Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Who is a hero?

Jeff brought this topic up one day at after work beers, fishing around for who people would say. Some famous names were thrown in the ring, as well as some personal ones (a grandfather in the first world war, for example). I can’t remember what I suggested at the time, but I’m going with an unsung and under-appreciated hero: The Henchmen.

Heroes: The Henchmen

Sure, the “hero” of the story is important, but you can’t be the chosen one without a challenge. Admittedly, hordes of incompetent and faceless minions rarely seem to pose a threat, but like you and me, henchmen are just doing a thankless task, trying to make ends meet.

I’m not talking here about anyone who has a speaking part... unless its along the lines of “Two more tankards of ale, wench!” I mean the ones who may not even be named - in the book or the closing credits of the movie. This guy is no Jackie Chan, he’s played by the extra, in many different guises:

Ruffian with a mustache. Guard holding a pike. Soldier responding to the alarm by running down the hallway. Sentry at the main gate. Patron in the bar in the duke’s livery so your lovable rogue can steal the keys. Faceless grunt who takes an arrow to the chest as you storm the castle.

That guy. All those guys. They’re not the face of evil, they’re just bulking up the enemy numbers, being part of the body count. You could probably get by with only hiring three different guys and giving them a selection of false noses and different coloured helmets and you’re done. Their time in the story is short, but it speaks to all of us... Our work day week isn’t demonic, its more of a ground-down-grey. We’re not black-hearted, we’re just doing our thing, as ordered. Nuremburg all over again, but with our hopes and dreams going to the gas chamber.

But if we identify with these fellows - who don’t even get a second paragraph - why don’t we mind that they come to such a gristly end? I’ll tell you. Just like we see ourselves in them, we see our colleagues too. That guard who gets stabbed while the hero is escaping the dungeon? Jones in accounting. The one who cops the frying pan swung by the plucky kid sister? Obviously it’s Sue under all that chainmail. The Henchman is you. The Henchman is me. Henchmen are the true Everyman. Not the chosen one. Not a prince whose true lineage is kept hidden. Not an orphan who spent years training is secrecy with some wizened old master. Who can identify with that? Henchmen reflect our struggles, our humanity. In every skull shaped fortress, through miles of endless corridors, doing pointless and degrading drudge work, Henchmen hold the true mirror up to ourselves. We don’t like what we see and that makes their job even more thankless.

When there’s someone to be silently garroted then stripped so their livery can be humourosly worn by someone three sizes larger... Henchmen are there.

If there’s a fist to be clenched in salute before stamping off to hours of guard duty in front of a barred portcullis... Henchmen are there.

Should a messenger be needed to tell the dread lord that the princess has been rescued... Henchmen are there (at least until the decapitation scene which shows the inhumanity of said dread lord).

A lax watch needed to be kept so that shackles can be slipped... Henchmen are there.

Henchmen are the true heroes. The pay is lousy, they often die horribly, and they get no respect. But still, they do their job. Next time some joker in a furred loincloth with a dirty great sword makes a rampart out of underlings, spare a thought for their families. Not so heroic on the part of the main character, is it?

Picture shamelessly pinched from Shoeboxblog

1 comment:

  1. great post - well written and entertaining - I couldn't agree with more about Henchmen