Characters worth looking up to

Posted: April 27, 2008 in Comics, Doctor Who, Reviews
Tags: , , ,

One of the greatest achievements of human evolution is the imagination and seemingly limitless creativity that we possess. The power to achieve our dreams is not nearly as impressive as being able to have those dreams to begin with.

Part of that ability is to be able to create characters that are better than the creator, even if they are only fictional. We create beings in our heads that have qualities we can only aspire to someday possess … but for what purpose do we do this? Are we making signposts or goals for ourselves? Is it a case of mere wishful thinking? Or are we shaping ourselves as a group, creating figures that we wish to transform ourselves into and making humanity in general better than what it is today?

That is what I wish to look at and discuss. It is not a field that I know a great deal about and would be interested in the thoughts of those out there in the often weird but insightful blogosphere. What do you see as the role of the fictional characters that we ourselves create? Which characters (or even their precise attributes and characteristics) do you see as worthy of emulation and note?

I think I shall attempt to look at some fictional characters, often childish ones, and the attributes they have which I personally find inspiring or noteworthy.

Optimus Prime (Transformers)

Growing up as a child in the 1980’s, Optimus Prime was my hero. The ideas of a giant authoritative and yet deeply caring robot that would pummel your enemies was very appealing. He was wise, a good commander and never backed down. It’s that last attribute I think is the greatest of the characters, standing up for what he believed in no matter the consequences to himself. To Optimus Prime, his life was worth no more than anyone else’s; even members of a supposedly inferior race known as humans. I think that this attribute can be summed up by two of Optimus’ more famous quotes: “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.” And “Megatron must be stopped, no matter the cost.”

The Doctor (Doctor Who)

A member of an insanely advanced race of time travelling aliens, the Doctor left it all behind and became a renegade simply out of the desire to do good. He was not content to sit on his rear and merely observe like the rest of his people, he was driven to actively oppose injustice and wrongs where ever he should happen to find them even at the cost of his own life. This desire to do perceived good is a common trait in fictional characters and by itself is nothing particularly special … it is the manner in which he does it. The Doctor could employ the technology of his race (which he surely is well versed in) to create massive weapons of destruction, surround himself in a personal force-field and so on. He could very easily use such things to obliterate his enemies in great torrents of rage and destruction … but he does not. Instead he uses his intelligence and wits, refusing to lower himself to the barbaric depths of his foes and sink to their level. While the idea of a time/space machine like the TARDIS is very nice indeed, it is the way the Doctor is a being of intelligence that makes him stand out.

Samuel Vimes (Discworld)

Sir Samuel Vimes is a recovering alcoholic watchman in one of the most corrupt fictional city’s I am aware of; a city where people will steal anything not nailed down … and if it is nailed down then they’ll steal the nails as well. He managed, through hard work and outsmarting people, to turn the City Watch from three incompetent and unrespected men to a dynamic and extremely effective force of dozens. But it’s not that hard work that makes Vimes special, though it is certainly commendable. What really makes Vimes stand out is one promise he made to himself, a promise to read a story to his infant son every day at six o’clock no matter what. He has run across the city, nearly killing himself to keep this promise, he doesn’t care if the Patrician decides Vimes suddenly has an appointment with him, he doesn’t care if the Ankh floods (again) … he made a promise and he’ll be damned if he does not keep it. A man that always keeps his word is something to be admired, no matter what that word or promise is. It means that man is a man of integrity and honour, which is something so sadly lacking in the modern world.

Batman (DC Comics)

The long lasting question … which is the mask, Batman or Bruce Wayne? Did Bruce die the same instant his parents did in Crime Alley? It is almost a question which doesn’t matter yet it is still an interesting one … it does play a factor in everything the character does. The attribute that is really Batman’s most admirable is that of commitment; he suffered a tragedy as a child and since that day made a vow that it would note happen to anyone else and that he’d do everything in his power to stop it. His mastery of various fields, nightly work, plans and so on are very much secondary to the overall vision and goal of the character. It is one thing to learn how to beat a criminal up (anyone can do that); it is a far greater thing to do it for the right reasons for a great length of time.

That is but four examples of character attributes that could be considered to be admirable. Now what are some of the characters and attributes that you find worthy of positive attention?

  1. Jennifer says:

    Wow, great topic for a post. =) Weird actually–it occurred to me yesterday, at a bus stop, that making up people, complete with personalities and life stories, is a pretty odd thing to do.

    In answer to your questions, I’m no expert but my thinking is that part of the role of characters is to provide vicarious success–we create characters who face our problems (and worse) and win, who are like us but just a bit better, who get to go on the adventures we’d like. That’s the good guys anyway. I think a lot of stories (the ones I like anyway) function to provide the ‘happily ever after’ endings that real life doesn’t always, be it Mills & Boon or cop shows or SF. I don’t think it’s all wishful thinking though. I’m probably not old enough to judge, but I hope I will eventually become like the characters I admire.

    The characters I find inspiring tend to be leaders, people who are confident, capable and moral, and who give up a comfortable and safe life to instead risk their lives doing good. They have to be human as well though (not necessarily in the biological sense)–perfect characters get boring. Really witty characters deserve positive attention too I think, if more for being entertaining than inspiring.

    Sorry for long comment…

  2. Lister says:

    Don’t know these two, but here’s your description:
    Optimus Prime — never backs down

    Samuel Vimes — made a promise and he’ll be damned if he does not keep it. A man that always keeps his word is something to be admired, no matter what that word or promise is.

    Batman’s obsession is best described in Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns” — especially at the end of the first chapter when he tells Harvey Dent that he sees a reflection. It’s a brilliant story.

    I don’t think of the Doctor as such a one-track character. He works with the Master in Logopolis, with Ice Warriors on Peladon (after a bit of skepticism) and, no doubt, with others. He doesn’t think in absolute terms. The Doctor can accept being wrong and change his mind. Having to act without all the facts doesn’t mean making a promise you keep no matter what.

    A bit of an odd-one-out in the foursome. Do I win a prize? 🙂

    “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” — Bertrand Russell

    The Doctor comes closest to being wise by that reckoning. Been a long time fan — as you can probably tell by some of those references!

  3. Daniel says:

    I’m a huge fan of Pratchett’s and I was happy to see Sam Vimes in here, but I actually don’t really agree with your reasoning.

    Keeping your promise no matter what can be really foolish at times. Sure, looking at it from the point of view of “what a nice father” seems really heart warming, but blindness is never a good trait, even if it’s “positive blindness”

    I think Vimes is a great character because of his ability to change (hence recovering alcoholic) and his ability to judge himself well. In some cases he is a violent man inside, but restrains himself and does the right thing by doing so.

    Being violent, being stupid is in itself not a sin. If you know you are violent or stupid you can deal with it and change, I think this is the main message of the character.

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