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The Chaotic Champion – Part Six: The Protector Hero

Gunfight At The OK Corral (poster)The town of Tombstone is in turmoil. The countryside around is ruled by bandits, and ranchers who are little better, and the small group of men who stand between the law-abiding townsfolk and anarchy walk out to the strains of Do Not Forsake Me (no, sorry, wrong film) for a winner-takes-all showdown. These aren’t hired gunmen or wanderers just arrived in town. They’re not “good outlaws” or the Lone Ranger and Tonto. This is the U.S. Marshal and his deputies doing their job, if in somewhat unorthodox style. They are Protector Heroes.

The Protector Hero is similar to the Outsider Hero in his* commitment to the society he protects, with the difference that he has an official role and gains respect for fulfilling it. Besides U.S. Marshal, he might be a policeman, captain of the king’s guard, knight of the Round Table, government agent, star-ship captain, Jedi knight, or even an archaeologist. He’s permanently employed to defend society—order—against the forces of chaos threatening it.

On the other hand, these are Chaotic Champions, and they can’t get too comfortable or conforming. Perhaps the most common contemporary version of the Protector Hero is the cop—Kojak, Starsky and Hutch, and countless others—but these are rarely careful, professional officers, methodically sifting the evidence and writing exhaustive reports. They flout authority, bypass the proper channels and ride roughshod over the rules.

Captain Kirk, Spock and Uhura by HappyRussiaCaptain Kirk has a similarly approximate relationship with the rules. In the later Star Trek: Voyager, Captain Janeway (hardly the model of conformity herself) comments once of Kirk and his officers, Of course, the whole bunch of them would be booted out of Starfleet today. But I have to admit, I would have loved to ride shotgun at least once with a group of officers like that.

As would we all, of course, if only in story. In reality, behaviour that unorthodox wouldn’t be tolerated at any period, just as police officers who actually behaved like the heroes on cop shows would cut a swath through innocent bystanders and most likely end up in prison.

In the same way, following the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (which actually took place several blocks away from its eponymous location) the Earps and Holliday were tried for murder, although eventually acquitted. Actually, despite what the mythology tells us, this wasn’t at all typical of the wild west—in fact, the gunfight’s remembered because it was quite unusual. Its immediate cause (though coming after a long history of conflict) was that the cowboys had broken the law by carrying guns within the town limits, which comes as a surprise to anyone only used to the mythical western.

Knight by Justin SweetNevertheless, it’s the mythology that concerns us here, and these figures are heroes whom, unlike some Chaotic Champions, we can look up to unreservedly, as long as they remain safely within their stories. In those stories, the streets are a safer place because of the heroic cop, just as the Alpha Quadrant’s a safer place because the Enterprise can outgun Klingons, Romulans and the rest.

The ideal knight is another figure who’s far more admirable and heroic in story than in reality. Most real mediaeval knights can be described in the same terms as the classic definition of mediaeval life—nasty, brutish and short—and were self-seeking soldiers whose main concern was plunder. The knight of romance, though, was another creature altogether, who righted wrongs, defended the weak and (most importantly) rescued maidens in distress.

For the most part, they belonged to some official order with those ideals, such as Arthur’s Round Table or Charlemagne’s Paladins. The latter has become the generic term for the ideal, holy knight, although originally it was simply an order of knighthood whose commander was the Count Palatine, just as the original Round Table, whether Arthur’s or an older model, was little more than a convenient set-up for feasting and war-council.

In story, though, such orders exist to encourage their members, by common example, to act like true knights and uphold the ideals of the kingdom. This is a situation that comes about under a King Hero, when a country is ruled by a Chaotic Champion, and I’ll look at that in the next article.

INDIANA JONES & SHORT ROUND by batfish73The important thing about the Protector Hero is that he has an official role whose purpose is to defend the established order, and this may take many forms. It should be obvious who I meant by including archaeologist in the list above. No, not Phil Harding. Indiana Jones is a professor of archaeology, which gives him his official status, and uses highly unorthodox methods to ensure the relics he tracks down are treated in the proper way. He repeatedly insists This belongs in a museum, rather than in the private collection of a tomb-robber—let alone in the hands of the Nazis.

At times, though, the Protector’s position is less obvious. The government agent, typified by James Bond, certainly has an official status, and is (in the fictional reality of their stories, at least) working to protect order from the forces of chaos, usually typified in Bond stories by ruthless, powerful men aiming to hold the world to ransom for their own gain.

Nevertheless, in some ways Bond resembles an Outsider Hero more than a Protector. He operates on the fringes of society just as much as Batman or Superman, using methods that wouldn’t be acceptable even for the maverick cop hero. Though he has a licence to kill, he’s on his own while he’s doing it.

Batman and Robin by arcarsenalIn the same way, Outsider Heroes can often have a role, temporary or permanent, that seems more like a Protector. In some versions, such as the 60s TV series, Batman and Robin are duly deputised officers of the law. (I’d love to see the paperwork for that—do Batman and Robin go under first name or surname?) Though this obviously gives them official status, they continue to work undercover, with not even Commissioner Gordon knowing their true identities, and their entire nature remains Outsider rather than Protector.

Like most Chaotic Champions, the Protector doesn’t last indefinitely, unless, like James Bond, he lives in what appears to be an unending loop, with no consequences surviving the end of a story. The bravest knight will fall at last, on the field of Camlan in the ruin of the kingdom, or in a heroic last stand at Roncevalles against overwhelming hordes of Saracens (more accurately, Basque tribesmen) or, like Lancelot, end up fighting the king he served. The U.S. Marshal or the Jedi knight will take on one last fight he can’t win. The starship captain might even get sucked into an anomaly.

The Caliber by ArtgermOn the other hand, Protector Heroes can sometimes simply give up their role. Wyatt Earp is an example. Contrary to the popular version, Wyatt wasn’t actually the leader of the Earps—his brother Virgil was the Marshal, and Wyatt was only temporarily deputised for the emergency. His reputation seems to have come from being the only participant in the gunfight not to be killed or wounded, either then or in the tit-for-tat shootings that followed. He eventually moved to California, went into business and lived peacefully till 1929—his pallbearers included prominent Hollywood “cowboys”.

That doesn’t often get mentioned in the legend, and some people seem to believe Wyatt Earp actually died heroically at the O.K. Corral. Though the tale hasn’t been altered as such, the inconvenient bits tend to be ignored.

Even so, it can be hard to stop being a Chaotic Champion, even if you’ve retired. Obi-Wan Kenobi was certainly a Protector Hero under the Republic, although he became an Outlaw Hero when Palpatine took over. He was living quietly as a hermit on Tatooine but, of course, he comes back for one last adventure and falls to Darth Vader’s lightsabre. After all, Chaotic Champions are supposed, ultimately, to go down fighting, not to die in their bed. Everyone knows that.

*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 Sweet.

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5 Comments

  1. Davieboy says:

    Thanks, well written. Enjoying this series very much!

  2. Davieboy says:

    Is this series going to be in the Anthology do you know? Also the “FANTASTICAL CREATURES OF GRECO-ROMAN MYTHOLOGY” series? Give me a yes and I’ll order today….

  3. Erica says:

    Well written, Nyki, and very interesting.

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