KC has recently posted a story, Orbital Decay, which sadly failed to find a market. It’s a good story, though, check it out when you get a chance. It has inspired this post, so it might help you understand what I’m talking about. Read it first so I don’t spoil anything. It’s short.
I completely and totally identify with Dave, the narrator – I wanted to be a pilot and astronaut when I was a kid, too, but poor eyesight and later sheer laziness killed those dreams.
The story reminds me of, I don’t know that I would call it an archetype exactly, but maybe it is, the dreamer type of character.
Many fictional characters are dreamers to some extent. Luke Skywalker wouldn’t have left Tattoine if he weren’t a dreamer. Yearning for a greater (or at least more exciting) life is fundamental to the hero’s journey, not to mention the basic human condition. But I’m talking about a whole other class of dreamer. These are people whose life is consumed with following some fantasy that originates in childhood.
Dave, as I mentioned above, does what most of us do. The real world intervenes, and our lesser natures take over. Sometimes a more down-to-earth dream comes along. Sometimes fear prevents us from following through. For whatever reason, we give up the dream. After a while, most of us come to terms with it. It’s cool. It’s kind of silly to be a paleontologist or whatever anyway, right? What does the world need with another movie star?
But some people don’t give it up. They happen to have the right combination of talent, ambition, and luck. Then the right opportunity, either through chance or self-actualization, comes along and the dreamer finally gets to live their dream. This person doesn’t – indeed, can’t – stop until they’ve built that spaceship in their garage, or directs a major motion picture, or writes that novel.
I think both are equally fascinating character types. The failed dreamer can be a study of human flaw and folly. The achieved dreamer can be a study of determination or obsession, depending on what slant you want to take. In KC’s story, Frank is, tragically, both types. He has held on to the dream, but lacks the necessary skills to follow through.
It’s not fiction, but probably my favorite story about a dreamer is that of Dr. Ronald Mallett, as featured in This American Life.