Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Importance of Being Ordinary

Last night I was reading one of the greatest books ever written - Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton. This book is truly remarkable. Chesterton makes you think. And he makes you laugh. As I was reading last night I kept going "Hm" and "Hah"... I probably really annoyed my husband...

He is a funny looking man. A bit walrus-like. And very jolly! :)
Chesterton's book contains a defense of imagination and fairy-tales. He maintains that those who are creatively-minded are the most sane people on earth (arguing against those who think creative people are crazy and logical people are sane). Chesterton writes:
A blind man may be picturesque; but it requires two eyes to see the picture... A man who thinks himself a chicken is to himself as ordinary as a chicken. A man who thinks he is a bit of glass is to himself as dull as a bit of glass... It is only because we see the irony of his idea that we think him even amusing... In short, oddities only strike ordinary people. Oddities do not strike odd people. This is why ordinary people have a much more exciting time; while odd people are always complaining of the dulness of life. This is also why the new novels die so quickly, and why the old fairy tales endure for ever. The old fairy tales makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal. But in the modern psychological novel the hero is abnormal; the centre is not central. Hence the fiercest adventures fail to affect him adequately; and the book is monotonous. You can make a story out of a hero among dragons; but not out of a dragon among dragons...
I wonder what Chesterton would think of Harry Potter? Yes, he masquerades as a "normal" human boy. But in reality, he is much more of a dragon among dragons. Luke Skywalker also grows up under the facade of normalcy. But in the end, he is one of the greatest and most gifted of all Jedi. The lasting appeal of these stories lies in the fact that the heros do not realize their own heroic destiny. And yet I wonder... What if these heros had been a bit more ordinary?

Consider The Lord of the Rings. Frodo possesses no "hero genes" or innate powers or untapped sorcerer potential. And yet his endurance saves Middle Earth. I would venture to say that Tolkien's writing is sometimes a bit wearisome and plodding (don't hurt me! I love Tolkien!). But for some reason, this story of a little ordinary hobbit is eternally captivating. Or what about David and Goliath? David was just a shepherd boy. His father was not a king and he was no warrior. Yet he slew the giant and became king. And now David's saga it's one of the most remembered stories of the Bible.

I have a new goal for my story - to tap into the "ordinary-ness" of my characters. I have been infusing them with quirky characteristics and unique heritages. But, I think I need to give them some normalcy. Superhero powers are alluring, but not enduring.

Here's to ordinary heros! :)

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