79-Hera Syndulla

Favorite Character Types

I loved Chelsea’s post about her favorite types of characters, and she kindly let me borrow the idea for my own blog!  These are the folks I most enjoy reading about:

The Principled/Steadfast Fighter

Captain America is probably the poster boy for this type!

This character may fit into the generic “good guy” category, but his (or her) defining feature is dedication to what he believes is right.  Characters such as Captain America, John Blake from The Dark Knight Rises, Jarrod Barkley from The Big Valley, Jane Eyre, Fanny Price, Peeta Mellark from The Hunger Games, King Tirian from The Last Battle, and Puddleglum from The Silver Chair.  (Gloomy as Puddleglum is, when things are on the line, he’s steadfast in his principles!)

And this kind of character doesn’t always win the battle–Travis from The Alamo is this type (though, in a twist, definitely not a generic good guy).  But while winning the battle is important, for this character, doing what he believes is right is the ultimate fight.  And I love these kinds of characters because they give me hope, inspire me to stand up for my principles.

The Gentle/ Good-Hearted Fighter

Hugh Dancy as Daniel Deronda from the 2002 mini-series.

This is the guy who may seem like he’s too mild or gentle or soft-hearted to fight–but for these guys, Good Is Not Soft.  This is the character who cares deeply about his world, his loved ones, and his morals, and because of that deep love, he fights as fiercely as any hardened warrior.  Frodo and Faramir from The Lord of the Rings are the prime examples, but others are Jean Valjean, Samuel Diggs from Mercy Street, Igor from Victor Frankenstein, Fanny Price (again), and Bilbo Baggins.  Possibly also Daniel Deronda.  Steve Barton’s portrayal of Raoul also fits this category.  Just listen to his rendition of “All I Ask of You”–he’s understated, but earnest, and you can tell that he’d be willing to walk through fire for Christine.

This character is a subset of the principled fighter, but I enjoy this type because their fierceness is unexpected.  They get the upper hand because they look too tender to  do any damage–and yet they ultimately care so very deeply they’re willing to lay down their lives to defend what they love.  Durant from my story Gentle Fire is definitely this type.

The No-Nonsense Mentor

A comic I drew back in 2013!

Forget the wise old man smoking a pipe and delivering quiet (if vague) words of wisdom; I like the mentors who tell it like it is and won’t put up with your whining, who whip ya into shape, and have a sharp wit to boot.  Think Gandalf, Alfred Pennyworth, Obi-Wan from the prequels, and Captain Pellew from the Horatio Hornblower TV series.  Dr. Livesey from Treasure Island kinda fits this category as well.

I think I like this type because the “wise old man” mentor type seems to deliver very vague advice and let the hero figure out the context/deeper meaning on his own.  And if I were a young hero-in-training, I would be incredibly frustrated.  Either tell me what to do point blank, or let me do it my way.  No waffling in between those options, please.  And the no-nonsense mentor does not waffle.  Their advice is “take it or leave it.”  That, and I love a sharp wit.  🙂

Honest, Honorable Men

These guys get labelled “bland” or “boring” because All Girls Want Bad Boys–until we’re pestered by that one boy who won’t take no for an answer, and then our distaste for honorable men comes back to bite us.

Ahem.  Sorry, got sidetracked.  But seriously, what’s wrong with a respectful and honest guy?  Just because they lack an edgy dark side doesn’t mean they’re boring.  Case in point would be Charles Darnay from A Tale of Two Cities.  Many people compare him to Sydney Carton and declare Sydney a more interesting character.  But that doesn’t mean Charles is one-dimensional.  He makes mistakes.  He should have told his family he was heading back to France.  His pride was nettled as Englishmen ridiculed the French aristocracy, the class to which he belonged–even though he had renounced his heritage.  And just look at his interactions with Lucie—when alone with his beloved, this honest, straightforward, principled young man turns into a sentimental softie who calls her pet names.  It’s adorable.

(And from a story analysis perspective, if Charles hadn’t been honorable and honest, Sydney would probably not have been inspired to change.  Comparing himself to Charles showed him what he could be, if he just made the effort.  But that’s another topic for another post.)

Other honest, honorable characters are Jarrod Barkley, Daniel Deronda, Mr. Darcy, and Edward Ferras from Sense & Sensibility, and James Green from Mercy Street.  A female example would be Jane Eyre (actually,  we could use  more female characters in this category.  I specified male characters because I respect those qualities, and I”m tired of the bad boy attraction, but women ought to be honest and honorable too.)

The Leader

This is how I picture Peter Pevensie!

I love a man who takes charge (without being a bully) and who knows what to do in the situation.  A man with initiative and willing to plunge right into things and get involved.  I can’t express how much I love the leaders!.  Characters like Jarrod Barkley, Captain America, Peter Pevensie, Aragorn, Hadley Fraser’s Raoul from The Phantom of the Opera, and  Lucky Jack from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

I like the leaders because, first of all, that is the role God assigned to men.  And I respect a man who embraces that role and doesn’t let the culture dictate otherwise.  It’s also quite admirable when a man sees what needs to be done and steps up to the plate, takes the responsibility of handling a sticky situation and tries to solve the problems that get thrown his way.

The Tragic Hero/Antagonist

Henry Jekyll

Often presented in a cautionary tale, I like the heroes who definitely have a downward arc, but who also have either a valid point about the situation or good intentions.  Characters like Javert from Les Miserables: he’s often viewed as the antagonist with no room for mercy or grace in his mind–but think just how sad that is!  Also, as much as I root for Valjean, he did break his parole.  Javert was justified in at least locating the fugitive.

Other such characters would be Robert Angier from The Prestige (film), Dr. Jekyll from the 1994 concept album of Jekyll & Hyde.  Oh, and Boromir, my goodness.  Possibly also Maedhros from The Silmarillion; I relate to that guy more than I should (we’re both the eldest, both responsible, both very honor/duty driven, devastated by any mistakes that violate those last two values…)  And I would argue Gale Hawthorne fits into this category.  Because he was determined, intelligent, intuitive, and creative.  And he misused all that, even though he was trying to help win the war.

I am honestly not sure why I like this kind of character.  I don’t enjoy watching someone destroy themselves–maybe it’s a combination of respect for whatever good intentions the character has, plus a sobering warning.

Silk Hiding Steel

These are the ladies who seem like products of their time (in historical fiction) or the so-hated doormats in a contemporary setting.  These ladies are actually not doormats.  They are quiet but firm, gentle but principled–and as such, when push comes to shove, they are unflinching, industrious, and intelligent with spines of steel.  Lucie Manette, for example.  She was gentle and compassionate, and she spends most of the book caring for her family.  She also followed her husband to France when he was unjustly imprisoned, worked bravely in a foreign country where she was in constant danger of being also imprisoned herself, and every day, journeyed to a corner of the street where her husband might be able to see her if he could get to one of the upper windows of the prison.  And she stood there for two hours to let him catch a glimpse of her when he was able to.  Every day.  Just to encourage her imprisoned husband and remind him that she was there for him.  She also suffered no breakdowns, and she persevered through apprehension and uncertainty for two years.  Oh, and the Reign of Terror was going on during this time.   Lucie swoons only after her husband is unjustly imprisoned for the second time and sentenced to death.  How in the world is she a weak character?

Or take Christine from The Phantom of the Opera.  She seems naive and overly-trusting–but notice that she trusts only those people she considers friends.  Which at first included the Phantom, but after she learns his true identity, she flees from him and never ultimately trusts him again.  She also, after being lied to and betrayed by the man she considered her mentor, was not afraid to love again, and trusted Raoul to protect her (even though she disagreed with his methods later).  And after all that–she remained compassionate toward the man who had hurt her so badly.  Christine is awesome, guys.  For deeper analysis of her character, check out my post here.

Jane Eyre also fits this Silk Hiding Steel category, and Elinor Dashwood , Fanny Price, Emma Green from Mercy Street, and Lisa Carew from the 1994 concept album of Jekyll & Hyde.  Probably others I can’t think of just now.  🙂

So there you have it, some of my favorite character types!  Are there any more you would add to the list?

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79-Hera Syndulla

10 Favorite Musicals – Part 2

All right, the next  three musicals in my top favorites list!

#4 Jekyll and Hyde (1994 concept album)

Doctor Jekyll creates a serum that will divide human nature into its good and evil sides, hoping to do away with the evil.  Failing to secure a test subject for his serum, he uses it on himself, creating the personality of Edward Hyde.  But Jekyll finds himself unable to control and do away with Hyde.

This is another musical I never thought I would like, but I listened to it after Bella mentioned it on her blog.  After a few songs, I was intrigued.  After listening to the whole thing, I liked it.  After listening to it a few more times, I became obsessed and lived attached to my laptop via earbuds to listen to the music on a YouTube playlist.  (And then got the CD for Christmas.)  But let me reiterate that this is the 1994 concept album, not the final Broadway version  The Broadway version had dirtier subtext, a choppier story, and didn’t have Anthony Warlow as Jekyll (yes, that’s a deal-breaker here).

The 1994 concept album, however, provides a lot of food for thought.  The musical asks why man’s nature is the way it is, why he is capable of both justice and corruption.  Of both compassion and hatred. “Why does he revel in murder and madness; what is it makes him be less than he should?” Jekyll asks in one of the opening numbers.  But Jekyll is incorrect in his theory about how to fix the problem; his solution relies completely on science and man’s effort.  Not that either of those are bad in and of themselves—but if man’s nature is truly “a deal with the devil he cannot disclaim,” then can man really free himself by his own effort?

On the flip side, Jekyll does not blame the devil or God or anyone for mankind’s sinful nature.  It is something to be overcome, but it is not a victim status inflicted on him by some higher evil.  (I intend to do an in-depth post about this musical and its themes later.)  Jekyll also reexamines himself after his experiment goes wrong.  In the earlier number “I Need to Know,” Jekyll speaks generally of man’s sin, man’s weakness, mankind’s failure.  A sweeping generalization.  But then, in “Streak of Madness,” after Edward Hyde has been created, Jekyll  refers only to himself, his own nature, his own sin.  Hyde is an extension of his own personality, after all.

Ultimately, this story is a cautionary tale.  It shows a man (even a well-intentioned one) who tries to play God and rid himself of his evil nature through his own effort—and this he cannot do, and the experiment fails.  Oops, spoilers, but we all knew the story, right?  Speaking of the failed experiment, the overall feel of this musical is somewhat dark (thanks to the subject matter and to Edward Hyde).  I would have preferred it if it had a redeeming character like the Bishop from Les Miserables as a contrast to the mistakes the characters make.  There are also a lot of caveats: scattered cursing throughout, misuses of the Lord’s name, and a couple of songs with sexual subtext.  I skip the numbers “Bring on the Men,” “A Dangerous Game,” and “Bitch, Bitch, Bitch,” entirely.  And on other in Act II, but I can’t remember its name.

The score of this musical reflects the emotion and undertones of the story remarkably.  Minor chords, minimal orchestration during the quiet, tense moments, swirling, soaring melodies of triumph, blaring chords during Hyde’s rampages, they all compliment the lyrics perfectly.  The piano is a major player (ha!) in this musical score, and I think it contributes to the feel of the story better than another instrument would have done in its place.  Often, a piece starts out with a meditative piano introduction or slow, minor chords, and then builds to fuller orchestration.

It’s incredibly hard to pick a favorite number from this one.  As with Jane Eyre, it would be easier to list the songs I don’t care for, but after some consideration, I’m going with “This is the Moment.”  I’ve heard that this is a cliché number at sports events, but I think it fits writers just was well.  If not better.

#5 Les Miserables

Released convict Jean Valjean returns to stealing, and gets himself arrested again–but a Bishop shows him unexpected mercy.  Thereafter, Valjean resolves to become a better man and build a new life.  But to do so, he breaks his permanent parole and must constantly run from Inspector Javert, a man dedicated to justice, with no room for mercy in his life.

Yes, I left out several other themes of Les Mis.  But it’s hard to describe everything succinctly.  The story has themes of justice, mercy, forgiveness, friendship, redemption, fighting for your freedom, fighting for what you believe in, and probably others I haven’t noticed.

But I’d like to talk about the Bishop.  This character appears only in Act I of the stage show and in only 1—2 numbers (depending on how you count), but his brief presence affects Valjean’s life and therefore, the rest of the musical.  The Bishop probably knew that Valjean was an ex-convict, but nonetheless gave him shelter and food for the night, treated him like an ordinary guest.  And when Valjean was dragged back to the Bishop’s house the next day, with stolen silver in his bag, the Bishop said he gave the man that silver.  Which wasn’t true, and I don’t think the Bishop did the right thing to lie.  On the other hand, if he decided to gift the silver right then and there upon hearing the accusation, then it was technically true.  His intent was to show this convict God’s mercy.  Not only did the Bishop drop charges for the theft, he gave the silver to Vajlean, and also the fine silver candlesticks that Valjean had left behind.

But the Bishop’s mercy comes with a charge: “You must use this precious silver to become an honest man.”  Valjean isn’t getting a get-out-of-jail-free ticket for stealing the silver.  He must repent and change his ways.  Of course, the Bishop has no way of knowing for sure that Valjean will do this—but that almost makes his mercy the more poignant.  This man is willing to give his silver to an ex-convict who might see the treasure, not as a second chance, but as an easy way out.

Though the Bishop has no way of knowing how Valjean uses the gift, Valjean does repent of his ways and use the silver to become an honest man.  He takes the charge so seriously that, when he hears that a man has been mistaken for him and is going back to prison, the real Valjean shows up at court and reveals himself to be prisoner 24601 instead.  Valjean’s kindness and industry and faithfulness uplifts many other characters in the musical.  And it all started with a simple act of mercy.

I do have to mention some problems with the musical: there is scattered cursing through out, some suggestive lines, and a couple of songs inappropriate for general audiences.  “Lovely Ladies” is about prostitutes, and “Master of the House,” is completely inappropriate and does nothing for the story.  We just skip those two songs.  🙂

Having waxed eloquent about the Bishop, my favorite song from Les Miserables is not one of his numbers, but the Epilogue.  It’s a bittersweet ending to the story, but a beautiful one, especially once the choir joins in the melody and the music soars.

# 6: The Secret Garden

Spoiled orphan Mary Lennox comes to live with her uncle Archibald Craven on the Yorkshire moor.  There is nothing to do in that old house with over a 100 shut up rooms—but when she goes outside, Mary discovers the waiting world of the gardens of the manor.

Yech, I did it again.  Turned the story totally cheesy.  Ahem.  This was another musical Bella recommended.  It had to grow on me, but it quickly became a favorite.

Though adapted from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel of the same name, the musical focuses on not only the children seeking a place to belong, but on the grown-ups of the story coming to terms with the past and moving on.  It’s an interesting dynamic that was hinted at in the book, and the musical expands upon it.  Which changes the story a good deal, but I think that expanded them works well in the musical and makes it a good story on its own terms.

The music is my favorite aspect of this musical.  Yeah, I say that a lot, but since these are stories told through music, the music does have to be good.  It has almost a turn-of-the-century opera feel to it, an old-fashioned, classical style of music and singing.

And my favorite number from this story is “Come to My Garden.”  In fact, I was learning to sing that song during voice lessons when the pneumonia hit last year (and lasted for 3 months).  The sickness revived the asthma I had as a kid, and so long story short, I’ve had to quit voice lessons.  And for a while, I feared that listening to that song, the beautiful number I wanted to learn, would just remind me of what I’d lost.  But oddly enough, it doesn’t hurt to listen to that song.  “Come to My Garden,” actually gives me hope that perhaps I can heal from this; something about the lyrics and melody, gentle yet soaring, just says “hope”.

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