Thu
Dec 13 2012 5:00pm

6 Unexpected Heroes Not Named Bilbo Baggins

6 Unexpected Heroes Not Named Bilbo Baggins

Sure, we like “chosen one” heroes like Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Rand al’Thor, and Superman, but it’s no big plot twist when they end up doing great things. Sometimes the best adventurers are ones without a chosen destiny, like Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit who just wanted to be left in peace, and who are these people in his house anyway?

So in Bilbo’s honor, here are six other heroes who stumbled (haltingly, but bravely) into greatness.

 

Alex Rogan (The Last Starfighter)

As I’ve said before, the premise of The Last Starfighter is wildly original. I’m not talking about themes, or the plot, but instead, the basic conceit. Having an arcade game actually be a recruitment device for a doomed space fleet = awesome. Alex himself is a great example of an accidental hero. To the viewer, he’s a underachieving person who is likely going to end up stuck unhappily in his trailer park forever, and thus is not the ideal candidate for a future space fighter pilot. But then his one area of expertise comes in handy, and it’s all thanks to playing video games a lot! What a nice thought. (It’s also cool that Maggie goes with him at the end. What’s she going to do in the space world? Maybe she’s randomly really good at arcade games too, but secretly. Like, the sequel could have been The Last Starfighter Ringer.)

 

Winston Zeddemore (Ghostbusters)

Winston is the quintessential everyman among the Ghostbusters, and if you need proof of that fact, then look no further than his response to Janine’s interview question, in which she asks him if he believes in a long list of paranormal phenomena.

Winston’s response? “If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say.” Winston may not have had a doctorate, or a destiny, but he was dedicated to the job and marched side by side with Ray, Egon, and Venkman through the doorway to Gozer’s dimension. The Ghostbusters were not complete until this guy answered that Help Wanted ad in the paper.

 

Gwen Cooper (Torchwood)

One of the best parts of Torchwood was always Gwen Cooper. (She even made us happy when death returned to Earth in Miracle Day.) Initially, Gwen’s just an ordinary Welsh police officer who accidentally finds herself recruited into a secret alien-hunting organization. And because she’s the audience surrogate, she brings in more heart and character dimension than the more familiar (at least, to fans of Doctor Who) character, Captain Jack Harkness. Her ongoing struggle to keep her clandestine extraterrestrial outings separate from her personal life creates real strife for the character, and keeps her grounded in a way the other Torchwood characters aren’t.

 

Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)

I suppose one could make the case that Katniss was “destined” to be a badass competitor in the Hunger Games because of her awesome archery abilities and strong sense of justice, but the way her story unfolds in the novels, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. Sure, Katniss thinks about what goes on outside the confines of her district, but she has a practical obligation to take care of her family, an obligation which unexpectedly forces her out of her district and into a larger political struggle. Prim’s selection for the games at the Reaping is pure random chance, and Katniss steps up in her role as protector, nothing more, at the outset. Nor is Katniss the only one who can bring about real change in Panem; rather, she finds herself strung along as a symbol while others do the real work of fighting for freedom. If that symbol hadn’t been Katniss, it might have been someone else. She just happened to provide the first spark that caused her whole world to catch fire.

 

Dorothy Gale (The Oz series)

It doesn’t get more unexpected than this! Dorothy and Toto are literally swept up by a tornado that also serves as a doorway to a strange and wonderful fairyland. Her sudden arrival in Oz is not one Dorothy wants or plans and yet that journey changes her life and her entire family’s life forever. Dorothy definitely shares certain traits in common with hobbits insofar as she sees the practical, down-to-Earth solution in most situations. In later books in the Oz series, Dorothy is pals with Princess Ozma and manages to get her family relocated to the capital city of Oz, permanently aligning herself with the future of this magical land and its inhabitants.

 

Arthur Dent (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)

It’s no surprise that Peter Jackson chose the excellent Martin Freeman as the younger version of Bilbo Baggins in the new Hobbit films. Freeman’s turn as Arthur Dent (no matter what you think of the movie as a whole) is great! In many ways Arthur Dent is the science fiction version of Bilbo—he just wants to hang out in his house and have his tea. Naturally, everything changes when he learns that not only is his house going to be bulldozed, but the entire Earth is about to be zapped out of existence. Pleasantly, Arthur’s personality as an ordinary guy remains fairly consistent throughout all the Douglas Adams books (barring the part where he learns how to fly.) If you want a hero we can all relate to who survives the entire destruction of the Earth, then it’s a safe bet to put him in a bathrobe.

Who are some of your other favorite unexpected/random/every-person heroes? Chime in below!


Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com. Events in his life are often unexpected.

17 comments
wingracer
1. wingracer
Xander from Buffy.

Well, I guess the entire Scooby gang qualifies but there was always something about Xander. Kinda cowardly, naive, goofy yet always there to help out when needed. In a way, I think he was the bravest of the bunch.
wingracer
2. AndrewB
I would nominate the main character in the Greatest American Superhero television series.

Thanks for reading my musings,
AndrewB
Douglas Freer
3. Futurewriter1120
This is kinda what I do with my stories in a way. None are chosen for greatness, but get mixed up in it anyway. Heck the story I'm currently writing has it where everyone thinks the hero is a kind of chosen one, but in fact he will bring the real one later on.
Even the hero of my high fantasy trilogy is like Bilbo in circumstances. The only reason he goes along and does these great things is because of being influenced by stories of great heroes.
Ryan Britt
4. ryancbritt
@2 Ha! Now I've got that damn song in my head. :-)
wingracer
5. JenL
Laura Roslin and Bill Adama, from BSG. Neither of them were particularly special (at least not until a couple seasons in when they apparently decided to change Adama from "schmuck caught in a horrible situation who steps up" to "chosen hero"), both landed deep, deep in the muck, and the two of them, working together and working against each other, brought their people home.
T C
6. Freelancer
Drizzdt Do'Urden, the drow with a conscience.

When Bob Salvatore started on the Icewind Dale trilogy, it was supposed to be the story of Bruenor, Wulfgar and Catti-brie, with Regis, Drizzdt, and a smattering of other characters for flavoring. But it turned out that Drizzdt had the most compelling back-story, the most significant inner turmoil, and stole the show. So much so that a second trilogy of prequels was written to fill in his journey from the Underdark of Menzobarranzen, home of the dark elves, to the surface world of men, and more than a dozen later novels centered on Drizzdt's travels and travails. A supporting character became a franchise.
Gwen Potter
7. tariqata
Does Cazaril from The Curse of Chalion count? Definitely the character that sprang immediately to my mind!
Sandy Brewer
8. ShaggyBella
I enjoyed Galaxy Quest. The crew of the Protector had to face a real situation instead of just acting. They also had to work together, with each bringing their own talent. There were real heroic moments, including the kid on the ground who had to stop and take out the trash while trying to help the crew with his knowledge of their ship. Fun Movie!
Boquaz
9. boquaz
I think maybe Chief Tyrol would be a better example on BSG. I'm not sure many of us can relate to being a ship commander or a member of the presidential cabinet (or the lost son of a noble drow house for that matter). Those characters start off pretty exceptional, you've got to expect something from them.

Brian (Rory's dad) on Dr. Who is a good recent example of the unexpected hero. He's almost a parody of the idea.
wingracer
10. Veris Prasarntree
Easily Dave Lister. Unexpected hero in the sense that he comes from nowhere, achieves nothing, and when he ends up the last human in the universe, his goal is still to just slob around and eat curry.
Jack Flynn
11. JackofMidworld
Surprised nobody's mentioned Han Solo yet. Went from a no-good scoundrel to respected general, and did it without political backing or Jedi mind tricks.
wingracer
12. 11-year old writer
Eragon from The Inheritance Cycle. Starts out with revenge in mind, but ends up doing what needs to be done because it needs to be done. No prophecy.
Alan Brown
13. AlanBrown
I would say young David Balfour from Kidnapped is the epitome of an unexpected hero. And Ned Malone, from A. Conan Doyle's The Lost World, certainly did not intend to go out into the uncharted jungles to find dinosaurs. In fact, tales are full of narrators that are intended to be more of someone the reader identifies with than the hero who drives the tale.
wingracer
14. afterthefallofnight
At first I thought I would be able to come up with dozens of stories with "everyman" main characters but to my surprise only a few stories come to mind:
Old Man's War (Forever War, Starship Trooper, etc.) are stories of grunts as heroes.
The Stars My Destination is a sort of rift on The Count of Monte Cristo with our unexpected hero emerging as he overcomes one obstacle after another in his quest for revenge.
Waystation takes a backwoods "everyman" and makes him the sole human contact with galactic civilisation.
The main character in Slaughterhouse-Five is a mild mannered optometrist who becomes survives Dresden, kidnapping by aliens and becomes "unstuck" in time.

Hmm, these are some of my favorite stories...
John Massey
15. subwoofer
Awww, this is too easy. Jack Burton. You know he's just an average guy that experienced some pretty unusual things :)

Woof™.
wingracer
16. Tim Yoder
What about that kid from "Time Bandits"?
wingracer
17. colorado
I have always had a profound respect for Joshua Chamberlain.

"Now we'll see how professors fight." The Killer Angels

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