Brains, Brawn, and a Lotta Heart

The Australian book cover for The Emperor of Nihon-Ja.

Horace shrugged. “We’re not big on that sort of thing. We wait for our leader to point to an enemy and say, ‘Go whack him.’ We leave geography and such to Rangers. We like you to feel superior.”

-Horace, Kings of Clonmel

One of my favourite fantasy series is Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan. The books are witty, fast-paced, and are light reads, and the characters are fantastic. Though Will Treaty is the protagonist (and ultimately the main hero) of the series, my favourite hero in this adventure is Horace.

He truly is the brawn of the books–not well-known for his thinking, but instead for his excellent swordsmanship and large appetite. He’s a fearsome adversary with an easy calmness about him that makes many opponents think twice before even trying to fight him. And he doesn’t lose very often, making him the perfect wall-of-meat warrior-type.

Adding to that the fact that he’s loyal and honourable, it seems like Will’s got himself the perfect heroic friend. Wasn’t always that way, though.

When the series starts, Horace and Will fight constantly–mostly just Horace picking on Will because he’s small. Horace can’t stand Will and there’s a pretty palpable hatred between them, which is only shattered when Will saves Horace’s life. After that moment, Horace realizes the mistake in his hatred. He smartens up, saves Will’s butt in return, and they become fast friends.

Once that happened and Horace started opening up, I really started liking him. I like his affable nature, and his ability to use wit despite his sometimes empty-headed appearance. I like that he’s trustworthy and is such a good friend to Will, and I like that he can take the punches as they come without making too much of a fuss about them.

I also like that he started out the victim of bullying, very similar to how he treated Will in the beginning. For the first part of Horace’s warrior career, he was tormented by older battle school students. The only way he could overcome it was by finding the strength–the personal bravery–within himself to shrug off his own wounds to save Will from a similar fate. To free himself from bullies, Horace had to help the very same kid he used to bully. And he does, without question. He overcomes a dark part of himself to become a hero.

Horace does a lot of heroic things–duelling one-on-one with an evil warlord, taking down countless knights all older than he is, leading armies to victory in against-the-odds battles–and he turns out to be a really great guy. I love him for it, but there’s one thing I love most of all about him: despite living up to most other senseless brawn stereotypes, he doesn’t have a hot temper.

Horace fits a lot of stereotypes: not a great thinker, huge appetite, likes to “whack” and “wallop” things, and is practically unbeatable in combat. But one stereotype that I’m so glad he doesn’t fit is the idea that warriors lose their temper easily. I think it can be plenty of fun to have a warrior who wins battles by going completely berserk (barbarians, Vikings, and Skandians come to mind), but I think that if you really want to have a convincingly good warrior–as in, a warrior who rarely loses a battle–then that warrior probably shouldn’t have anger issues.

Luckily, Horace is a pretty mellow guy. He’s unfazed by insults and taunting. He doesn’t waste his time or risk his life unnecessarily. I think it makes him more dependable and respectable, and that’s a huge reason why Horace gets a thumbs-up from me.

In Horace’s world, that was what Rangers did best, and the best thing a warrior apprentice could do was let the Ranger get on with thinking while a warrior took care of walloping anyone who needed to be walloped along the way. He settled back in the saddle, contented with his lot in life.

-Horace, Battle for Skandia

To me, Horace is a hero because he’s excellent at overcoming obstacles with a clear head. He sees what has to be done and he does it without ceremony or fuss, no matter how much courage or strength the task requires. He follows a path of valour and would give up his life for those he has sworn to protect. And when you need cheering up, you know you can get a good laugh out of him. He may not have great brains, but he’s got a great heart.

Do you know any Horaces?

May you have always a lighthearted attitude and a clear head to overcome your life’s challenges.

-Alex

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