Why We’re Drawn To Awesomeness

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‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’ – C.S. Lewis from The Lion, The With, and the Wardrobe

After I finished watching Breaking Bad a few months back, my wife – who had watched it here and there, but more so just kept asking me to fill her in – posed the simple, yet stimulating question, “Why are we as humans drawn to a character like that?” Now, she wasn’t saying that we as humans want to be like Walter White, nor are drawn to all of what we as viewers were presented with. She was simply recognizing how a protagonist can be so captivating, even if their lifestyle is polar-opposites of our own.

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That got me thinking about other unfavorable characters. There’s Magneto from the X-Men series, whose backstory of being enslaved in Nazi concentration camps quickly pull at our heartstrings. There’s Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men, whose stoical countenance demands our full attention. And, there’s someone like Walter White, whose horribly selfish decisions lock our attentiveness in to the episode-by-episode train-wreck that was Breaking Bad.

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But, coincidentally, those are all “bad guys”, and their lack of virtue is not the appeal that I’m speaking of. What about the “good guys” like Gladiator’s Maximus Decimus Meridius? Or, Homer’s Achilles or Hector – depending on the chapter? Or, maybe a more clear example to better serve my point, what about Liam Neeson’s character, Bryan Mills, from the movie Taken. And the common denominator in all of these characters, both “good” and “bad”…? Awesomeness. Period.

And I actually don’t mean that in a trivially fun way, but say that to affirm that, as the Chambers Dictionary defines, they all exude something that strikes or influences awe or fear in their audience. It’s this seemingly omnipotent quality that we are drawn to. And why? I think it’s three-fold:

  1. We lack our own complete awesomeness. And…
  2. We know of the possibility of complete awesomeness. And…
  3. We want such awesomeness.

The “unstopabilty” that all of these characters share appeals to us because of (1). We are in want because we are in need, and are therefore going through life with a deficit. We lack. We are limited. These limitations hold us back from whatever it is we hope to be or do. And, so, (2) and (3) is our current state. Sadly, too often in life we are left only with the ability to perceive what it is we want to acheive, because of these limitations. So, seeing someone break through the boundaries set around them is inspiring. It’s awesome. We want it.

These characters show one other common denominator: they are fiction characters. We are not drawn to them, in that we are more so drawn to what they remind us. God is both awe-inspiring and terrifying, depending on what side of the fence you are with Him. Everytime a limited (1, 2, and 3) human comes in contact with just one of God’s messengers, they are terrified… and those angels are no where compared to His grandeur. And so, is He safe? No. Well, at least in a certain context. He is the pennicle of unstopability and terror toward that which is contrary to Him. Is He good? Absolutely. He is a refuge for the weak. He is a passionate Father who will stop at nothing to come to our aid and pick us up. As odd as it might sound, He is the awesome that characters like Chigurh and Maximus attempt to convey, but are only barely able to hint at.

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And so, when you are at a place in life that feels unbearable or undefeatable, and you subconciously look toward one of these fictional reminders, don’t forget what one truth they are actually professing. Before I end with one of my favorite reminders, I’d like to know what reminders (fictional characters, random thoughts, verses, stories, songs, etc.) point you toward the one Awesome that doesn’t cease at terrifying your enemies, nor stops inspiring your soul. So, please comment below and share with us.

Jordan Jordan (8 Posts)

Jordan has been married to his beautiful wife, Sharla, since 2007. They are the lucky parents of their daughter Ruby, whom they adopted in 2012. He has earned both an MDiv and a ThM from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where both degrees concentrated in philosophy. He is also a member of the International Dostoevsky Society. You can follow Jordan on his personal blog - TowardTeleios.com


2 Comments Why We’re Drawn To Awesomeness

  1. JoshJosh

    Great reflections.

    Gladiator, definitely. And the Patriot. I think in both of those movies, I imagine myself in their situation. I imagine my own family being killed, and I wonder what I would do. I certainly wouldn’t do what they did, but something about their demand for justice resonates deep inside. Even though I’ve never/nor will do what they did, through them I feel vindicated (vindicated about a hypothetical situation that has never actually happened to me, though I’ve run it through my head enough times that sometimes those imaginings feel like real memories!).

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  2. BrettBrett

    Of course, Jordan, you know where I would draw my sense of fictional awesomeness from: The Lord of the Rings. But I’m thinking of the books mainly, not the movies (although I enjoy them greatly). Tolkien’s portrayal of three characters in particular move me because of the power and ‘unstopability’ they possess: Gandalf, Aragorn, and Theoden. Gandalf goes without comment, he is so awesome. Aragorn needs some clarification, since the movies mischaracterize him significantly, I think. In the books, he is never in doubt about who he is, but always sure of himself as the rightful king of Gondor and wielder of Anduril, flame/sword of the West; he is like Jesus in this way, and is never lured by the temptation to misplace his identity in his future successes or others’ opinions. Theoden, unlike the former heroes, dies in battle, being subdued by his foes. However, he is a symbol of redeemed man, filled with the Spirit and united with Christ. My favorite scene of him is on the fields of the Pelennor, before the smoking walls of Minas Tirith and the hosts of Mordor. He faces the temptation to slink away and hide in the hills and overcomes his weakness. Like Braveheart (William Wallace) he resolutely calls his warriors to follow him into battle, as he leads the way, outpacing every other horseman as he rides to the line of his enemies. He cries, “Death! Death! Death!” to his foes, and they shake, quail, and die under the hooves of his steed.
    That’s awesomeness to me.

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