Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I Volunteer as Leader

And now we come to the end of this extended cut of sacrificial kingship as a concept, what happened this got so out of control. It's just... I just love this theme so much, and, and, I got carried away, and...

Hokay, so. When last we left off, we'd established that the idea of a king as a noble leader willing to sacrifice himself for his people is fundamentally rooted in our worldwide mythology. That's why we all love characters like Aragorn, who are willing to sacrifice not only their lives but also their personal happiness for their people.

That's all fine and well in a fantasy setting where you have pure evil and pure good, but is it really relevant in a modern-day context? Does the divine right of kingship have a place in the modern world?

Let's talk about Tom Bombadil for a hot second.

He's of the jolly, beardy sort.
In case you've forgotten him, or never read The Lord of the Rings (since they wisely left him out of the movies), Tom Bombadil is the most powerful character in LOTR. Gandalf and Elrond and everybody says so. He could hold the One Ring forever and never be corrupted by it. And if Middle Earth fell to Sauron, he would be the very last to fall.

But none of that matters, because it's not in his nature to fight. He will not take a stand against Sauron, and therefore all the power in the world doesn't matter. Lesser men are forced to do the things he technically could do - but won't.

In ye oldeny days and even now, leadership and goodness are often conflated with genealogy. There's a few reasons for this - one is that when kings were running things you needed justification for their rule and you wanted to be reassured that the right guy was in power. And also, it's just easy. Heyyy, this guy is awesome because God made him born into this family, therefore he was MEANT to do this job. Abracadabra.

I like to think we've made a bit of progress. Leadership abilities are not restricted to a particular gene pool - or a particular gender, for that matter.

Instead, I propose the notion of sacrificial leadership. Where the strength of character to lead others and be willing to sacrifice yourself (or at least a part of yourself) for them comes from within whatever you are.

A really great example of this is Katniss in The Hunger Games. Don't worry, no spoilers, although it applies to later events in the series too... But all we really need to look at is the very beginning.

They’re not our kids, of course. But they might as well be. Gale’s two little brothers and a sister. Prim. And you may as well throw in our mothers, too, because how would they live without us? Who would fill those mouths that are always asking for more? With both of us hunting daily, there are still nights when game has to be swapped for lard or shoelaces or wool, still nights when we go to bed with our stomachs growling.
When her father dies, twelve-year-old Katniss chooses not to give up. She chooses to provide for the sister she loves and the mother she doesn't. She puts their welfare ahead of her own, feeds them when she can't feed herself. And of course, we all know that she makes the ultimate sacrifice for Prim.

“Prim!” The strangled cry comes out of my throat, and my muscles begin to move again. “Prim!” I don’t need to shove through the crowd. The other kids make way immediately allowing me a straight path to the stage. I reach her just as she is about to mount the steps. With one sweep of my arm, I push her behind me.
“I volunteer!” I gasp. “I volunteer as tribute!”

This doesn't only apply to life-or-death situations. In my upcoming book, the hero is a rich CEO who runs the family business out of duty. He knows that he has the means to employ a large number of people and to make positive changes in the world, so he feels that it would be irresponsible to step down and just dabble in hobbies and have fun for the rest of his life.

So yes, as much as I have always loved the theme of sacrificial kingship in literature/film, I think we've moved past the idea of divine right. Nobody deserves anything because they happened to be born in a certain situation. But life isn't about what we deserve. Life isn't fair. We have to make the best of what we have and the best of what's inside us. We can use the term sacrificial leadership to encompass heroes and heroines both past and present. Some people are born leaders, and (at least in literature) in order to complete their character arc they need to embrace that ability in themselves and be willing to sacrifice themselves (or part of themselves) for the greater good.

Like Aragorn.

Tolkien once killed a man in an outlining contest.
Just, not like his crown.

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