Do fictional heroes read?
I believe that reading makes a person more likely to perform heroic deeds.
Certainly, that’s a tricky point for me. There have been many discussions (and some studies recently) examining the idea of whether or not fiction can encourage people to behave in “anti-social” ways (such as becoming violent). My instinct is to reject that idea, but I’m too scientifically minded to do that without the data.
I do think that someone who is already violent can model behavior on something fictional.
Where I have the problem is with the idea that fiction can change the motivations of a person (as opposed to the ways in which they carry out the actions which they are already motivated to do).
I would be very, very cautious about banning specific books because of a belief that they can lead to bad behaviors.
I believe that reading broadly exposes readers to different points of view. Reading is the closest thing we have to experience something through someone else’s eyes…or rather, through their brains. In a way similar to how we may dream about very anti-social things, it allows us to explore those feelings without carrying them out…and may, in so doing, give us a solid rejection of them.
I do speculate that reading a single book to the exclusion of all others might guide one towards an agreement with things in that book. We hear about people who have behaved in non-societally-standard ways that read a single book over and over again. I don’t think, though, that the single book molded them into that behavior, but rather that there was already an inclination towards obsessive tunnel vision.
I also believe that I have been positively impacted by being influenced by “good” characters, which I will refer to as “heroes” as a way of shorthand.
I think that I am a much better person because I admire the selflessness of Doc Savage…the drive to improve oneself for the purpose of helping others, rather than for personal gain.
Again, that’s just anecdotal. I’d love to see studies that show that people who watched, perhaps, The Lone Ranger versus oh, the Halloween movie series, behave in more “positive” ways.
My guess, though, is that someone who consumed both would behave in the “best” ways out of the three. That person would have “experienced” both a non-lethal, helping viewpoint and a revenge driven murderous viewpoint, and I would presume would (if initially a typical person, as opposed to someone with a pathology) elected for the former…and would have a personal basis for doing so.
Arthur C. Clarke famously said:
“Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories.”
My thought is that perhaps they should read all three.
Given these two things (people can model their behaviors on heroes and reading is good) got me thinking. Do famous heroes read?
Doc Savage is a brain surgeon, among other things, so we know Doc read textbooks…but does Doc Savage read for fun?
Does James Bond?
Certainly, some heroes show familiarity with books. Captain Picard read on Star Trek: The Next Generation (Shakespeare, for one). Don Quixote, of course, was a big reader…although that wasn’t necessarily perceived as a positive thing by other folks (been there!).
I also understand that showing somebody reading is, well, not that exciting an activity. We don’t typically see heroes brushing their teeth, but that doesn’t mean they don’t do it (hm…question. Does Superman need to brush those super-teeth? Presumably not).
When I tried to do a little research on this, I ran across this interesting Tumblr:
It’s mostly screenshots of characters reading books…and they do a nice job of identifying the character and the book.
Skimming through it, I’m not sure I’m seeing a lot of pictures of people the average person would call heroes…yes, there is Doctor Who (reading a fictional piece of fiction), and a list of the book’s Roald Dahl’s Matilda read.
I think Superman spent time reading up on Kryptonian history in the Fortress of Solitude, but I’m not sure. Holmes, Spock, and Sherlock all seem to know about books…but do you really picture them sitting and reading for hours?
Perhaps that’s another issue in fictional depictions of reading. It is sometimes suggested that heroes act while others think (a very peculiar notion to me). In the Tom Jones sung theme song to Thunderball, we’re told that James Bond “…acts while other men just talk”. John Carter says:
“My mind is evidently so constituted that I am subconsciously forced into the path of duty without recourse to tiresome mental processes.”
John Carter (Captain Jack Carter)
A Princess of Mars
written by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Do we think of thinking (which to me equates in many ways with reading) as inherently non-heroic?
I certainly don’t.
Einstein supposedly said something like
“If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.”
I’ve heard some variants on that, but that seems like a reasonable approach to me, especially when the last part is said as “implementing the solution”, which is another way I’ve seen it.
Let me call on you, readers. Can you comment on this post and add some fictional heroes who read? I know that real heroes do.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.