Foolish Heroes

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we’re given some insight into Reepicheep’s character, and some further idea of why we love him:

He was a good player and when he remembered what he was doing he usually won. But every now and then Lucy won because the Mouse did something quite ridiculous like sending a knight into the danger of a queen and castle combined. This happened because he had momentarily forgotten it was a game of chess and was thinking of a real battle and making the knight do what he would certainly have done in its place. For his mind was full of forlorn hopes, death or glory charges, and last stands.

Many stories in our culture’s canon involve a protagonist who goes against the grain. The hero or heroine is faced with a crisis and urged to make the pragmatic, if somewhat damning, choice. How many times have generals or presidents been advised to firebomb an infected New York City in order to save the world? How often has the hero been torn between the choice to save the girl or the school bus full of children? These impossible choices are frequently at the heart of our hero stories, and they reveal the heart of the hero in the story– always a woman or a man full of compassion, who will not let the antagonist have even this one victory.

It’s interesting, then, to see that same terrible pragmatism in our national soul when the stories end. I’m not talking about any kind of pragmatism, but that which claims we can only make bad choices, so let’s make the best bad choice– as if this were somehow logically possible. This is the kind of sensibility which we hate, if our stories are to be any indication of our values.

So Democrats find themselves trying to raise the White Witch because Lord Miraz and his Telmarines are camped outside their front door, while Republicans flock to Egypt in order to be saved from the Assyrians.

We may call it pragmatism; our foolish heroes would call it cowardice.

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