Tuesday, January 24, 2006

You like me because I'm a scoundrel. There aren't enough scoundrels in your life.

For no reason that I can figure out I spent the other day thinking a lot about the Lovable Rogue figure in stories. Also for no reason that I can figure out, all the examples I came up with were from films or television. To clarify what I'm talking about, here's a list of folks I think fit the profile, or nearly so:

Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
Malcolm Reynolds in "Firefly" and Serenity
Xena in "Xena, Warrior Princess"
Madmartigan in Willow
Jack T. Colton in Romancing the Stone
Dominar Rygel XVI in "Farscape"
Spike in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (Seasons 4-7 or so) and "Angel"
Han Solo in the original Star Wars trilogy

I'm guessing that my unconscious brain wants to write about a rogue of this sort at some point, and so I did something that I've never tried doing before; I started analyzing the type. I almost said archetype, because I think that in some ways the Lovable Rogue (LR) is a trickster figure, depowered and given human problems. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Of the folks on that list above, I'd imagine that the one that would cause the most raised eyebrows would be Rygel of "Farscape." Mainly, I'd guess, this is because of the "Lovable" tag. Partly I'm including him in order to test the limits of the type, but the truth is that despite his mercenary nature I find him fascinating and endlessly amusing, and to me those are some of the most basic characteristics of an LR: mercenary, complex, and entertaining. I've got a theory as to why Rygel may not quite fit the bill for most folks, though, and I'll expound on that in a bit.

As far as I can figure, to work as an LR a character must possess many but not necessarily all of the following twenty traits. I don't claim that the list is exhaustive, but it's pretty damn long.

1. The LR does not trust easy; conversely, he is often untrustworthy. (Romancing the Stone makes hay of this. At one point, Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) lists "trustworthy" as one of the most important characteristics of a man; later, when she asks Jack what the "T" of his middle name stands for, he answers "Trustworthy.") The LR doesn't trust because, well, he's been screwed over before. He expects it, so he tries to do it to them first, before they do it to him. In other words, he does it because . . .

2. The LR lives in a mercenary and violent world. Money and survival are the values by which she lives, and the one is often exchanged for the other. The LR tries to keep her head down, but she keeps a sword or a blaster at her side, because she has to. And she keeps on the lookout for the big score, because she's always just barely scraping by.

3. The LR shoots first. Sorry, Greedo.

4. The LR is on the run. Think Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt, Rygel from Durka/Crais/Scorpius, Mal from everybody. The LR doesn't have a home per se, unless it's a vehicle (most likely a ship). He's a nomad.

5. The LR is charismatic and/or sexy. This is one area in which Rygel falls short; the rest of the list above, though, probably fits the bill.

6. The LR lives in the Briar Patch. She is almost always in over her head, fighting against impossible odds. She works on the borders and frontiers; think Uncharted Territories (or seas). It's dangerous, but it's also far enough from the authorities for the work of profit and survival to get done.

7. The LR is stubborn. He does things his own way, and doesn't care to hear anyone else's counsel. If you're going to help, do what he tells you; otherwise, get out of the way and he'll do it himself.

8. The LR is reckless. To her, they're calculated risks, but to an observer they look suicidal. The thing is, she's got to work with what she has. Her resources are limited, and she's constantly stretching them to her limits in order to stay alive. Signing on with her is not for the faint of heart.

9. The LR has one trusted companion/sidekick. Think Chewie, Gabrielle, Zoe. In some of the cases above, the LR actually is the sidekick; Madmartigan, Spike, maybe Rygel. Note that the adjective "trusted" becomes less apt when the LR serves in this capacity.

10. The LR despises authority, or at least the dominant authority. Rygel hates the Peacekeepers, Solo hates the Empire, Mal hates the Alliance. LRs tend to be anarchists in practice; they work against law enforcement, through either criminal or vigilante action or both. Their focus tends to be on people rather than causes, although sometimes the two bleed together; in the case of Malcolm Reynolds in Serenity, it's the intersection of his hate for the Alliance and the victimization of regular people that catapults him into action.

11. The LR has accepted mortality. She's resigned herself to dying young, and not in her bed. If you roll with her, you're going to be in the line of fire. She'll be run through, or shot out of the sky. The last thing she wants, though, is to be captured and executed, or to die in prison. Confinement is worse than death.

12. The LR enjoys a good fight. He isn't necessarily looking for a fight--OK, Madmartigan is looking for a fight, and Spike, and maybe Xena--but once it's on, he's in his element. It's one of the only times he's able to really cut loose.

13. The LR is an accomplished confidence artist. She can bilk, bluff, or blush her way out of--or into--just about anything. She'll tell you she's got four cannons trained on you, and you won't really believe her--except that she's so smug about it, and we are getting these odd readings, and what if she's telling the truth? Again, the LR doesn't have a lot to work with. Sometimes she needs to make it seem like she's got more. Of course, it's also true that--

14. The LR has many skills. For Xena it's practically a motto, but she's not the only one. Self-reliance means just that; you've got to be a Jack- or Jill-of-all-trades, as comfortable taking apart an engine as you are making dinner, as adept at shoeing a horse as you are darning a tunic. And if you don't already know, you have to be able to learn.

15. The LR is a skeptic, and disdains mysticism, magic, and religion. "Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side." Religion doesn't keep you fed and it doesn't keep you alive, either. The LR believes in what he can touch, and even that's only true about 70% of the time.

16. The LR is not wealthy. At least, most of the time, he's not. He's made a few big scores, but more often than not it's easy come, easy go. Maybe he was wealthy once, but that was a long time ago. Right now, he needs to get paid. Maybe, just maybe, he dreams of one big job that'll make his fortune and allow him to retire comfortably. But even if that happens, he's not sure he'll be able to sit still.

17. The LR is impatient, sarcastic, flippant, disrespectful, informal, and crude. She sneers at proprieties and most other things that carry class connotations. Whatever class she was born to, she tends to identify with the lower, working classes, although she's not above sneering at them either. This ambivalence may have its roots in her background, but she's probably not going to talk about that.

18. The LR has vices, but they tend to be relatively harmless ones. Gambling, booze, and sex in varying degrees are common, but hard drugs or anything else that might mean a total loss of control are not. The LR likes to be in control of his indiscretions. That's why he tends to be more comfortable patronizing prostitutes than women with whom serious entanglements might ensue. It's also why he drinks. In his business it's expected, and he keeps in practice so as to keep his tolerance up, so he'll be sharp if things go bad. It's not likely you can outdrink him in a fair contest, or beat him in a card game. He cheats.

19. If--and it's a big if--you manage to get the LR to trust you and care whether you live or die, you'll have earned an unswervingly loyal friend. She may berate you, call you stupid, give you dirty jobs, condescend to you, tell you to get lost and generally treat you badly for no discernible reason, but if you get into trouble, she'll be there to bail you out. If for no other reason than to tell you what an idiot you were for getting into trouble in the first place.

20. That's all I've got. Let me know if you think of any others.

I'm curious as to what other characters--particularly from books--others might think fit this profile. I'm sure if I thought about it I could come up with a few from comics, but hey, I've got homework to do. You people need to pick up the slack. One thing I'm also wondering is if characters from non-adventure genres can fit the LR profile--for no reason other than I just rewatched the movie, I wonder if Royal Tenenbaum might be an LR, for instance.

OK, enough blagging from me for now.