What is the Heroine’s Journey? (part IX)
Another curious case in point: the shadow of Lasciel the Temptress (an ancient and evil Fallen angel) seemed to succumb surprisingly quickly to Harry’s sometimes, er… questionable “charm”! Even if we assume a shadow has nowhere the power and persuasiveness of the actual entity, I still found myself thinking that Butcher could have done a more imaginative job on what sort of temptations the shadow might offer. She was in his mind, after all — he even accepted some of her offers to help! Aren’t good intentions part of the cliche about paving the road to hell?
Further, none of the offers we the readers saw Harry refuse were particularly difficult to resist, especially when shadow-Lasciel already knew what a hard-ass Harry is on certain subjects. I confess, I found myself wondering, after finishing the book, if Butcher himself had ever met someone who was particularly persuasive… since I did not find Lasciel to be so.
To be fair to Harry, he’s not the worst in the category of protagonists for whom background characters act like there’s a created community the reader cannot see, and for whom they end up doing amazing things for no apparent good reason. I found myself quite frankly astonished that C. T. Adams’ and Cathy Clamp’s protagonist had people wildly endangering themselves against the Thrall, just to save her life. I could understand this behavior if she’d gone out of her way to be their friend — but she hadn’t, that I could tell!
Further, every single person she had more than a passing acquaintance with, and who was weak-willed enough, had been immediately grabbed and enthralled by the Thrall — the protagonist had become a sort of dangerously parasite-inducing Calamity Jane! So from whence did this self-sacrificing devotion for her come? I don’t know… and as a result that made the book significantly less compelling for me.
Charlaine Harris’s protagonist, Harper Connally, in Grave Sight left me uncompelled as well, although in a slightly different vein. She has a strange, unique ability: she can find the dead. As a consequence she and her half brother apparently drift through life as nomadic consultants, their occasional lovers almost nothing more than purely physical flings, and clinging only to each other for emotional comfort — because they so often leave people unhappy behind them.
Admittedly, it’s not really their fault if someone hires them to find a dead relative, and later doesn’t like the results of the discovery. Unfortunately, while the story itself was an entertaining read, the emotionally-isolated and -damaged Harper left me mostly pitying her, and not really interested in seeing more of her — much like the townsfolk whose lives she accidentally upset.
In contrast Kitty, Cassie, and Mercy all make an effort to befriend and aid those they meet. Doing so is not just self-serving; they make dear friends, create allies out of enemies, find (and sometimes rescue) lovers, solve problems for both themselves and those they care for — and in the doing so make their own lives better, and the community around them a nicer (and often safer) place to live. I enjoy that feeling of accomplishment; it’s something I try to do myself, and it’s one of the reasons I enjoy reading continuing series of books. I like seeing how, over time and several books, difficult problems are resolved, people work better together, friendships bloom, the heroine grows in ability and power, and ever-increasingly difficult bad guys can be defeated. A “tending and befriending” response to one’s community only makes sense to me, too: if you are not fiercely loyal to your friends, how can you expect them to be fiercely loyal to you in return?
That’s not something a “brooding asshole loner” is capable of, which is why I find them tedious reading. Once you’ve defeated the “monster of the week,” if you can’t be bothered to care about the consequences of your actions, or whom the monster hurt, or even if the monster might be redeemable… what is there to do next? Only slay another monster. Frankly, that gets old quickly; give me someone who isn’t the biggest and baddest, but who helps and befriends because she cares about what’s right — over a coldly superior, emotionally isolated übermensch-wanna-be any day.
I can think of exactly one case where Harry worked to create community — in every other case I can think of he chose (sometimes for no good reason I could see, when he also complains about being lonely) to retain his isolation. Even the werewolves — who have always come unquestioningly to his immediate aid when he’s called them, and have always successfully pulled his fat out of the fire, sometimes to their painful detriment — had to work hard to get him to simply come play games with them once a week or so. In fact, at one point early on when thinking about them, he disgustedly notes to himself that he’s not a baby-sitting service! Frankly, I’ve found the lower-powered werewolves far more heroic (as opposed to simply able to dish out more damage against bad guys) than he, overall.
His “crafting community” felt equally grudging: in the story where he came in to rescue the “lesser powered” witches he ended up with a significant chunk of money. He also felt guilty that he was not able to save several of the witches, who were murdered to show the incompetence of their occasional protectors, the mages — such as Harry. He decides it would be best if there were better communication between the low-magic-powered humans, so they can take care of a lot of their problems themselves, and he doesn’t have to run around so much protecting them all. To that end he gives some of the money to a trustworthy proxy and tells them to set something up towards that goal.
That Harry — always so good at the deeply caring, personal touch! :)
Interesting that you received the implication that he was heavily involved in the Paranet’s creation — I received much the opposite, as I’m sure you can tell by my reaction. I think it’s a darned good thing (and about time!) that he’s finally getting involved in community through teaching seminars, etc. ;)
In retrospect, I should have waited to reply, seeing as you are touching on some of the very aspects that I commented on in my last post. :}
But from reading that last bit, about the organization and network idea that eventually became the Paranet, in later books…I reread that specific part in White Night. It didn’t seem to me like he was eschewing responsibility, there. He kept saying ‘we’ in regards to setting up the network, specifically referring to himself, and the female mage that he partnered with in that book.
While we never see that part of it, what he does to help build and grow it, help make contacts, the implication is that he does intend to be intimately involved with it’s creation, with the day to day, with the personal touch, as you put it. With his fellow wizard’s assistance, of course. And two books later, the Paranet has chapters in the US, Mexico, Canada, and plans for Europe. And it deliberately mentions he and his friend teaching seminars on recognizing magical threats, and self defense.
Just saying. Maybe we don’t see what he does, but it doesn’t mean he didn’t do anything. :}