The Chaotic Champion – Part Eight: Which Kind of Hero Are You?
So far in this series, I’ve been concentrating on describing, in the most straightforward way, the various categories of Chaotic Champion and how each works. As I said in the first article, though, my purpose isn’t to force characters into a strait-jacket, but to provide a vocabulary to help define them in their individuality. In the last two articles, I’ll be taking a broader look at the Chaotic Champion as a whole, starting with an examination of imprecision in the roles I’ve described.
It should be clear to anyone who’s read the series this far that not all Chaotic Champions are a perfect fit, either in their precise or general role. This should be expected when dealing with people, whether we’re talking about historical or fictional people—or, indeed, the storytellers and listeners whose needs the characters are fulfilling.
I started with a story that fits the template with considerable precision—Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven. The Seven are all perfect examples (though different perfect examples) of the Recruited Hero, and their outcomes show the full range of what can happen to such figures. Some die defending the villagers, or testing their skills to the utmost; some survive to ride off into the sunset, unwelcome among the people they’ve saved; and one gives up his status as Chaotic Champion, to become a full part of order, although he may retain a vestige of being a Protector Hero, if needed.
Some heroes, though, display aspects of many roles. I pointed out, when discussing the Outsider Hero, that in some versions of the story Batman and Robin are deputised officers of the law, a role that compromises their status as pure Outsider Heroes. In a sense, they inhabit the cracks between Outsider and Protector, having aspects of both. It really all depends on how you look at them.
This is perhaps more normal than the perfect fit of the Seven. Some Chaotic Champions have roles in between two or more categories, while others veer from role to role at various stages of their careers. Consider Theseus, for instance. In the early part of his story, he’s on a journey across the Isthmus, fighting and destroying whatever monsters, bandits and tyrants he happens to come across. He functions here as a perfect Wandering Hero, but when he reaches Athens, he’s suddenly heir to the throne. His role on the trip to Crete with the victims to be fed to the Minotaur can be seen either as Protector Hero (the prince looking after his subjects) or Outlaw Hero (fighting against the unjust law that demands the tribute). Then, on succeeding to the throne, he becomes a King Hero, reforming the law and establishing the state that all Athenians will look back on as their golden age.
Indeed, some categories almost demand variation. A Recruited Hero, for instance, can’t be recruited all the time—either he* leaves at the end of his task and reverts to being a Wandering Hero, or he stays and acquires the status of Protector Hero. If he takes the former option, of course, he can be recruited again and again.
On the other hand, either a Protector or an Outsider will, by the tropes we love in story, at some time fall foul of the law they’re committed to defending. Often, this will be as a result of the bad guy framing him, but sometimes (as with Captain Kirk in the third and fourth Star Trek films) it will come from following a higher duty. And an Outlaw, conversely, may see his fight against the chaotic rulers successful, leading to a change in his status. This happens, for instance, in many modern versions of the Robin Hood legend (although not in the older tales) where “good” King Richard returns, sorts out the misruled kingdom and appoints Robin to offer the people officially the protection he’d offered as an Outlaw. He becomes a Protector Hero.
In general, the distinction between the Protector, Outsider and Outlaw is a matter of emphasis and perspective. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who is overall a classic Outsider Hero (an apparently ordinary girl whose secret role defending the world against demons must remain unknown to ordinary people) but at one stage is also simultaneously an Outlaw and a Protector.
Series three of the show has as her chief enemy the Mayor of Sunnydale, a man who’s sold his soul for immortality and is in the process of turning into a demon. Buffy’s activities aren’t in his interest, and she must, literally, fight City Hall as well as the vampires. The Mayor is a clear example of chaos in control, turning Buffy into an Outlaw Hero.
Towards the end of the series, though, something extraordinary happens: Buffy’s classmates, who’ve treated her for three years with either contempt or indifference (the usual fate of an Outsider’s public face), finally recognise what’s she’s done for them for so long and award her the title of Class Protector. Here, and in the final battle with the Mayor that follows, she’s neither Outsider nor Outlaw, but a Protector Hero marshalling her followers to fight for order.
These three roles have a natural affinity, which enables a Chaotic Champion to slip between them or even spread himself between all three, but any Chaotic Champion can switch roles easily enough, given the right circumstances. As we’ve seen, Wandering Hero and Recruited Hero form another natural group which complement one another perfectly, but switches and coexisting roles can apply to any combination.
In nearly fifty years of Doctor Who, for instance, the Doctor has filled at least five of the six roles, and maybe all of them. His natural state is as a Wandering Hero, and occasionally Recruited—from the Key to Time series, in which he’s compelled to seek out the six segments to the Key, to innumerable cases when he’s asked for help and gives it.
During the 1970s, though, he becomes attached to UNIT, an official international organisation protecting the Earth, and this gives him a clear Protector role—if not always graciously fulfilled. As a Chaotic Champion, he rarely plays by the rules, insults officials and drives the Brigadier to distraction, but frequently is the only thing standing between the Earth and destruction.
For much of the rest of his association with Earth, though—and especially in the modern version of the show—the Doctor protects at a distance, without any wide knowledge. As his companion Martha puts it:
He has saved your lives so many times and you never even knew he was there. He never stops. He never stays. He never asks to be thanked.
Typical Outsider behaviour; and he’s been an Outlaw on many occasions, including the period when the Master, his Shadow and opposite, is prime minister. And King Hero? Well, maybe. He’s President of Gallifrey for a while, though he doesn’t actually wield power. However, although the details have never been made clear at the time of writing, he’s referred to as having led the Time War and determined its end, a role that seems to fulfil some of the criteria for King Hero.
These are just a few well-known examples out of hundreds—maybe thousands—that I could cite to show that the Chaotic Champion’s role is fluid. The six types of Chaotic Champion I’ve outlined in the previous articles aren’t really different entities, merely different ways of using the same role.
Just as Shakespeare defines man as playing seven roles in seven ages, so the Chaotic Champion can play up to six roles, and occasionally plays them all. Unlike the inevitable march of the seven ages, though, the Champion can pick and choose, as far as circumstances permit, and can play some roles many times. The world isn’t so much a stage to them as a playground, and there are many games on offer.
Humans are never straightforward, and can never be defined simply, and Chaotic Champions are always, essentially and fundamentally, human. Even when they’re not.
*Chaotic Champions can be male or female, of course, but for the vast majority of human story they’ve tended to be male, so I refer to the generic figure as “he”. This isn’t meant to devalue any female characters.