Monday, October 11, 2010

The Outsider

I brought our first pumpkin home the other day, a gnarly orange beast from Trader Joe's that looks like it has warts. My baby girl took one look at it and screamed. Which I guess is an appropriate response, considering the kind of stuff her daddy writes. Of course, the next morning she crawled over and started hugging that big orange hunk of ugly. And I guess that's appropriate, too, because her daddy sure enough loves monsters.

My favorite heroes have always been outsiders. Both in fiction and in life. I've always had an eye for the underdog, or the guy who got the raw deal or took the longer walk on the rougher road and kept on going anyway. I love stories like that, and the idea of heroes with moral compasses that don't chart quite the same way most do. Maybe that's why I puddle up at the ending of movies like Gladiator, The Wild Bunch, and (especially)Hombre, tales of guys who go down swinging when there really isn't anything left for them to win at all. (And, yes, I cry when Jim Brown buys it at the end of The Dirty Dozen, too.)

For me, the outsider is the ultimate hero. And though I didn't realize it when I first encountered him, that idea began with Lon Chaney, Jr. as Lawrence Talbot, a.k.a. the Wolf Man. He was my favorite monster as a kid. I loved the way Chaney played him, as guy who walked among men but knew in his heart that he was no longer one of them. That's just the way the dice had rolled for Larry Talbot, and he understood that. He was a monster, but one who ironically was all the more human because of it. Victim of a curse that couldn't be beaten, still wanting to do the right thing even on nights when the full moon rose, always looking for an end to the road that would bring... well, if not peace, then maybe oblivion.

And sure, I just notched the melodrama meter into the red with that character assessment, but I'm not afraid of melodrama any more than Chaney was (or Curt Siodmak, for that matter). In fact, I think melodrama is kind of refreshing here in the Age of Snark. And while we're at it, you can give me a side order of heroics with that. Thank you. I'll order up and take that every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Of course, I try to give a little of it back now and then, too. In good portion, that's what my novel Dark Harvest is about. If the book is new to you this Halloween, you'll discover what I'm talking about when you crack the covers.

And if you hear a wolf howling in those cornfields along the black road while you're reading, don't worry. That's just the ghost of Larry Talbot, still looking for an end out there in the darkness.