We all love a good rescue, don't we? Many of us in the Lair especially like rescues involving massive boom. Most rescues, though, are a lot quieter. Even when there's boom in a romance novel rescue, the more important salvation comes when the hero and heroine free each other from their baggage--when love lets them finally shed the ghosts, scars, and fears of their pasts and make a new life together.
This blog was inspired by the Remy Zero song "Save Me," which happens to be the theme song for Smallville. The chorus, which is the part in the credits, starts, "Somebody save me, let your warm hands break right through me." (At least I think "me" is the last word in that line. It's hard to tell, and I found competing versions on the net.)
Think for a minute about all the saviors in the novels and movies you love--from "everyday" heroes who find it within themselves to step up when needed to firefighters and police and soldiers and Navy SEALs and BAD agency and other covert operatives and Dark-Hunters and vampires and wizards and super-heroes. Genre fiction abounds with them. There's something innately appealing about a character dedicated to saving people.
In Tears of the Sun, a gritty, violent but moving film, Bruce Willis as Lt. Waters leads a SEAL team taking refugees out of a war zone. They come across a village where residents are being brutalized by rebel forces, and Waters tells his guys they're going in. One of his men says, "Rules of engagement, LT?" They've been told by their commander that their rules of engagement, their code of conduct, is to fire if fired upon. Waters looks at him and says, "We're already engaged." By compassion and simple humanity. And I have to say watching the SEALs take out the bad guys was a thing of beauty, if a bit gory.
In Acheron, we finally take a complete look at a character who has spent millennia saving humanity. At last, we have all the pieces of this hero's story, all the pain and humiliation he had to overcome, and see the damage his youth did to his soul. The first half of the book makes for difficult reading because it's so full of pain. Luckily, all that leads to redemption.
One of Acheron's friends tells Soteria, Ash's true love, to remember how hard it is for someone who has known neither kindness nor compassion to show them to others. As Ash and the Dark-Hunters have saved others from agonizing deaths, Tori rescues him from the humiliation and pain of his past. It isn't easy. The biggest obstacles to the rescue are his shame and, despite all the marvelous things he's done and has the ability to do, his lack of self-esteem and lack of faith in his own resourcefulness. In the end, Tori's love for Ash forces him to be the man she sees him as and gives him a bright future.
Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, dramatically risks life and limb to save his love, Kat Boleyn. It's a dramatic, fabulous rescue, but it doesn't resolve their larger problem. Sebastian has extraordinary physical gifts, money, and a brilliant mind, but he can't convince Kat a lord and an actress can build a life together. She unshakably believes marriage to her would isolate him socially and ultimately make them both unhappy.
In a later book, a tragic secret comes to light. I'm not spoiling it, but I will say I hoped someone would rescue one of the characters from the resulting grief and pain. Looks like that'll be in a future book. I hope.
On Smallville, Clark Kent goes into tunnels full of Kryptonite to save his arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor. The tunnels are also wired with explosives, on detonators that are running. With the Kryptonite down there, Clark is in as much danger from a bomb blast as anyone else. His friend and confidante Chloe Sullivan tries to discourage him, but Clark won't be swayed. At last, she grudgingly concedes, "I get it. You don't get to choose who you save. Not if you're Clark Kent."
Acheron and Sebastian and Willis's Lt. Waters and Superman and their ilk inspire those around them and, by extension, their readers or viewers, to look to their better angels. How cool is that?
I've been watching a lot of Smallville lately. Comic book geek that I am, I watched the first couple of seasons, but I'd been out of high school so long that a show focusing on high school angst, even with super-powers, just didn't grab me. I drifted away from it, watching an episode occasionally if I remembered it was on. While I wasn't looking, it got interesting. Lois Lane brought a dose of attitude and a fondness for verbal sparring with Clark to Smallville. What really got me to pay attention again, though, was a rescue.
I happened to tune in to an episode last year in which Clark had no powers and was working as slave labor somewhere in the former USSR. Finally, someone showed up to rescue him--Oliver "Green Arrow" Queen, the world's greatest archer. Oliver and Clark didn't fight their way out of the situation in quite the usual way, though they did throw some punches. Oliver mostly talked and bought their way out, preserving Clark's cover and his own.
Note what Clark says to Oliver at the end of that clip, "What took you so long?" He knew his friends would find him. Counted on their doing so, and don't we count on our friends to help when we need them? In the previous season (Season 7 for DVD-ites), Clark and Oliver teamed up with a posse of super-heroes to rescue people with powers from becoming Luthorcorp's lab rats, a mission that played a big role in forcing Clark to take a wider view, to look to all the world's problems and not just those right around him.
The Chloe character mentioned above irritated me hugely at first because she wasn't in the Superman mythos I grew up with, but I've come to like her. I've also come to view Lex Luthor differently. Thanks to the writers and to Michael Rosenbaum's nuanced portrayal, Lex was a much more complex character than the comic books gave us. (The character has since departed.) Lex actually saved Clark in one episode. Watching a bunch of episodes back to back, as I've been doing, reveals a pattern of Lex being desperate for love. In fact, Chloe tries to explain Lex to Clark by saying, "Total absence of love. Someone once said that's the definition of evil." Yet every time Lex had a shot at love, his Machiavellian dealings torpedoed it, just as the fears and scars and ghosts of so many characters' pasts in romance novels torpedo their shots. Until the right lover comes along to save them.
Five for Fighting's Superman album contains a song called "It's Not Easy" that actually is about the Man of Steel and contains the lines, "Even heroes have a right to bleed" and "Even heroes have a right to dream." Sure, they do. But they often put their own pain and their own hopes and their own dreams aside to save the lives and wellbeing of others. That's part of what makes them heroes. It isn't always simple, though. As Oliver says to Clark in one episode, "I know you want to save everyone, but sooner or later, you'll have to make the hard choices. That's what heroes do."
In a romance, heroes and heroines who sacrifice their hopes and dreams for each other usually somehow attain them anyway or end up with something even better. If only things were that way in real life.
Some of you may remember that I have a weakness for ensembles. The quality of a hero's or heroine's friends can say a lot about the lead character. Even loners usually have someone who helps or supports them. Nicholas Brisbane and Sebastian St. Cyr are loners but have people who help them. Brisbane has his assistant and his former mistress. Sebastian has Tom, his light-fingered tiger, and the magistrate, Jarvis. Holmes had Watson and, at times, Inspector Lestrade. Frodo had the Fellowship of the Ring and the gift of Galadriel. Acheron had Jaden and Simi and Appollymi and Savitar and, for a time, Nick.
Chloe and Oliver and Lana and Lois (one of the few "good guys" in the Smallville universe not in on Clark's secret) and the love of Martha and Jonathan Kent all make Clark who he is. Clark is lucky to be surrounded by people who care about him and keep his secret, but Oliver Queen pushes him to step up to what his powers can do, which is why I used his picture so many times on the blog. (I also think he has a way cool costume, pictured at right.) Coming from someone who also sacrifices to save others, as Oliver does, the advice seems to have more punch for Clark than it would coming from an ordinary person. All the people in Clark's life help him remain true to the best in himself.
Isn't that part of what our own friends and loved ones do best, keep us true the best in ourselves? Save us from our darker angels?
For more about Smallville and its fandom, click here. New episodes return in September.
What's your favorite book or movie rescue (with or without boom)? Which hero or heroine do you think made the most heart-wrenching sacrifice, and why did you choose that particular one?
A mystery package of books from RWA (which have now arrived, so I'll be posting winners tonight) will go to one commenter.