Some of my favorite characters have often been those who struggle with who they are meant to be and are either unwilling or reluctant to embrace the destiny that is thrust upon them. These characters are known as reluctant heroes, whom I believe demonstrate an interesting parallel to us, Christians, and our reoccurring reluctance to jump head first into God’s calling for our lives. My personal favorite reluctant heroes in fiction include Han Solo of Star Wars, Bilbo Baggins of the Hobbit, and Rand al’Thor of the Wheel of Time series.
For another definition, The New York Times defines the reluctant hero as: “The unwilling hero (also known as the reluctant hero) is never comfortable with his title. He wishes that anyone else could take the task; however, he innately understands that he alone has been chosen to do it.”
The reason I like Han Solo, Bilbo Baggins, and Rand al’Thor is because they are not only reluctant heroes, but they each represent a different type of reluctant hero:
Han Solo—The Self-Serving Reluctant Hero: Han Solo is my favorite character in all of fiction, but I know he is a very flawed and self-centered character. I think when most of us think about Han Solo, we think of that swashbuckling space-smuggler-turned Rebel Alliance hero. Pretty cool, right? Well, he definitely did not want to embrace this reality initially. When he was called to greater things, he had no intention of listening, but rather wanted to follow his own path of self-service. He wanted to acquire wealth, fly his ship, and not get caught in the act. He was all about making a buck. When he was on Hoth, all he wanted to do was leave with his money and move on, not following any altruistic call that everyone else felt he was capable of. I believe many of us can be honest with ourselves and identify with Han Solo. Many of us have chosen our self-interests over something greater.
Bilbo Baggins—The Comfortable Reluctant Hero: Ah… Bilbo Baggins (you know you just heard it in a British accent). While not necessarily my favorite character, he is from my favorite book! We all know Bilbo Baggins. His famous words, “I think it’s time for another adventure!” are set in our brains, but anyone who has read the book, “The Hobbit” will know that he didn’t start out that way. Bilbo was a comfortable hobbit who just wanted to be left alone to his little hobbit home. He didn’t want daring adventures, he didn’t want wild experiences, and he didn’t want to be anyone notable. He just wanted the comforts of his home and to be left alone to tend his garden and read his books. I think many of us identify with Bilbo in that we just want to enjoy our “things” and be left alone, focusing on what makes us feel comfortable rather than breaking out into an “adventure.”
Rand al’Thor—The Ordinary Reluctant Hero: While less well known than Han Solo and Bilbo Baggins, Rand is a popular protagonist from Robert Jordan’s famous Wheel of Time series. Rand is the reluctant hero that I most identify with and can understand. Rand is a shepherd raised in a small village. He basically has his whole life planned out. He knows what he will be, who he will marry, and possibly his role in his community. Doesn’t sound so bad? Well, life takes a different turn and Rand is thrust into the role of having to embrace greatness and he wants nothing to do with that. He just wants his normal life with his normal plans. That is why I use the word “ordinary.” He doesn’t necessarily want to avoid the hard things in life (being a shepherd is no easy task), but he doesn’t want his life to become something extraordinary and he doesn’t want to become anything more than what he thought he was supposed to be. I believe most of us can identify with this. We all have plans in life and will often resist a greater calling if it means God is pulling us out of our own plans.
These are some of my favorite characters in fiction and I genuinely love the reluctant hero character type. Now, can this character type be “whiney” or “complainy”? Absolutely, if done poorly, and sadly, many a times, they are created poorly. Even common favorites, like Rand, can get on my nerves. I just want to yell, “C’mon, Rand! Get it together!” However, we enjoy these characters when they finally embrace their calling or destiny to become the great heroes they were meant to be!
It isn’t only in fiction that we see these type of characters. The bible has more than a few, such Moses and Gideon:
Moses, the great leader who led the Israelites out of Egypt, actually ranted to the Lord. “He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me?” (Numbers 11:11). No one doubts the greatness of Moses, but even he got so frustrated to the point of questioning his role in the larger story.
The other reluctant hero and the most notable of this character type is Gideon, the man who led 300 men to a stunning victory in battle! He is even mentioned in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11. He was a man of many flaws and made many mistakes (oh yes, he did), but before he did great deeds (and made mistakes), he was a reluctant hero. When God called Gideon to save Israel from the Midianites, Gideon said, ““Pardon me, my lord… but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” (Judges 6:15).
The Bible is full of reluctant heroes who went on to do great things, as well as make great mistakes. Just like Han Solo, Bilbo Baggins, and Rand al’Thor. The reality is, this character type is so common because we all often become reluctant heroes ourselves. God calls all of us to do great things: spreading the Gospel, being Christ’s ambassadors here on earth, and making disciples of all nations. This may call us to be less self-serving, this may call us out of our comfort zones, and this may call us to not be ordinary, but extraordinary through the power of Christ.
We all can be reluctant heroes, so let’s take a play out of the play book of our favorite heroes and embrace that the great things that God has called us to do. While it may seem daunting, God has the power and strength we need to fulfill what He has called us to do. It’s easy to love the characters who easily embrace their destiny, but the characters who struggle and hold back are the ones we can all identify with.