An exploration of character survival skills in both classic and contemporary novels
Whether the task is shooting a bow, jumping off a building, or throwing a ring into a fiery volcano, survival skills in novels and movies are becoming an urgent necessity for young men and women characters.
But in a novel or screenplay, what skills do characters really need and why?
Survival skills in a science fiction or fantasy story of course, depend on, and correspond to the world the author or screenwriter has developed.
World building is a popular pastime with authors. Entire conferences and workshop, and even books are dedicated to the art of world building. There are forums and groups that meet just to discuss this topic. It is the foundation of all science fiction and fantasy literature.
The world that the author builds affects the characters and the plot of the story. The world challenges them, and determines their success or failures.
Take for instance Frodo in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
Fantasy author J. R. R. Tolkien spent years developing a language for his world before he even formed Middle Earth. And when he did get around to building the world, he made certain this world had history, legends and that the people living in Middle Earth had cultures analogous to their environment. Many avid followers of Tolkien insist the success of his stories can be attributed to these details.
What is even more ingenious is the way Tolkien had different worlds within his primary world. Middle earth is comprised of several octaves of landscapes from the lush green Shire, the towering forests and waterfalls of Rivendale, the vast plains of Rohan, the marble halls of Gondor, to the desolate fiery Mount Doom. The story evolves as one particular character emerges out of his local environment, and is thrust into all these others.
Unlike many characters in fast paced contemporary science fiction stories (I’m thinking of superheroes right now) this mild-mannered peace-loving hobbit has no super powers, was never sent to military school, nor did a militia train his hobbit friends who swore to defend him. He did, however make friends with folk from other lands that knew how to fight.
Note his #1 skill: making friends. Why did the people of Middle Earth like Frodo so much? Because of his simple determination to get the job done. It had to be done, so it would be.
Frodo’s personal enemy was not the orcs, nor the goblins, nor Gollum, nor even the wraiths. Sauron though the primary threat to Middle Earth, was more interested in destroying the kings of Gondor than dealing with a hobbit.
Frodo’s biggest conflict was the element that the One Ring was made of. Evil.
The evil that Tolkien gave Middle Earth was eating Frodo from the inside out.
So all the orcs, goblins, wraiths, and enemies of Middle Earth challenged Frodo’s friends. And they, having the skills with swords and bows and catapults, defeated them.
Frodo’s greatest conflict comes as he stands over the fires of Mount Doom, struggling with the decision of whether to relinquish the ring or not.
He loses that battle, and understandably so. He’s carried evil too long.
Were it not for his good friend Sam, Frodo would have met the same fate as Gollum.
What was the skill that Frodo was equipped with?
It’s quite simple, really. Frodo was carrying a burden that everyone in Middle Earth felt a responsibility for. They admired him, honored him, respected him and loved him. People came to his aid because of his integrity. Frodo’s mind was made up. He would endure to the very end even if it killed him. Though the struggle had weakened him, the fellowship he had made with the people he met on his journey saved him and together they overcame the evil of the One Ring.