Thursday, January 15, 2009

I Love a Swashbuckler

Captain Jack in my bedroom! Oh my! Oh, my fainting heart!

I know, get off it. This is an excellent example of the difference between reality and fantasy that so many scoffers of romance think women confuse. I know perfectly well this is Johnny Depp in Captain Jack costume. No, to be really real, this is a cardboard image of Johnny Depp in costume, and this is not even my bedroom. It's my office/guest room, which is ridiculously over-crowded with insignificant things such as six-foot tall cardboard renditions of my favorite Swashbuckler. And no, I didn't steal him from the theater. Jack was given to me by a friend who stole him from a theater, although she will not admit that to this day. Unfortunately for Jack, she grew tired of a six-foot tall piece of cardboard taking up space in her office, and discovered her imaginary heroes did more for her than a real, physical chunk of cardboard. (Bow your head in shame, Diana.) This is also why Jack is propped against the closet door of the least-used room in my house. (Most of my work is actually done in my bedroom, but Jack is not actually welcome there, since another somewhat more live male also inhabits that room.)

I've always had this thing for the Swashbucklers. Errol Flynn in all his movies. Harrison Ford in Star Wars. Robin Hood, who was a bit of a crossover, but still fully SB. Maybe it's the swords and arrows. They are pretty phallic, you know. Sure, you can have a modern Swashbuckler, because it's all really a matter of mentality, but I gravitate toward those of the previous centuries. The Earl of Uxbridge (Marquess of Anglesey after Waterloo) was clearly a Swashbuckler. He was also much handsomer than this, but he shows his SB nature more clearly here. Uxbridge had other strong SB characteristics, which became evident when he eloped with Wellington's sister-in-law, which got him banned from his favorite SB sport, the Peninsular War. But it was his sweetheart who was ruined. He eventually got back in the game, and was a major hero at Waterloo. He led a famous charge, but later while simply sitting astride his horse next to Wellington, had his leg blown off. In typical SB style, he said, "By God, I believe I've lost my leg." Wellington, equally the adventurer, responded, "By God, sir, I believe you have."

The Earl of Uxbridge by Hamilton Smith

The pure SB, as Tami Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders tell us in their book, The Complete Guide to Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes, lives for adventure. He's fearless, exciting and capable. But he's also unreliable- too busy swashbuckling to remember to pick up the kids at day care, fool-hardy and selfish. The very idea that his heroine might want him to bring home a paycheck from a desk job is offensive. He'll promise all the emeralds from the next booty, but when you inform him emeralds don't usually come with booty these days, he'll just tell you it's all the emeralds or nothing. You'll just have to wait until the emeralds come along. And you can be pretty sure he means it. What our pure SB needs to be a really worthy hero is a very large dose of reality and empathy. But then he'd be a different kind of hero.

The straight SB can get boring in a hurry. No problem for him, of course, because he's almost always ready to move on before his heroine is. In real life, I get tired of these guys very quickly. They're as cardboard as Captain in the corner of the least-used room. Psychiatric diagnosis is probably Severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Add an addiction to danger and excitement and inability to form healthy relationships. Sorry, not my hero. Cardboard is flat and collapses in the middle.

Hedwig and Ivo by Dopler

But in fiction as well as real life, most of our best SB heroes are crossovers with other types. They may be off to the New World to tackle pirates or sink the French like Lord Nelson, but their relationships mean something to them. They'll make it back to Kiddieland before closing time, maybe even trade their beloved chronograph for groceries if the ship sank and starvation of their family is imminent. These are the men who very literally give their lives for others, especially those they love. He doesn't have to be a pirate or lead the charge at Waterloo. He can find his great adventure in exploring Africa or beneath the lens of a microscope. He is a seeker. But the ones we love most also seek love and relationships. Their hearts call for humanity.

And then-- what happens when the time comes and our great Swashbuckling Hero must reach for his sword? And what if he knows doing so will cost him the True Love he's always desired and needed? What if he loses his life, and leaves her alone? That's the essence of his conflict. And because he is who he is, we know his decision could go either way. Or because he is so daring, his solution could be something beyond our wildest imagination.

Maybe that's why I love a Swashbuckler so much. Anything could happen.


  1. Test to see if comments are getting through.

  2. Testing...testing...just kidding. Reading this post put me in mind of Delle's fab work in progress, which includes a female archer. She's kind of swashbuckler-y, and is shooting all those phallic arrows. Are you crossing male-female archetypes here, or does she fit into a special category of her own? She does make some awfully tough decisions in the book, even if the hero is a warrior too. Can't wait until it gets sold!

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  4. That's a very good point. From my viewpoint, heroines can be heroes too, in archetype and other ways. Today's romances cross over previous boundaries in so many ways. And many women in history, not just today's world, were very strong women who took on traditionally male aspects. Another good blog topic for the future.

    Leonie in my wip, SIDHE (Faerie), is not entirely human. She's like the kick-ass heroines of today's contemporary and futuristic paranormal stories, or a tough female private eye in a mystery or suspense. I don't see an archetype for her in the Heroes & Heroines book. But there's nothing that says the 16 listed are the only ones we can use.

  5. Yes, Diana *should* bow her head in shame. Bet you couldn't pry it from her cold dead fingers if it was an image of Duncan MacLeod. ;-)

    I have a similar cardboard image of Captain Jack but he's in my office lounging against the bookshelves, visible if I but lift my eyes from the keyboard, not banished to a cold, distant room. I wouldn't want to spend much time in close proximity to the Captain -- pirates are notoriously apathetic when it comes to personal hygiene. But I find his single-minded pursuit of his goal, and his tenacious belief that things wll go his way eventually if he but hangs on and keeps working to find the right angle, very inspiring. May have even borrowed those traits for my own heroes a time or two. (But my guys are always fastidious about hygiene. ;-)

  6. Jack just won't take his eyes off me when I work in the office, and it's so very distracting. I'm forced to work elsewhere or I'd never get anything done.


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