How Special are We?

ImageMy protagonists both find themselves in situations that cause them to wonder, Why Me?  After all, I’m just a regular guy/gal–no truly unique powers, skills, or heritage (unlike the ancient myths, in which every hero seemed to have been abandoned to obscurity, but only for a time, by famous parents.)

One feature that attracts me about more modern narratives–and a distinctly American trait of them–is their democracy.  Ben Franklin, one of our best autobiographers among his other prolific accomplishments, was fifteenth of his father’s seventeen children. Huck Finn was not only born into poverty, but voluntarily remained there.  The list of everymen goes on, right on down to John McClane in Die Hard.  Quite a contrast to the European tradition of Hercules, Oedipus, Arthur, and Hamlet, or more recent incarnations like Lucas’ increasingly elitist second Star Wars trilogy.

Ellison called the “search for identity” the American theme.  From birth, no one tells us who we are–we are conditioned and invited to find out: not necessarily to discover any secret, but to invent and make ourselves out of nothing.  And to remake, at intervals.  This is surely a double-edged sword, because with all its freedom it implies a great deal of responsibility, for individual success and failure.  I wanted the two “heroes” of my story to experience the full range of both.

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