Myth and legend, going back to the beginning of mankind, is dominated by heroes, both male and female. Looking up to brave people, appreciating all they sacrifice to save everyday people is important. They inspire us to do braver things and make the world a better place.
If you want to turn my musing into a learned, literary discussion, please go in the other room. I’m here today to muse about random thoughts that came to me while binge watching “When Calls the Heart,” a Hallmark channel series.
Being a Hallmark production, the series is sloppily sentimental but safe for family viewing. Each episode highlights a community coming together to help each other through troubled times, and to close on a moment of hope.
Idealistic, of course. Life is messier than that.
But I want to look at the character of Jack Thornton, the hero of the story.
As a writer, I look at an entire character arc from the moment he walks on stage to the final curtain.
1) What does Jack want most in life?
He wants to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Mountie, to bring justice to the wronged, to fight the good fight. To enforce the law in the chaotic world of the frontier. He sees the opportunity for this goal with a posting to a city riddled with crime. He knows he can curb some of the lawlessness. A hero in the making, but he is too conscious of his agenda to be a true hero at this moment.
2) What is keeping Jack from achieving this goal?
Jack highly resents that he is assigned as constable in a small frontier town. A wealthy and influential man has called in favors to get a Mountie assigned to this town because his pampered princess of a daughter wants to play at being a teacher in this town. He wants the girl protected. Picture Jack gnashing his teeth but doing his duty.
3) What is the emotional growth Jack must undergo to attain his goal, or to change that goal to something more important.
Over the course of three and a half seasons we watch Jack becoming genuinely heroic. He tracks down outlaw gangs and brings them to justice. He exposes corruption in the town. He rescues people from dangerous situations. He is awarded a medal for his actions and receives a big financial reward for his actions. A hero in the making.
But his true heroism comes in little things. He uses his reward money to build a new school that doubles as a town church. He makes friends and falls in love. It turns out that the teacher isn’t a pampered princess but dedicated to her students. This dirty little frontier town becomes home to both Jack and the teacher.
Jack tries to refuse a dangerous assignment because he has found a home, friends, and love. But duty calls and he feels guilty enough to volunteer for the dangerous assignment.
Interestingly the script writers begin to write that character out of the episodes at this point. The actor probably got a movie deal and had to split his time.
In the end, Jack does die. Both season four and five were abbreviated. I felt like they were running out of stories without repeating endless scenarios from “Little House on the Prairie.”
Back to Jack. He died saving others. What more did he need to accomplish?
We know that he would be a good husband and father. We know that he would continue to be a great constable and put his life on the line for others. He has grown beyond a human person subject to faults and failure, into a legend.
And let’s face it, living with a legend is not comfortable. There is a constant realization of our own faults and short comings. We can never live up to the example set for us. In fact, we fall into the danger of never learning to save ourselves, or to organize teams to overcome a disaster, or to stand up to crime and corruption. That’s his job. If you’ve ever read a “Conan the Barbarian” book, you know that Conan always leaves town at the end of his rescue mission. He leaves characters with an example to live up to, without having to live with him.
As a literary character Jack had nowhere else to grow. His arc is complete. But his legend will live on, inspiring people to fight the good fight and become better people. He fulfils the role of a hero, as much in death as life.
And that’s why heroes have to die.
Forgive me my tears while I mourned with the rest of cast as they face the world without him, but always carrying his inspiration with them.