Stories — even fictional stories — have power. The best stories inspire us to live better, to aim higher, to grow.
“Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage,” C.S. Lewis wrote. “Otherwise, you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”
Countless books and movies have introduced us to characters who inspire us to be courageous in scary situations or when facing unlikely odds. I could easily list 20 or 30 courageous characters here, and doubtless I will be omitting many heroes others would put at the top of the list. I’m not a fan of overly suspenseful or hard-to-watch movies (like realistic battle scenes), so you won’t find any well-deserving military fictional characters here. But I think these five stories have something for all of us.
King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) in “Black Panther”
King T’Challa of Wakanda seems fearless from the moment we meet him, even after his temporary freeze upon seeing his girlfriend. But soon after T’Challa officially takes over the kingdom following his father’s death, he learns about hidden decisions in his father’s past. T’Challa could sweep those family secrets under the rug and stop his illegitimate cousin where he stands. But instead T’Challa chooses to face the consequences of his father’s misjudgment, no matter what it costs him or how much his decision conflicts with the decisions of kings before him. “We let the fear of our discovery stop us from doing what is right,” T’Challa says. “I must right these wrongs.”
Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) in “National Treasure”
Sometimes the right thing to do is…unclear. Or at least murky. Maybe unexpected? That’s the quandary Ben Gates finds himself in when he knows there is a credible threat to the Declaration of Independence — but none of the credible authorities will believe him. Raising a glass to make a toast, he tells one of those authorities: “Here’s to the men who did what was considered wrong, in order to do what they knew was right. What they knew was right.” For the rest of the movie, Ben stays true to his convictions no matter who is against him.
Sulley (John Goodman) in “Monsters, Inc.”
Mike and Sulley have a nice life in Monstropolis: Sulley is the top scarer of the scare floor and Mike, his loyal (and perhaps innocently egotistical) assistant, is living the dream and planning a future with his girlfriend. But then Boo shows up. As much as Mike wants to return to the way things were, they are different with a playful and noisy toddler in tow.
When Mike tells Sulley he has everything lined up for Boo to return to where she came from, Sulley hesitates. Yes, this would return everything to the way it was before. But would it be the best decision for Boo? Sometimes courage means thinking of someone else’s needs over our own comfort. “We’re gonna get our lives back — the nightmare is over!” Mike celebrates. “Mike, what are you thinking? We can’t trust Randall — he’s after Boo,” Sulley counters. “No, no. I don’t like this.”
The Von Trapps (Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews) in “The Sound of Music”
I know, I know. I leave out all the war movies when talking about courage, but then throw this one in. The story of a wannabe nun and a grouchy widower with seven children is hardly the first we think of when we talk about courage, but Maria demonstrates it from the beginning. As she travels to her assignment at Baron von Trapp’s house, she gives herself a pep talk, willing herself to be more confident than she feels. She throws herself into her work, refusing to let the children’s attempts to scare her away succeed. Sometimes it’s the average, unimpressive choices that require more courage than we think.
But as most WWII stories do, “The Sound of Music” showcases even more courage later in the film. Hitler’s swastika comes over Austria, and the Von Trapps must decide whether to go with the flow or resist. “To refuse them would be fatal for all of us,” says Baron von Trapp, “and joining them would be unthinkable.”
Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) in “The Post”
After the U.S. government forbade The New York Times from publishing leaked classified papers about the Vietnam War, the editor and owner of The Washington Post had to decide if they would can the story or publish and risk…well, they weren’t sure what they were risking. Jail time? Bankruptcy of an already struggling paper? Owner Katharine Graham wrestles with the weighty decision as advisors scrambling to give different advice sometimes talk down to her. Finally, she must simply make a call: publish or don’t publish? She makes her decision and informs her employees: “My decision stands and I’m going to bed.”
That’s a goal right there. So confident in a risky decision — a courageous decision — that you can sleep on it.
The characters in these stories have much to show us about courage. Sometimes courage means a battle. Sometimes it means making the right choice that no one else may ever see. Or everyone will see it, and the cost to us could be immense.
Sometimes just living a life of hope and trust in God requires courage. Next time we face our fears, may some of these characters remind us to have courage. And that our courage is rooted in something — Someone — deeper than any fictional story can conjure.
Copyright 2022 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.