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.