And the countdown to my favorite fictional hero continues. In today’s post, we have 10 characters who are all male. Oh dear. Amongst them, are four Americans, three Englishmen, two aliens and one Frenchman!
Star Wars franchise
When I wrote about Obi Wan Kenobi, I mentioned that I was surprised to see his name on the list, it being some time since I originally wrote it up. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Yoda, and I’m certainly not a fan of the prequel Star Wars trilogy where we see him doing most of his fighting action…and yet here he is, really high on the hero-meter. Yoda has been around since the second Star Wars movie in 1980, but I don’t think I’d have taken him seriously for this list if it wasn’t for his action sequences in Revenge of the Sith. I mean, we’d seen him with a light sabre popping around like a video game one movie earlier, but in Revenge, he’s one of the only Jedi to survive Order 66, and he gets an awesome confrontation with the Emperor in the Senate Chamber, which is one of the best set pieces in the trilogy. And of course, he eventually becomes the gnarled, irascible & swampy teacher who helped Luke understand that there wasn’t any try, there was only do—a piece of wisdom that remains iconic to the series. Yoda, of course, was originally a puppet, performed by the legendary Frank Oz, who also was the classic voice for Miss Piggie, Grover, Bert, and many more.
39. Jean Valjean
I’ve never read Victor Hugo’s massive tome, Les Miserables, but I have seen several movies of the story. However, my greatest exposure to Jean Valjean, the epic’s lead character, comes from the famous musical theatre adaptation. Valjean was a good-hearted parolee during the French Revolution, who thanks to an act of mercy, is able to re-invent himself as a successful businessman and political leader. But when he is discovered, he has to between simply fleeing for his freedom, or potentially sacrificing everything in order to care for a destitute young girl whose mother he feels should have had his protection but didn’t. Choosing to fulfil his vow to protect her daughter, he spends the next decade providing a home for young Cosette, while constantly needing to elude the unsympathetic police. Eventually, he comes to realize that Cosette will have a better life with, Marius, a young man she has fallen in love with. So Valjean risks his life to save Marius from being killed on the battlefield of a doomed student uprising on the streets of Paris. In the end, Valjean finally leaves this earth, having completed his mission to ensure Cosette’s future, joining all the others who have fallen in pursuit of a better future. It’s a powerful and moving story about a man who basically has to surrender to the calling on his life, to live a life of sacrifice for the sake of another.
38. Charles Ingalls
Little House on the Prairie
Charles Ingalls is a character from the Little House series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and of course he’s based on the Charles Ingalls, the father of the real Laura. But the version of the character that I’m familiar with is the lead character of the long running TV series, Little House in the Prairie, played by Michael Landon. Charles is a farmer and pioneering settler who brought his family to Minnesota in late-1800’s and became an intrinsic part of a small town called Walnut Grove. Little House was a melodrama, and as such the characters all manner of problems, including blizzards, drought, disease, wild dogs, racism, alcoholism, social problems, violent crime, and more. Through it all Charles displayed courage and determination to provide for his family and do the right thing. Charles was a man of faith and an unparalleled work ethic, both of which allowed him to walk through overwhelming difficulties with hope and a joyful spirit.
37. Jack Ryan
A Clear and Present Danger
I know, there have been lots of media appearances by Jack Ryan, the CIA Analyst who was created by author Tom Clancy for a series of novels, and A Clear and Present Danger is neither the first nor the most recent. It is, however, the most memorable for me—an effective political and military thriller about Ryan moving unwillingly into deputy director role in the CIA, and finding himself caught up in the midst of a war with Colombian drug cartels being carried out covertly by the American intelligence services. He has to contend with both fully armed military enemies and obfuscating forces in his own government in order to attempt to do right by everybody. Ryan goes on to risk his life to save American soldiers who have been “cut loose” by their government, taking responsibility for what’s happened to them on his watched, even if he didn’t actually cause the problems. And then at the end, he has to stand up against the President of the United States himself. Ryan demonstrates his integrity by refusing to be political about all the corruption he has witnessed, and instead determinedly testifying about what he knows to a Senate Committee. Jack Ryan is a fine character in the other movies that he’s in, played by the likes of Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine and Ben Affleck (the Shadow, Captain Kirk and Batman!), but it’s in A Clear and Present Danger as played by Harrison Ford that the character really won me.
36. George Bailey
It’s a Wonderful Life
It’s a Wonderful Life, directed by Frank Capra, opens with George Bailey on the brink of despair, considering ending his own life on a snowy bridge overlooking a freezing river. The movie goes on to reveal his story in flashbacks. George is a young man from a small town who always dreamt of making it out and making something of his life. But through his life, one situation after another calls George to sacrifice for others—his brother, his boss, his town—to give up his own dreams in order to help people, even when they don’t appreciate it. These decisions break George’s heart but he makes them willingly, choosing to find the best in life regardless. It’s only when things have really gone wrong, and George’s enemy, the corrupt and selfish businessman Mr. Potter (cut from the same cloth as 1990’s Lex Luthor), has got the better of him that George finds out the true treasures that his service has produced. The entire town rallies to pray for him in his hour of need, and then to give a freewill offering to get George out of the financial bind that Potter has put him in. George is played by Jimmy Stewart in perhaps his most famous role.
Star Trek: The Next Generation & Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Wow, this list surprises me—Worf has scored higher than either Picard or Data. Even though Worf fell victim to a few storytelling clichés during his time on Next Generation—always being too quick to jump to military solutions, always getting beaten up to prove how tough various menaces are—his unsurpassed fearlessness and cunning as a warrior scores him a high position on this list. Worf is a Klingon who was raised as a human, and who constantly wrestled with the different sides of his existence. He demonstrated courage from a number of angles—both in being willing to face an enemy in battle and in being willing to recognize when Klingon tradition was not the highest way. By the time Worf made it onto Deep Space Nine (after Next Generation was cancelled), he had matured a great deal as a character, and was part of one of Star Trek’s most well developed romances, even getting married to science officer Jadzia Dax. Worf was fiercely loyal to his friends and his fellow crew, and managed to embrace both human and Klingon ideals in the way he carried himself. Worf was played admirably by Michael Dorn, who did a good job bringing out the various facets of his character.
34. Ray Ferrier
War of the Worlds
There have been so many versions of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds produced. There’s the infamous radio play by Orson Welles, the 1953 movie starring Gene Barry, the 1980’s TV series, and the 1998 movie by director Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise. Ray is the lead character of that later updated version of the story, a single dad who is having difficulty connecting to his son and daughter. When aliens invade during one of their visits, Ray becomes one of my favorite versions of that classic trope: the jerk who is forced into heroism. Because no doubt, Ray is a jerk–he’s there for his kids in only the most superficial way. But when the crisis hits, he pulls out all of his smarts and determination to keep his kids alive. Not only does he have to contend with the aliens, but also panicked crowds, failing technology, and broken infrastructure in order to try to bring his kids to safety. Perhaps most dramatically, Ray has to fight and even kill the unstable Harlan Ogilvy (played by Tim Robbins), whose psychosis threatens to bring the aliens against his daughter. The movie isn’t perfect, but demonstrates Ray’s character in a dynamic way.
33. Father Brown
Father Brown Stories
This part of the countdown will end with a trilogy of English detective characters. The first is Father Brown, who is the second such character to appear on this countdown overall, and the first to come from a literary source. Of course, Father Brown does have a modern TV show, and various other adaptations over the years, but my connection with the character comes from the 50+ short stories by G.K. Chesterton. Father Brown is a quiet, unassuming and supremely sensible priest who has a habit of sleuthing out mysteries, debunking false spirituality, and of course, catching murderers. In contrast to popular views of faith in God and belief in the supernatural, Father Brown was supremely rational, and intuited out the simple realities behind baffling situations. He was also a man of mercy (unlike the portrayal of many other detective characters), and was as likely to counsel a criminal into repentance as pronounce judgment upon them.
32. Peter Wimsey
Lord Peter Wimsey Stories
Following on from Father Brown, we have the second English detective of this current trilogy, Lord Peter Wimsey, from a series of novels and short stories by Dorothy Sayers. Peter Wimsey, is, as his title suggests, nobility, and seems in equal parts at home and slightly embarrassed by those trappings. He is the younger brother of the Duke of Denver, and something of an outsider in his family because of his penchant for getting involved in mysteries. Peter is a veteran of war, and a victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (although it’s not referred to as such), a condition which continues to impact him from time to time…including whenever he catches a murderer and knows that he is sending him or her to the gallows. Dorothy Sayers’ novels do not just focus on Wimsey’s investigation, but in fact touch greatly on his personal life. Several novels give great attention to meeting, pursuit, and eventual marriage with novelist Harriet Vane, who becomes something of a co-protagonist if the later works. As such, he is probably the most developed as a character out of the literary detectives on this list.
31. Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes stories & adaptations
Completing our little trifecta of English detectives is the most famous one of all, Sherlock Holmes. Interestingly, Holmes is the first character on this list—and the only English detective—who earns his spot thanks to multiple media versions. I mean, I’m familiar with and enjoy the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. But I’m also a fan of the faithful adaptations featuring Jeremy Brett. And I really like the modern version in Sherlock, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch. I even enjoy the hyper-kinetic version from Guy Ritchie’s films, played by Robert Downey jr. All of it works for me. Holmes, of course, is all about observation and deduction. He possesses an amazingly keen mind that is driven to solve problems and identify solutions to complex mysteries, talents he puts to good use. But at the same time, he’s a deeply flawed man. His interest in investigating cases is often treated as pathological need, with him falling into a dangerous malaise when he has nothing to occupy himself. This leads to self-destructive and antisocial behavior, including drug abuse. But at his best Holmes is a loyal friend who is determined in the end to help to see the innocent helped and the guilty punished.