Unlikely heroes don't always commit huge acts of cunning and bravery. An unlikely hero can be someone who is faithful day in and day out in a situation where others would check out or give up. Or someone who does a simple act of kindness. Or someone who, in spite of huge flaws, yet has one spark of goodness that they will not violate.
Here are some unlikely heroes I've collected from my favorite books:
Sir John Middleton
He's mostly known for matchmaking and hosting dances, but Sir John Middleton is one of two decent men in Sense and Sensibility. In a story where the girls' rightful protector, John Dashwood abdicates responsibility, violating all biblical principles of caring for widows and orphans, Sir John offers the cottage for a pittance, just enough to persuade his cousin to accept it. His hospitality may be inconvenient on occasion, but in spite of his flaws, he was the first man to step up in the time of need.
He's a quiet man. Mostly happy to please his sister, the only thing that Matthew defies her in is his pipe--and even then he's fairly considerate. Matthew sees an opportunity to love and bring up Anne, and finds new heights of bravery and diplomacy when he speaks up to Marilla on her behalf. I'll be exploring him more when I do a series digging into Anne of Green Gables. But the dress with puffed sleeves, and the night before he died when he told Anne he wanted her more than any boy--he filled her hungry heart with the love and understanding that young teens need.
He's just a grocer who wants to have an adventure. Only thing is, he finds the adventure rather bigger than his liking, when it combines international intrigue and maidens in distress, and an old house full of villains. One of John Buchan's most lovable heroes, Dickson's sturdy Scottish practicality is as endearing as his desire to just go home and be comfortable again.
Dickens knows how to twist heartstrings with Sidney Carson. He's a ne'er do well clerk who never made it in life, and most of the book I was creeped out by hints of his secret love for Lucie Manette. But he more than redeems himself.
“And yet I have had the weakness, and have still the weakness, to wish you to know with what a sudden mastery you kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire.” ~A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
Erroll Stone (A Cast of Stones)
Pulled out of the ale barrel just long enough to realize there's more to life than drink, this nineteen-year-old young man confronts things that people much older than him find just as bewildering: addictions, grief, politics--and the pain that even to his friends, he is dispensable for a higher good. I loved his journey to redemption with the staff and the lots.
John Chivery (Little Dorrit)
Who couldn't love him for his Amy and the epitaphs he composed for himself?
Here lie the mortal remains of John Chivery.
Never anything worth mentioning.
Who died about the end of the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty-six,
Of a broken heart,
Requesting with his last breath that the world 'Amy' might be inscribed over his ashes,
Which was accordingly directed to be done by his afflicted parents.
"I may not be a gentleman, but I am a man. Why do you think I found this room for you that you'd like and carried up the things for you when I really felt like knockin' you down? Do you think I did it for your own sake? I didn't do it for you! I did it for her!"
"For Amy! Because she loves you!"
~Little Dorrit BBC movie
A man who ran his clothes, his club, his whist and his meals like clockwork, and took an enormous bet to travel round the world in eighty days. In spite of his cold-blooded, mechanical demeanor, he has inklings of warmheartedness. Especially when a pretty woman is about to be burned in a funeral pyre.
“Why, you are a man of heart!"
"Sometimes," replied Phileas Fogg, quietly. "When I have the time.”
~Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne
Diccon (To Have and To Hold)
A rough and ready fellow, rescued from torture by Ralph Percy, he's one of those extremely unlikely heroes that I always had a deep love for. Even when angry with his master, Diccon follows him through danger and thirst, pirates and prison, all the way to the stake and escaping from angry Indians. He's a trusty comrade, and a man I would want by my side in the untamed wilderness.
Thomas the monk (The Lady of Blossholme)
When you have a woman as fierce as Emlyn in love with you, and agree for love of her to dress up like the devil and scare half the countryside, as well as to set the Abbot of Blossholme's abbey afire, you deserve hero status. Thomas was one of those lovely people who had grown comfortable with his lot in life, and yet was brave enough to overcome it.
I haven't read Drums in years--be aware that it has some significant language in it. But Sir Nat was one of those fellows who would never hurt a fly (and yet liked watching cock fights) never really did anything splendid, didn't have the cleanest mouth--and yet had something clean about the heart of him and his desire for peace with mankind. He always called the main character, Johnny, Bantam. Junior B loves him, and so do I.
Some other unlikely heroes, which alas I don't have space to include, are Pancks (Little Dorrit); Chuffey, Mrs. Todgers, and Tom Pinch (Martin Chuzzlewit); Nancy (Oliver Twist); and John Amend-all and his jolly fellowship (The Black Arrow), who, though rather rough and lawless the lot of them, still had a great deal of the stuff of natural love and brotherhood among them. Also Alice, from The Black Arrow, who was a great deal more smashing than dear Joanna. And dear Sergeant Quick and Professor Higgs from Queen Sheba's Ring, with their trust in the sovereignty of God. Quintessential Englishman who could look a savage tribe in the face with a stiff upper lip.
Which unlikely heroes would you add to this list? :)