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The Chaotic Champion – Part Three: The Recruited Hero

This the third article in our Chaotic Champion series. You can read the other articles here:

Part One: Introducing the Champion
Part Two: The Wandering Hero

The Caliber by ArtgermI started this series of articles with a summary of Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven. This plot is not only a perfect illustration of the Chaotic Champion in general: it also typifies the Recruited Hero, the version I’m highlighting in this piece. This isn’t a coincidence, since the Recruited Hero is perhaps the most representative form of the Chaotic Champion.

It’s all very well for the hero to wander in search of adventure, and he* can find many fields to battle chaos in the process; but, for any major face-off with the agents of chaos, it’s necessary for him to commit himself a little more. He might be a Wandering Hero for the rest of the time, but for this fight he needs to be recruited.

Just as Chaotic Champions wander for many reasons, so also they’re recruited for many, and the Seven illustrate this well. Some anticipate there’s something in it for themselves; some are seeking a chance to prove themselves, or even a chance to continually test their skills; some are just running away.

Some, though, are genuinely touched by the plight of the villagers. As Chris puts it in The Magnificent Seven, when told that the paltry fee he’s being offered is everything they have, I have been offered a lot for my work, but never everything.

Grendel's Mother by ndhillHeroes have been recruited in the tales of all cultures and all periods, whether they’ve volunteered, been persuaded or been tricked, or compelled. Beowulf, for instance, comes to the court of King Hrothgar to rid him of the destruction wrought by the monster Grendel. In this case, he’s not hired, nor is material gain his primary motive—though, in terms of the culture they belong to, it would be unthinkable for Hrothgar not to reward him—but because it provides the perfect opportunity to make a name for himself.

Though very different on the face of it, Hrothgar’s hall Heorot and Grendel offer essentially the same pattern as the village and the bandits. Heorot, although the home of warriors and not farmers, represents an island of light and order amid the dark and dangerous moors, the territory of an undoubted agent of chaos. Grendel is not only a monster, but described as being descended from Cain, the original murderer and outcast, and he terrorises the hall every bit as much as the bandits terrorise the village.

To describe Beowulf’s motivation as personal glory (and perhaps personal reward) isn’t to say that he cares nothing for ridding the world of an agent of chaos. Beowulf isn’t a footloose wanderer, and in his own social order would be seen as a Protector Hero, as he certainly is later in the poem when he fights the dragon. Neither Beowulf nor the poem’s original audience, though, would have seen any inconsistency in his motives, and he acts here as a classic Recruited Hero—he sees an opportunity and takes it.

Knight Duel by Trevor-Stephen-SmithThe motive of taking on a cause for the sake of personal glory—of making a name for yourself—can be found in ancient legend, in Arthurian romance and in the Western, among other sources. In the last installment, we looked at Gareth’s quest to rescue Dame Liones and establish his credentials as a Knight of the Round Table. This is a classic recruitment, where Dame Liones’s sister, the damosel Linet, comes to Camelot and begs Arthur for a champion to rescue her sister. Gareth—then enduring anonymously as a kitchen boy—comes before the King and asks for the quest, which Arthur grants—much to Linet’s anger and disdain.

In the process of fulfilling his quest, Gareth defeats numerous hostile knights, wins in marriage a beautiful and rich lady, and is at last offered a seat at the Round Table. This is the ultimate aim, but he can only achieve it by proving his worth, and only maintain it by continuing to prove it.

In Arthurian romance, though, it’s part of the terms of gaining prestige as a hero that the quest must be a worthy one. If Gareth had been setting out to seize Dame Liones’s castle from her, no amount of spectacular victories over rival knights would have given him the status of Knight of the Round Table. We’ll see in a future article how this is part of the Chaotic Champion order that Arthur has established as King Hero; but individual Recruited Heroes don’t always have such a high moral compass.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (poster)The second and third Mad Max films offer a good illustration of a Chaotic Champion being recruited for contrasting reasons. Max has started out in the first film as a cop, albeit a maverick, and therefore a Protector Hero, but then becomes a wanderer through the physical and moral desert and is periodically recruited.

In the second film—The Road Warrior—his motive is purely payment (in petrol for his vehicle) and, like the Seven, he has much in common with the forces of chaos attacking a tiny, tenuous oasis of order. Nevertheless, there seems little temptation to seek out a better offer from the attackers, and Max does appear to develop a soft spot for his charges. They certainly remember him in legend as the hero who saved them.

In Beyond Thunderdome, though, Max’s decision to rescue the children has little self-interest in it. He moves back closer to his Protector status, and it’s really only the decision to let them escape without him that maintains his status as a Recruited Hero. Again, he becomes a legend to the people he’s rescued—and again, he doesn’t get to share their salvation.

At the opposite extreme of the Recruited Hero is Frodo in Lord of the Rings. It could be disputed whether Frodo is a Chaotic Champion at all. It’s true that he’s restless in his quiet, ordered life, but he has no desire to go off slaying monsters for glory or gain. The whole point about Frodo is that he’s an ordinary guy.

It’s more that he becomes a Chaotic Champion than that he starts off as one—he has heroism thrust upon him. His chaotic nature, of course, comes from the effect the Ring has on him, drawing him into the world of darkness and evil to the extent that he can challenge the Dark Lord at last. Certainly, by the end, he understands chaotic figures such as Gollum, or even the Nazgul, in a way that Sam Gamgee never will.

Frodo Takes the RingFrodo is recruited, but in anything but a mercenary way. His offer in Rivendell—I will take the Ring…though I do not know the way—is an act of moral heroism in a way that none of the other Recruited Heroes we’ve considered—the Seven, Beowulf, Gareth or Mad Max—can match, because there’s not a shred of self-interest in it. Frodo’s self-interest would be to go home quietly to the Shire and forget all about Rings, Dark Lords and Cracks of Doom, but his strong moral centre doesn’t allow him to do so. This, too, can be how a Recruited Hero is made.

None of them remain to enjoy their victory. They might die, move on, be left behind or depart over the Western Sea, but there’s no place for a Recruited Hero after his triumph. As the old man tells the survivors at the end of The Magnificent Seven:

Only the farmers have won. They remain forever. They are like the land itself. You helped rid them of Calvera, the way a strong wind helps rid them of locusts. You’re like the wind¬—blowing over the land and…passing on.

When a Chaotic Champion is able to remain, then he becomes something quite different: something I’ll look at in the next article.

*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.

Title image by Justin Gerard.

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2 Comments

  1. Davieboy says:

    Very enjoyable read! Thanks.

  2. Jezrien says:

    I agree, it was very interesting and enjoyable.

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