Every week, Fantasy Review Barn runs a feature where they seek out examples of fantasy tropes. Other bloggers are welcome to join in, finding their own books to match the given topic.
This weeks topic is Middle-Aged Heroes:
This hero stuff is usually a young person’s game. And, occasionally, a grizzled old veteran can get involved. It is a true rarity for someone to join the good fight for Fantasyland living in that in between ground.
This prompt is either quite easy or quite hard, depending on how narrowly you define middle-aged. Obviously, Gandalf and his ilk are cut off from the classification at one end of the spectrum, and Sabriel and Lyra fall off at the other. But that still leaves a number of decades between “ancient wizard” and “still at school”. Is middle-aged any time after thirty? Or forty?
I decided, eventually, that the defining characterstic of the middle-aged was not age, particularly. I’d argue that some people are middle-aged at thirty, and some don’t make it there until forty-five, so pinning it all to a number is unreasonable.
Instead, I thought I’d treat middle-aged as anywhere from late twenties up, as long as it came with a corresponding attitude: weariness. The middle-aged, I assert, are tired – they want a few moments peace, they’d like to set down their sword for a while. They take part in fantasy books only reluctantly, only because they lack another choice.
That’s almost certainly an unfair judgement, and one that I am sure I will bitterly regret, in a few years time, as I crest the metaphorical hill. Still, it’s a working definition, it narrows down the field, and presents some obvious choices.
1. Sir Sparhawk – David Eddings, The Elenium
Sparhawk’s first appearance in The Diamond Throne already shows him to be battered and creaking. He’s returning from ten years of exile, he’s covered in scars (and has a broken nose). Everyone he knows is dead, absent, or trapped inside a crystal prison.
And almost immediately, he has to get back on his horse and ride away again. He gets no rest and has no chance to fully recuperate. Added to that, his questing companions are mostly either very young or very childish, so his battle-worn exterior and manner stand out all the more. He definitely feels middle-aged.
2. Logen Ninefingers – Joe Abercrombie, The First Law
“There are few men with more blood on their hands than me. None, that I know of.”
Logen is deadly – he’s fought and defeated champion after champion, he’s killed far more than he can count, and he sometimes has murderous episodes in which he slaughters indiscriminately. His name is feared throughout the North.
He would like to stop. Beneath all the incredible proficiency with killing, beneath the layers of blood, he’s a thoughtful, remorseful man. Yet he keeps on being forced onwards, by past enemies, his awful reputation, and current necessity.
3. Ser Jorah Mormont – George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire
Ser Jorah is another knight in exile. He’s been married twice, sent halfway across the world in disgrace, and now sells his sword to the highest bidder. He’s betrayed his principles and lost everything in doing so.
He finds a new cause worth fighting for, but it’s not an easy fight. He has to deal not just with armies and treachery and rivals, but also with the stains on his reputation.
4. Sam Vimes – Terry Pratchett, various books
Over the course of the Discworld books, we are shown Vimes as he grows older, more cynical, more tired. We see him defending barricades and outrunning werewolves, increasing diversity and standing up to kings. He doesn’t want to do most of this, but he has little choice – his city needs him. Did you ever think about where the word “policeman” comes from?
All Vimes wants, most of the time, is to go home. He wants to take off his ridiculous uniform and go read to his son, or spend an evening of domesticity with his wife. He rarely, if ever gets to do that. Instead, every single time, there’s a knock at the door and he has to go out, probably in the rain, and lead the Watch.
It’s quite a same-y list this week – all men, all warriors, all significantly scarred. I shall try and mix things up a little more next week.
The post on Fantasy Review Barn is here, and in addition to that list, there are links there to many other bloggers with their own take on the idea. Next week’s topic is flying rides.
I’ve not joined in with Tough Travels for a while now (almost exactly two months). I lacked time rather than inclination – I went abroad for a while, without access to computers, and then have been most incredibly busy for the past several weeks. I should be posting more regularly again now.
8 thoughts on “Tough Travels – Middle-Aged Heroes”
I am hoping that middle-aged is older than 30, because that really doesn’t give me that many years of youth left! But I like your definition as being more about world-weariness than actual age – makes sense.
I like Ser Jorah as a pick! Most people went straight to Eddard.
I wondered if The First Law books would get a mention. I haven’t read them yet so I couldn’t have Ninefingers on my list but I’ve heard of that character before.
Jorah is a great pick – and I agree that weariness is a good characteristic to describe these middle-aged men. Logen also made it onto my list though I don’t feel all that sorry for him. Yeah, he does what he has to and all but he KNOWS fighting puts him into those terrible rages and yet he still goes on and enters these stupid situations time after time. Ah, don’t mind me, I really like Abercrombie but The First Law trilogy just isn’t made for me…
Really great pick with Ser Jorah! Also your description of Middle-age made me smile. As someone who is already there you’re not wrong but I like to think it comes with working smarter not harder….perhaps? Who am I kidding:) Good point that it is definitely not really about age and more about attitude!
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I’ve only read about Vimes from your list and he matches your description well.
Good point about defining “middle aged.” I had a hard time with it and ended up choosing anyone in their mid thirties and beyond, but some of those people feel a bit young to be considered truly middle-aged. Jorah is a really good choice, I’m surprised he isn’t on more lists!
I think most people went for Ned Stark as a more obvious one. To my shame, I entirely forgot he existed.