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The Flawed Hero

The Call to Battle Demons


I’m a bit tired of heroes who seemed conceived to illustrate the author’s genius in coming up with exotic reasons why the hero has a character flaw or emotional challenge or disability that he/she must overcome. Life offers up challenges for all of us. 
So, following my own guidelines, I thought about the shortcomings Argolicus carries with him throughout the stories.

  • his wife by arranged marriage died in childbirth
  • he prides himself in logic but sometimes misses emotional cues from others
  • and, OK, I finally came up with a physical challenge: his fair complexion makes him subject to heat stroke

In the penultimate chapter of The Peach Widow  Argolicus hikes up a rocky slope on an unusually hot day, even for southern Italy, where he visits a dubious garum factory where the smell of fish is overwhelming.

Amon gestured toward the horses and the cart. “We bring the fish up from the market.  In here,” he gestured to a large shed structure. The roof of the large shed structure covered various work areas. Some had tables and baskets, others had more baskets and stacks of urns, while the actual kitchen was in the center where numerous clay stoves held large cooking pots with utensils lined along the sides. In the nearest quarter, slaves pounded away in mortars. “We mash all the fish parts into a lumpy paste,” Ammon said gesturing toward the busy slaves. He led them among the work areas. “Then we take the mashed fish into the kitchen itself.” He led them forward to the center workspace of multiple fire stoves. “We cook in the early morning. We mix the mashed fish with salt and water and cook until the mixture is thick. This valley is like a natural bowl, we have our own water supply from the well over there.” He pointed to layered bricks covered with a board. “You notice, Your Sublimity, that the kitchen is quite clean and organized.”

Argolicus nodded. Everything was clean. The utensils had been cleaned and were set out neatly next to the fire pits. His head felt light. He felt as though he could drink another three bowls of water, but they were on the tour.

“In here,” Amon continued as they walked to another area of the work shed filled with woven baskets and large bowls, “The cooked mash is strained.” He reached a work table covered with basket strainers. He picked up two strainers. “First, we strain the liquid for large parts.” He held up one basket woven loosely with wide strips. “Then we strain again and again.” He held up the second basket which was finely woven.

The fish smell was overpowering. Argolicus felt queasy, and the kitchen seemed to rock.

“The liquid that comes out of the final straining,” he said, waving the finely woven basket, “ is stored in these urns.” He gestured to lines of urns stacked nearby. “Twice a week we pour the liquid into small vials which I take to market. We have one main stall at the market in town and…”

Argolicus reached to support himself on one of the clay stoves but collapsed to the ground instead.

What are your thoughts about protagonist flaws? Do you search for exotic diseases, revert to alcoholism, or look for integral pieces from the character’s backstory? Or something else?
Leave a comment.

​Zara Altair

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