Okay, I’ve been thinking about this hero thing all week. And while I’ve tried to assemble a thorough list of my all-time favorite heroes, complete with literary sources and “wasn’t-Frodo-just-the-best?”, there was one character that just kept worming its way back into my head, shoving all others out:
The Iron Giant.
Wait come back, I’m serious! The Iron Giant, a 1999 animated film directed by Brad Bird (of Pixar fame), is one of those underrated movies that’s supposed to be for kids, but is so haunting and adult-themed that it really makes you wonder if that’s who it’s really aimed at. It takes place during the cold war, and dances around everyone’s favorite feel-good subject of the year: nuclear annihilation.
To me, the iron giant personifies (robotifies?) everything that makes up a good hero – more so, actually, because deep down he’s supposed to be the villain. He’s a friggin’ weapon. His one and only purpose is to destroy. And yet, he changes. He wants to be good. He struggles against everything he’s been programmed to do, and chooses to be a force of good, rather than an instrument of evil.
Maybe I’m so drawn to him because the main character in my book struggles with many of the same issues. Lex is angry at the world, has a major destructive streak, and yet can’t help feeling like that’s not who she really is. So she changes.
But dialogue allows me to show that in the writing. The iron giant, meanwhile, is one of those characters who ends up winning your heart despite having a vocabulary of no more than a few words. (Looking at you too, WALL-E!) I have the utmost respect for the animators who accomplish this – nailing the nuances of characters through no more than their facial expressions, body movements, and actions. And that’s even doubly hard with robots, who not as easy to read as, say, a singing crustacean. This means that the few words he does speak have that much more impact.
In fact, The Iron Giant is one of those rare cases where a character can DESTROY you with just a single word. I know this because my sister and I first watched this movie together one night (without any children present, mind you, we’re just that enlightened), and we were both at an especially…um…womanly time of the month, and we ended up sobbing like we’d just witnessed a badger ripping apart our cat. I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t seen it, but let’s just say that the ending of this movie is done beautifully, and perfectly encapsulates the hero’s struggle between (warning: obligatory Harry Potter quote) doing what is right and doing what is easy. If only all heroes were so delicious.
That’s right, I just closed with a sandwich joke. Take note, Pulitzer committee.
Gina Damico enjoys shipwrecks and long walks on the beach, not necessarily in that order. Her debut YA novel, Croak, is the story of a teenage girl who joins a team of grim reapers, coming in March 2012 from Graphia/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. You can find her for the moment at ginadamico.wordpress.com, with an official website coming soon. Bring cookies.