Written by Eric Rasmussen on July 30, 2004.
It has been my understanding that, sooner or later, people die. Bad things happen. Good people don’t get what they deserve. I deal with this constantly in real life, and fantasy is supposed to be my escape from the world’s evils. But somewhere along the line I started getting into movies and books where tragedies are common place, and a good day involves not losing a limb to flesh-eating insects or drug infection. To compensate, I’ve invented a fantasy world within the fantasies I enjoy. It’s a fantasy where I have the power to influence events and make the world happy again.
I’ve always wanted to be a hero, without having to work at it. Training, discipline, studying the criminal underworld, these are things best left to professionals. I just want to make a cool costume and get all the credit a great hero deserves. When I’m reading fantastic stories, and things start to go wrong, I imagine myself stepping in to right them. A protagonist is falsely accused and imprisoned? No problem! I’m the guy who’ll show up and convince everyone that she’s not guilty at all, and then I’ll tie up all of the villains and save the world. The reason I’m not a hero is I have no idea how to foil the bad guys’ master plans. Children don’t find my physical demeanor imposing… much less hardened criminals. And even if I was threatening to look at, I’d have no power to back up my threats.
You see, out of all the wonderful things heroes do, the only one I excel at is explaining everything that’s going on. I dream of stepping into a fictional world, and just before innocents are betrayed and slaughtered. I can expose the evildoers and spend several hours telling everyone how clever I am, stopping only to pose for the press. Everyone would love me, if only for the really cool costume and impeccable timing. I’d always pop in at the exact right moment. “Don’t shake his hand,” I’d shout, just in time, “he’s concealing a vial of poison!” Everyone would look at me, bewildered. More bemused, at first, than accepting of my critical intervention, but soon enough my stylish costume and uncanny knowledge of events would win their trust.
And if the traitor tries to bolt or take me down, well, I’ll figure something out. I can always travel backwards in time and do it over if something goes wrong - that’s the beauty of being an imaginary hero in an already imaginary world. Logic applies less as the number of paradoxical worlds converging on each other increases. It’s some kind of law of physics, I think. Even if events do take a turn for the worse, they’re bound to end up better than they would have otherwise. So the villain escapes by hacking down a few people who block his way: at least I saved the protagonist from poison! Imagine the headlines, the photos of us, side by side, covering the front page and inspiring awe in millions. After all, in fantasy, it doesn’t matter how many people die as long as they aren’t main characters. The nameless masses are fodder for the cannons, grist for the mill, and… well, I was never very good at those sorts of sayings.
It’s not likely that I’ll ever amount to much of a hero. My useful skills include, honestly, making balloon animals (with enough time, directions, and a ruler of appropriate length), and magically making “broken” computers work by plugging them in and depressing the “power” button, or putting paper back in the printer. Even then, I’m quick to dispense an hour or so worth of sage advice: your friendly neighborhood computer whiz, costumeless, unpaid, but possessing an intimidating amount knowledge. “The trick,” I’d say, “is pressing the power button after plugging it in.”
But maybe being a hero isn’t such a great thing after all. It never feels too satisfying in my fantasy within fantasy. The characters are appreciative, but only because I make them so. Sure, my costume is cool as they come, but what do already fictional characters care? It’s depressing when you realize you can’t even impress fantasy versions of real people. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I try to picture saving a bus full of school children and being embraced by Kirsten Dunst for sacrificing my own safety to protect some ungrateful brats, but it doesn’t work. She can’t even make an appreciably realistic cameo in my fantasies; contractual obligation, I lie to myself. I’m left to find some small comfort in that fact that, on some, arguably insignificant, level, I can make the world a better place to live, even if it’s only in dreams.