to put in and what to leave out. I just separate book from movie in my head and try to appreciate what they are AS they are.

          Honestly, though, I find Peter, Faramir, Theoden, and Aragorn as the movies portray them much LESS compelling than the book versions because of their cookie cutter ‘why me?’ or ‘am I worthy?’ characterizations. Been there, done that, I guess. It felt predictable to me.

          But I do have to say that Edmund is my favorite of the four children and his story is incredible, perhaps because it does most closely follow our own. The first two movies, to their credit, are very much in keeping with his character. Notice that in Prince Caspian, Edmund is solid, dependable, and awesome. I had no problems with that. He didn’t need crippling flaws to be identifiable. But, of course, they had to go and give him a superiority complex in the third movie to make him ‘interesting’… oh well.

  2. Amen to both Rachel and Melissa! Aragorn has struggles–but not the ones Jackson gave him. Faramir does have “daddy issues”–but he is unwavering in his commitment to what is right, unlike the Faramir in the movies. Peter grows–but the problem with the Peter in the movies is that in “Prince Caspian” he is less mature than in “Wardrobe!” The question is whether modern audiences can accept a character who actually embodies integrity. Jackson and his tribe have less faith in their ability to do so than Lewis and Tolkien did. The number of modern fans who hated the depiction of Faramir might give us a clue to who was right.

    Here’s another difference between the Inklings and their movie makers: Lewis and Tolkien believed in the importance of integrity and in the importance of having characters who have it so that we have role models to look up to. Jackson et al only understand psychological realism; so that’s what they go for. They have their reward.

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