My brain was meandering as I drove into work this morning (never fear, my driving hand is rock steady), and my thoughts ran to Nathan Lowell’s fiction. This is nothing new. The man’s an ace story teller and I count myself an admirer, a fan, and a friend. He’s known to many because of the podcast series, now available in print, the Solar Clipper. The protagonist, Ishmael Horatio Wang, is one of those characters that I would call a lovable dumbass.
Why is that? I mean he’s a smart guy when it comes to books and tests. The thing is, throughout the books he does things that make me wince. When it comes to relationships and a host of other things, he definitely falls into the dumbass category. The thing is, he wins! And you want him to keep on winning, but that wincing is fun. I think in some way Nathan set out to do this. He wanted to write a science fiction story where there was “nothing special” about the main character. That is to say, he’s not a prince or a cyborg, or a seven foot tall bad ass. He’s just this guy, you know?
To me, and this is me spitballing as it didn’t occur to me until I was noodling in my car, that’s part of the fun of these sorts of stories. If a “sludge monkey” like Ish can succeed (with no small amount of hard work mind you) in spite of his screw ups, then that means a dumbass like me has a shot. So this brings me around to books like the Harry Potter universe or the Twilight books. You have these people that are complete rejects or screw ups. Throughout their books they make big mistakes. You want to shout at Harry and Bella whenever they are doing something that you as the reader would “never do”.
Of course we as a reader have a ton of benefits. We know things that are going on in the story that they don’t. We often have the benefit of maturity. Of course in some cases, like Twilight and Harry Potter, the target audience is on the same level maturity-wise. Still, it allows us a sense of hope for ourselves. The challenge is to make that “dumbass” is lovable. Nate succeeds for me and a host of others. Ish cares about people and about getting the job done. He also has the stones to wear a belt that proclaims him to be a “BOY TOY”. Harry cares deeply for his friends, and you want him to make it out from under his evil step parents. I still can’t explain Bella (I have read most of the first book), but I understand there are qualities in her that resonate with her audience personally.
That’s a key too, I suppose. Identifying on some level with LD is vital. Otherwise, you won’t get that sense of “I can succeed too!”. I’ve been the lost geek looking for a sense of purpose. I’m probably considered an LD by some of my friends and family.
So who’s your favorite LD? What pushes a character over the dumbass line to just plain dumb and can that kill it (Homer Simpson)? Am I way off base here? Sound off in the comments.
9 thoughts on “Lovable Dumbasses”
I would nominate Arthur Dent from the Hitchhiker’s Guide series as a LD. He is such an idiot, and yet you pull for him.
Perhaps Zaphod, too (and I got the reference), but I would probably end up wanting to smack him after 5 minutes were we ever in the same room.
Oh Arthur is a FABULOUS choice. And Zaphod isn’t lovable per se. He’s his own category.
Zaphod is that guy that you know you ought to hate, but you end up liking him a bit anyway. You can’t explain it, and it makes you a little guilty, but there it is.
I think Peregrin Took qualifies as an LD. What makes him loveable to me is that his dumbassery stems from a certain good-natured innocence rather than malice or willful ignorance.
The best LDs tend to be characters who are venturing into a wider world that they aren’t a part of or fully (if at all) aware of at the start. They’re learning how to function in a new environment, so they still have many opportunities to grow and mature. You can tell, as you watch their journeys, that they’re on the road from dumbass to eventual badass.
Very good point Anita. That’s definitely in line with Ish’s story.
It’s one of the things I love about Ish. He’s always looking for opportunities to learn from the people he meets and the situations he encounters.
Oooo Arthur Dent is a good choice.
I think you’re right, heck the best stories are about LDs. The Hobbit is about Bilbo (which is why I think I like it better than LotR), Hunger Games is about Katniss and while she has some extra ordinary skills, she is a dumbass when it comes to her emotions. In A Song of Ice and Fire my favorite characters are the LDs (hello, Tyrion, and even Arya is a LD).
Also, when it comes to Nathan’s books I have come up with this, they aren’t about anything, but really cool characters that you love problem solving.
Totally agree re: The Hobbit.
So now that I think about it, anyone played by Martin Freeman in the screen adaptation is a great LD
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