What Makes A Hero?

In keeping with the recent post on Peter Pevensie (AKA High King Peter the Magnificent – now there’s a title to live up to!), which got me thinking again about my Hero and Everyman post, and also with the start of a brand-new season of NCIS:LA this week (yes, aside from figure skating – and by the way, you will probably have to suffer through a post or two on that this winter, because that’s just how I roll – the NCIS shows are the only television I really care about anymore. Although I am really, really curious about Once Upon A Time starting in October, given its fairy tale premise), I got thinking about the kind of hero that I have always been drawn to, both in literature and film (and television).

So here you have it.

The type of hero I prefer:

Sam more than Callen (NCIS:LA)

Will more than Jack (Pirates of the Caribbean) (only in the first, though, because then Will just got irritating and Jack got immensely more charming)

Faramir more than Boromir (Lord of the Rings)

Mr Knightley (or Henry Tilney) more than Mr Darcy or Captain Wentworth (Jane Austen’s novels)

Etc, etc.

Not necessarily the squeaky-clean, never had any faults (like Peter) hero, but the one who isn’t angsting all over the place, the one who is truly good, the one who knows what is right and strives to do it. Not so much the tortured anti-hero for me. One of my chief complaints about the LotR films was the changes they made to Boromir and Faramir’s characters – how they made Boromir, the weak one, seem more heroic, and turned Faramir, who was strong and just and good, into somebody who was weak and willing to do almost anything to earn his father’s approval. GRRR.

I think that’s one reason I like Edmund so much in the Narnia books, because we get to see his journey from the most un-heroic beginning to a man who is confident in what is right, and acts upon it without much inner anguish or tortured questioning or intense struggles between what he wants and what he should do.

(Unless, of course, you are reading much of the Narnia fanfiction out there, where Edmund spends the rest of his life beating himself up for his temporary alliance with the Witch. GRRR again.)

Taran, from Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, is another similar character – one who starts out with foolish ideas about what a hero is, and grows to be a quiet and unassuming hero of his own without even realizing it.

This applies to heroines as well, of course. I have mentioned before about my fondness for Cecy and Kate of the Sorcery & Cecilia books by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. There are two girls who are confident in what is right, and able to act upon it. Granted, their actions often stir up yet more trouble, but that just adds to the fun. And it’s not over-confidence, either – don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of the smug, or even the one who never questions. I think that’s why I liked Will so much in the first PotC movie – when his sense of rightness clashed with “the rules” he’d always lived by, he had to undergo a struggle to determine which was stronger – his instinct for justice, or what he’d always believed. Which made his decision in the end far more cheer-worthy.

Or Sam, from NCIS:LA – though it tore at him to break away from NCIS in last season’s finale, to walk away from the structure he lived by, it was more important to help his friends (and save Hetty). If Callen hadn’t walked away first, would Sam have done so? I’m not sure, but once Callen did, Sam had to back up his friend and partner.

And that is awesome stuff, and to me, the sort of thing that makes a hero (or heroine) truly interesting, and truly worth emulating.

What sort of heroes do you prefer – the tortured ones, the ones suffering from a lot of inner angst, the anti-hero like Captain Jack Sparrow, or the simpler heroes, like Sam and Faramir, etc? I think there’s a lot to be said for all kinds, and I’m always interested to hear where other people differ from my preferences – it helps me broaden my writing repertoire as well as gives me stuff to chew on personally! Also, when it comes to Jane Austen heroes, am I the only one who thinks that Mr Darcy remains something of a bore even after his change, and that Mr Knightley is one of the greatest heroes in literature (I know Rockinlibrarian agrees with me on Henry Tilney’s swoon-worthiness, at least!)?


Names and Naming

This can’t be long, because I’m on my way out the door with husband, littles, and mother-in-law, on our way to a children’s museum, hurrah!

But, something Joy said the other day planted a seed for a children’s picture book in my brain, and it has been growing ever since, and seems about ready to burst into full blossom.

So I need your help, friends: What would a good name be for an imaginative little boy (about six years old) with a kind heart and a mischievous grin, who calls his mother Mummy and likes to ride his bicycle?

(Peter, Jamie, George, and Johnny have all been discarded already. Just about any other name is up for grabs.)

Have at it in the comments!

Edited to Add: I’ve had a bit more time to think about it and look up names, so I can now offer you a list of names that stood out to me. Feel free, please, to still come up with your own, but if you prefer to pick from a list, here are, in alphabetical order,


Peter vs Peter

Because sulkiness is so much more magnificent than nobility

And a hero without angst is like romance without kissing in the rain.

Don’t mistake me: I think William Moseley is an excellent actor. And I thoroughly enjoyed his performance in The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe. And taking Prince Caspian as a movie on its own merits, apart from the book, he played his role well.
But he just wasn’t – couldn’t possibly be – High King Peter the Magnificent. King Peter, who tells the unsure and humble Prince Caspian (I also quite like Ben Barnes, but oh! his Caspian was almost as poor a representation of the book’s character as Peter) first thing “We haven’t come to take your throne, you know, but to put you in it.” Who never questioned Aslan’s choice in sending them back to England, then bringing them to Narnia only for a short time. Who loved deeply, and was not ashamed of it; who mourned deeply and was equally unashamed. Who was noble, and just, and courageous, pretty much everything a traditional hero of medieval literature was supposed to be – just look at Malory’s King Arthur, and the knights of the Round Table, sometime.
And yes, I understand that all of those traits don’t translate well to a modern-day movie-going audience. Remember my old post on Hero and Everyman? It’s the Everyman most movies promote, not the Hero. Not anymore. People’s tastes have shifted. And that’s okay, for the most part, because Everyman is important, too – especially when, as Rockinlibrarian pointed out on that post, the Everyman does the heroic (SAM!).
But still. We could have done with less angst – or with angst over a different matter. Instead of the selfish “me me me why did Aslan send me back I was king I want to be king again why doesn’t anyone take me seriously wahhhh,” it could have been more along the lines of “what happened to Narnia why are these interlopers here what do you mean the beavers are extinct they were my friends Narnia is in my blood and it is hurting which makes me hurt and England is cold and unfriendly and I can’t find my footing.” And then, of course, he could have learned while in Narnia how to search beneath the surface to find the warmth and joy that still existed, and to decide to seek out the same in England, which is why he was suddenly fit to return to England for good, because Narnia had taught him what he needed to know.
You could even have worked in the tension between him and Caspian, if necessary – in that Peter has a hard time entrusting his land, his people (and trees, and Animals, and Others), to a descendent of those who silenced the land’s song to begin with, but in time sees that Caspian is different, and puts aside his prejudices to give the young prince a chance.
Instead, we got stereotypes. Oh, we got stereotypes. And a very, very 2000s outlook from a character who lived in the 1940s. Which, I think, is what my frustration boils down to – it’s all very well and good to have a relatable character, but when you start acting like those characters live in this era, but still set them in a former, you’ve started to skew history, and project your own way of thinking backward, and nothing infuriates me more than that.
(Well, okay, a few things do, but it’s on my top ten list.)
So frustrating. Because Peter, as written, is a marvelous Hero, one to look up to, one to strive toward. After all, that was the point of the chivalric tales in medieval days, wasn’t it? To give people an Ideal? And I think it’s a shame that they tore that away from Peter in the movie and turned him into a sullen, resentful, bitter, stupid teenage boy.
Oh well. At least we still got this out of the whole thing:
I know it’s a few years old now, but what did you think of the Prince Caspian movie? Does it bother you when movies change the inherent character of people in books? Do you think it is a mistake to impose today’s values and mindsets onto characters from past eras, to make them more relatable, or is that just a natural side effect of historical fiction (movie or book)? Do you mourn the lack of Ideal in today’s fiction?

YA, Or Not

As I was working on my 1920s WIP the other day, I realized something important.

This is not a YA story.

The heroine and the hero, you see, have already come of age. Yes, the heroine is nineteen, but she is fully self-aware. The hero is in his mid-twenties. Both have lived through the War, both came of age during that time. This story is more about moving from young adult to fully adult, in the heroine’s case, and in the hero’s case – again, he’s already adult, and he is more learning just some good, healthy life lessons (like, don’t underestimate women – particularly one woman in particular!).

So. This puts me in a quandary. Either I make some major changes – changes that would alter the entire story (set it before the War, when they are younger? Make the house party one hosted and attended by parental figures, instead of heroine’s personal friends? Keep it after the War and just have them live through it, instead of being personally involved? Somehow this is starting to sound like Muppet Babies or the like – take characters already established and just drop them in age) (did I seriously just make a Muppet Babies reference in this post?), OR I drop the entire idea of YA and just accept that this is an alternate-history adventure-fantasy, end thought.

I’m leaning toward the latter. Except I’m starting to panic, because everything that I’ve looked up in reference to agents and marketing etc has been YA. Are there other stories like this out there? Is there even a genre for alternate-history adventure-fantasy? (Outlander? I’ve never read any of the stories, but I have a vague idea those are somewhat similar) Do I go for the fantasy genre or the adventure/mystery genre? Do I cut out the fantasy along with the YA and just have it be a historical adventure?

So many questions. One of these days I’m going to write something uncomplicated.

How boring will that be!

Have you ever gotten halfway through a project and realized it’s not what you had originally planned? Which is more important to you, sticking within your genre or sticking with your characters and plot? Do you think an alternate-history adventure-fantasy would have a market in the adult crowd? Did you watch Muppet Babies as a kid?

Influences: Elizabeth Enright

Another one of the few non-fantasy authors who have been an enormous influence on my writing and my life, Elizabeth Enright doesn’t get anywhere near the appreciation she deserves, in my opinion. Which sounds odd, considering she won a Newbery Medal for Thimble Summer. It’s been my experience, however, that most people get a blank look on their faces when you mention Enright’s name, and then only vague recognition comes with the mention of Thimble Summer.

I thoroughly enjoy Thimble Summer, but it can’t hold a candle to my favorites of hers – the Gone-Away books. Whether it is the close relationship between a boy cousin and a girl cousin, reminding me so happily of the friendship between my cousin Zach and me, or the idea of a hidden, old-fashioned community, or (in the second book) all the fun of renovating an old house (which, having lived through, is Not Really Fun At All, but Enright made it seem fun), and moving to the country after having lived in the city … whatever it was, the books were a delight. I especially like that, unlike so many YA and MG books, the adults are present and involved, while the children still have freedom to explore and be brave and get themselves in and out of trouble. We need to see more of that in books for young people!

Then there’s the Melendy Quartet. I’ve written in my favorites posts about this family – Randy and Rush and the family overall. I love them. I want them to be my next-door neighbors. I want to have had Randy and Rush to adventure with as a kid, and I want them all to be my kids’ friends. They are real, and delightful, and funny, and brave (and occasionally not), and ambitious, and loyal and loving.

I think what I like best about Enright’s books, and her characters, is that perfect blend of realism and idealism. While the Melendy gang have marvelous adventures and impossible luck, they also feel like real people, people you could meet any day walking down the road. Same with Portia and Julian and the rest of the Gone-Away crew. As for Garnet of the wheat-colored braids, despite living in the hardest of times in American recollection, the Great Depression (a farmer’s daughter, no less), there is no grimness in her; she still exudes the natural joy of childhood, mixed with a very real worry for her parents’ livelihood.

Another factor that has always personally influenced my delight in Enright is the friendship that exists between boys and girls, without any romance or foolishness, just very easy and natural. Garnet and Jay and Rush and Randy are, true, brother and sister, and Portia and Julian cousins, so romance would be quite ick┬áin their cases, but so many writers only seem to capture the squabbling side of boy-girl family relationships, or the exasperation each feels for the other. There is some of that in Enright’s books, as there is in life, but there is also the deep and meaningful friendship that only comes when boys and girls are friends with each other, instead of boys only being friends with boys, and girls only being friends with girls. I love that Enright shows those sorts of friendships are possible, instead of assuming there must always be this unfathomable chasm between the two. Ugh! No wonder we have such problems with gender discrimination; it is so ubiquitous, even in children’s literature!

Whenever I want to capture some of the sense of my childhood, I re-read an Enright book. And in my writing, I try to keep in mind how natural and fun her characters all are, regardless of the book’s setting. When children who were created sixty, seventy, eighty years ago feel more real than children written about today, you know something has been done right!

Are you familiar with Elizabeth Enright? If so, which is your favorite book? What are some books you can think of that feature really excellent boy-girl friendships, without any hints of romance?

Obligatory Start of School Year Post

“So Louise,” you say, “What have you been up to lately?”

Funny you should ask!

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned here before our plan to teach our littles at home. Our main reason for this is that both Carl and I feel that a classical education, or some form thereof, is going to give them the best tools for learning and growing their entire life. And that is not something that one can find in any public schools, or even most private. I love the holistic way classical education works, showing how everything is interconnected, I love that it teaches how to learn, instead of just imparting facts, I love, love, love that it gives them Latin at a young age so that they have a good solid base for almost any other language they want to learn in later years.

So. Yesterday I started preschool with Joy. It wasn’t in our original plan to do preschool at all – I have a rather Montessori approach to schooling for really little kids, in theory at least, that they learn best through unstructured play and exploring their world.

But Joy? She gets bored with unstructured play. And she really loves doing projects, or sitting down and practicing letters, or anything of that sort. So last year I bought a few workbooks just to see if she would like them, and she ate them up. So this year I firmly put my child’s individual preference ahead of my ideals and theories, and we are doing preschool. I ordered more workbooks from the same company (Kumon, in case anyone is curious – I know they don’t work for everyone, but they seem practically made for Joy), bought some flashcards (which she likes almost as much as the workbooks), and typed up a weekly schedule for her. We haven’t dived right into the new schedule yet, still using some of our other books (Hooked on Phonics, which she likes but doesn’t find anywhere near as challenging and satisfying as the Kumon books) because I’m still missing one workbook which I thought I had but ended up having to order …

But this isn’t about my absent-mindedness, although I suspect we’ll possibly have an episode like that every year. Joy is so happy to be “doing school” every day, and although I am emphatically not a natural teacher, I love seeing her blossom almost overnight with this new schedule.

I even wrote out a goal list of things I want to see Joy accomplish this year – both academic and personal, because for me, school is about so much more than just training the mind, but about developing healthy lifestyle habits as well. Which is why “explore new ideas” is one item on the list, as well as “learn to write name,” “learn to count to 100,” and “learn to control temper” (I suspect that one will go on the goal list Every Single Year); and “skate forward and backward” (figure skating is our PE!) is right next to “learn music” (yes, that one is vague, but I’m still not sure what we’ll be doing for music. Joy insists she wants to learn banjo, but I’m thinking we might need to start with something more basic, first). Education! It’s so much more than readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic.

Grace, I suspect, will be my Montessori kid, which also ought to be fun, especially once I’ve gotten used to Joy’s learning style and have to retrain myself all over again to figure out what works best for Gracie, but I am adapting as I need, and the reward of my kid’s beaming face as she finishes up the last of last year’s workbooks before starting the new is enough for me.

Hope this wasn’t too boring for you all to read! I promise, I will do a writing-related post soon. How many of you sent your kids off to school this week, or started school at home? Were your kids excited or dreading the school year? If you do homeschool, do you follow a particular method, and if so, why? Are you super-impressed by my not-quite four-year-old’s ability to mostly color within the lines?


Thank you to those who commented on the last post! I was asking the question because I was stuck on figuring out a particular magical adventure in my MG fantasy, and I wanted to see what, if any, were some common threads that wove throughout most people’s childhood dreams. There was one, too! It was … flying, whether on winged horses, flying carpets, or just on one’s own. Pretty neat, to see how much so many very different people have in common from childhood.

And now on to today’s topic, which is, as the title suggests, music.

My sister and I were very fortunate, growing up. We had parents who refused to listen to, or allow us to listen to, bad music. So my childhood music memories include listening to Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf; making up dances to Bach; humming John Denver along with Dad; and taking naps accompanied by songs about phonics (“Apple, apple, a,a,a”) and Spanish-to-English translations of simple phrases, also set to music.

Awesome stuff.

Thanks to such a diverse and rich background musically (I don’t really remember listening to much kid’s music at all, except for Raffi, naturally, and Peter, Paul, and Mary, and the aforementioned tape with the learning songs on it – which I now have in CD form for my littles), I find that I still appreciate a wide variety of music. Different sorts for different moods or needs! I like:

Beethoven or Hayden for cleaning

Mozart-Handel-Brahms-etc. for relaxing

Bach for inspiration

And for just general listening, or if I need a specific kind of music for a specific kind of story: Owl City; Regina Spektor; Marina and the Diamonds (some); Lenka; Ingrid Michaelson; Kate Nash or Lily Allen (some); and, of course, Michael Buble.

And then there’s the Celtic music I like, whether instrumental or with vocals. And thanks to growing up with a string-pickin’ father, I’m a sucker for American folk music.

I’m trying to imitate that same sort of diverse background for my littles; we do have a bunch of children’s music, but it is all either Raffi (EVERY kid needs to grow up listening to Baby Beluga, which my Joy freely adapts into “Heaven above and the sea below, and a little white hi-ip-po – whee, whee, whee!”), or more folk music, adapted for kids. We are big fans of Elizabeth Mitchell and Lisa Loeb! More often, they listen to whatever Carl and I are listening to – which can be anything from instrumental hymns to Brahms to Michael Buble!

Do you have music that you listen to for specific tasks? When you write, do you have music playing in the background, or do you need silence, or does it depend on the story (it does for me – some stories I need to write in silence, while some require music to put me in the proper mindset)? What sort of music did you listen to as a kid, and do you still find yourself drawn to that sort of music now?

Disclaimer: I am not associated or affiliated with any of the artists mentioned in this post; the opinions therein are my own.