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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Reluctant Hero

Reluctant heroes have always fascinated me, perhaps because they are much like you and me. Many times, they've led normal lives, held average jobs, and might even have been sheltered from the ugliness of the world - before they are catapulted into an out-of-control situation in which their lives are threatened.

One of the most vivid reluctant heroes I remember is the role Jon Voight played in the movie Deliverance. He was an average man who worked a job in a suit and tie, and who usually played golf with the fellas on the weekend. Except for one weekend when he joined three friends to canoe down a river before the water was diverted. Early in the movie, he tried and failed to kill a deer because the mere thought of killing was so repugnant to him. But by the end of the movie, his fate and the fate of his friends rested squarely on his shoulders - and he had to face his demons, kill or be killed - and be forever changed in the process.

Throughout history there have been reluctant heroes. A classic is Jimmy Stewart's portrayal of a man who is determined to stay out of the Civil War in the movie Shenandoah:

He makes it clear in the scene above that he spent a lifetime caring for his farm and raising his family, and he doesn't intend to get involved in a war that has nothing to do with him... Until the war comes to roost at his own front door.

Jimmy Stewart and the role of the reluctant hero were the inspiration behind the character of Christopher Sandige in my suspense/thriller, Exit 22. Chris is a city boy, a political strategist, completely at ease with the big city, a computer and a desk. But in Exit 22, he finds himself completely out of his element. He is stranded for the weekend in a small North Carolina town and immediately involved in a double homicide. Now he is on the run.

Unaccustomed to handling a weapon, Chris is a man who has never had a reason to fire a gun - until a sociopathic assassin leaves him no choice. He's forced into hand-to-hand combat in one scene, as the assassin is closing in on him and his lover, Brenda Carnegie, at a hotel. The climactic scene comes as the two lovers are hiding at a country estate, unaware that the assassin has found a way into the home - and is intent on killing them both. Now he must decide whether he has what it takes to kill -- or be killed.

Who do you remember as a reluctant hero in movies or books? Why did their character remain with you long after you finished that last page or watched that last scene?