Hero, Part 2: A Closer Look At Morel Rihtwis, Part 2

This is both a continuation of my last post, and of a series of posts about the roles of the protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain in a story, as well as my exploration on the nature of the hero. I have previously talked about the protagonist in Gods Among Men, Damon Roth, and the antagonist, Demiurge, and why both fail to be either a hero or villain. Today I will focus again upon Morel Rihtwis, an archetypal hero patterned upon classical mythological heroes.

When I started writing Gods Among Men I was heavily influenced by medieval imagery. This grew out of my love of the game Dungeons & Dragons, which itself was influences by medieval stories such as Le Morte d’Arthur, Beowulf, tales of Robin Hood, faerie tales, and even more modern works with a medieval flavor such as The Lord of The Rings.

Given this bias, I decided early that my hero would be a knight. I was young at the time, in college, and sought for a literary or historical figure I could pattern my knight upon. I considered Arthur, Lancelot, Gawain and other knights of the Round Table, but those thoughts led nowhere interesting. They worked against the emerging plot, and made the character hackneyed.

Then I thought of Charlemagne, Charles the Great, King of the Franks. He helped bring about the Carolingian Renaissance, a revival of art, religion, and culture. Through foreign conquests and internal reforms, Charlemagne helped define both Western Europe and the Middle Ages. He is counted as of the Nine Worthies; nine historical, scriptural, mythological or semi-legendary figures who came to personify the ideals of chivalry.

In Charlemagne I had a foundation for a character with a history as broad and deep as any of the Arthurian knights, and was as symbolically important as Arthur himself. In fact, Charlemagne formed a group of paladins who were analogous to the knights of the Round Table and form the basis for the French chansons de geste, “songs of heroic deeds”. Charlemagne as a historical or literary character is directly associated with spiritual and cultural rebirth and renewal.

Charlemagne gave me a touchstone for the character that would eventually become Morel Rihtwis. Whenever I felt the need to give Morel more depth or expand his character, I could search though information about Charlemagne and find something useful.

Charlemagne had a brother, Carloman, who died, so I gave Morel a brother name Carloman who died.

Charlemagne had a group of loyal paladins, so Morel now had a group of loyal paladins. One of Charlemagne’s paladins was Roland, who the Song of Roland is based upon. This inspired a subplot centered around Morel’s battle with a dragon.

One of Charlemagne ‘s chief opponents was the Saxon leader Widukind, who Charlemagne converted to Christianity. This inspired a character of my own creation called Widukind, with whom Morel will argue morality and religion in order to convince Widukind to break his allegiance to the villain, Maelgar.

Morel is not Charlemagne. I made Morel into his own character with a unique history and story to tell. But Charlemagne is the point from which I began creating Morel; it is Charlemagne that I return to for inspiration on how I should further develop Morel’s character. The history and legends surrounding Charlemagne helped me build Morel into a character that will be associated with spiritual and cultural rebirth and renewal.

Where Does a Story Begin?

Where does a writer get their ideas from? For me, and I suspect for most writers, it begins with daydreams. ‘Begins’ is the key word there. What happens because of the daydream distinguishes audience from storyteller, storyteller from writer, and writer from author.

A daydream is our imagination, often our sub-conscious, telling us a micro story, a fragment of a scene. We are our own audience. We listen and watch as a scene plays out in our head, enjoy the moment, then go about our day. Usually the dream is forgotten almost as soon as it is over. We never cross the boundary from audience to storyteller.

A storyteller sees something in the daydream that makes them stop and pay attention to it. It may be no more than a flash of stray thought, but it is enough to wake the conscious mind and bring to bear its full faculties. There are questions to answer and details to flesh out. It is not enough for the storyteller to merely experience the fragment of the scene, they must expand out it until it is but one small part of a story arc.

For me, my major work, Gods Among Men, began decades ago when I was a teenage geek. I was an avid player of Dungeons & Dragons. One day I was having a daydream in which I envisioned a dwarf, dressed in armor, carrying a war-axe, creeping through an overgrown forest. Any player of role-playing games can see where this goes. The dwarf is part of a diverse party, there are monsters nearby and a fierce battle ensues. The party’s wizard is isolated, trapped by an Orc warrior, with no hope of escaping. In desperation he reaches into his satchel and…pulls out a .44 Magnum Revolver and shoots the Orc.

That was the moment I stopped and thought, Where the hell did that come from? How had a modern firearm ended up in a medieval fantasy world? Is it from the distant past? If so, how could both gun and bullets be in good working order and not rusted or otherwise degraded? How did the world change from one based on technology to one based on magic? How did the wizard get the gun? Where did he find bullets? How did he learn to use it? How and why did the gun end up in his satchel? Is there something special about the satchel itself?

These and a host of other questions began to plague me. I had to have answers that made sense to me. I began to fill in these details, to turn the scene into a consistent part of a larger story arc. I had crossed the line between audience and storyteller.

The jump from storyteller to writer is much harder. A writer takes the raw elements of story and translates them into words. What doesn’t work is thrown away, what does work is refined. Characters are developed, given motivations, and put in opposition to each other. Comedy, drama, and tragedy are included in careful measurements to move the plot forward. A beginning and ending for the story is found. The original daydream may be lost entirely or made unrecognizable to any but the writer.

I am now a writer. My work is incomplete, but I am writing it day by day, week by week. I know where it starts and how it ends. I know all the major plot points. I have defined the principle characters, what their motivations are, and determined their character arcs. I know who lives and who dies, whose dreams are fulfilled and whose are shattered.

The distinction between writer and author is simple to define, but is a jump harder to make than the one from storyteller to writer. An author has a completed work published and read by others. An author has readers that turn each page wondering what will happen next, an audience emotionally invested with the story. An audience that knows nothing about the origins of the story, of how the story was written in fits and starts over months or years. They only have the author’s completed work before them. Whether they enjoy or hate it is a combination of their personal tastes combined with the author’s skill.

I am not yet an author. I have a first draft of the first book of my series. It has good elements and bad. It requires a lot of rewriting before it is ready for publishing. Because of the nature of my story, I will likely have to write at least some of the other books in the series before I have a realistic chance at publishing any of them. I fear I may have to write all seven books in the series, or at least the first four, because there are no other places where I can say, “Here is a completed story arc.”

I am not deterred. After all, what worth is victory that comes without obstacles? I will be an author some day. How this will come to pass I cannot say. It is a mystery. One I am dying to find out how it ends.