Cathblog - The virtue of flawed heroes


In spite of patient and expert tuition, I never mastered the thumbs/eyeballs/ brain co-ordination necessary to be a successful player of either desktop or Xbox computer games.

Inexorably, I would be dead in the first 10 seconds of the game – beheaded or run through with a sword or been pushed from a great height or mowed down several times over by a high powered Kalashnikov rifle – by the bad guys.

In spite of the ongoing debate about the influences of violent computer games on the brains on young males – and increasingly on young females – these mainstream games belong to the genre of the perennial battle of good versus evil.

That the forces of evil can be overcome by superior expertise in the martial arts or vigorous swordplay, cunning strategies or in more recent times, by random sprays from semi-automatic weaponry has been the stuff of legends, sagas, odysseys, adventure and science fiction stories, from time immemorial.

And they all have one thing in common, whether it’s a ripping yarn from two centuries (or millennia) ago or the latest computer game from Sony – ‘evil’ is always ‘other’ and unambiguous.

Which is probably why eventually the stories/games no longer engage us.  Life in the real world teaches us that such certainties are overstated.

There are many nuances to being good. Evil has many guises.

Maturity demands that we eventually move to a different stage of life, however reluctantly, from admiring and wanting to emulate the derring-do of our heroes to a more realistic assessment of what we can achieve.

For me, this stage of my life was peopled with characters from fiction who in spite of their own goodness and high moral values, didn’t necessarily achieve their heart’s desire.

Evelyn Waugh’s Charles Ryder and Guy Crouchback spring to mind as does that pantheon of 19th century heroines, from Maggie Tulliver and Dorothea Brooke to Jane Eyre and Tess of the d`Urbervilles.

Their tragic or elegiac experiences more accurately reflected the realities of my own life!

Goodness did not always have a happy ending and even heroic self-sacrifice could not alleviate the bitter taste of disappointment and failure.

Nowadays my tastes in fictional heroes run to admiration for and addiction to the flawed hero – professionally successful but emotionally thwarted, holding high moral values but sometimes ethically ambiguous, morally good but not immune to temptation, liquor and tobacco.

For some reason there are few women who fit this bill – apart from Vera Stanhope, but quite a few men, mostly Chief Inspectors called Morse or Rebus or even Adam Dalgleish and Reg Wexford.

Their attitude to life in general and their own in particular, resonates with where I’m at in mine – a bit jaded, disillusioned, perhaps disgruntled that ‘things’ haven’t quite worked out the way they should have done, a realization that somewhere deep inside there is more of a coward than a heroine. (Well maybe a flawed heroine!)

Yet, in spite of everything, they retain an unshakeable belief in the basic goodness of ordinary people.

This predilection for the flawed hero might explain why I have in recent years developed quite a soft spot for St Peter.

His flaws were only too evident - his impetuosity, his impatience, his over-enthusiasms and anxieties, his betrayal of Jesus.

I know what it feels like to sit in a boat of doubts and fears in the middle of the howling gale of a personal or family crisis.

I know what it’s like to seriously doubt that I would come running, or for that matter, walk on water, if the Lord called me.

But I also know what it is to hear ‘O woman of little faith’ as I am picked up and saved from a sure death by drowning, and in that moment to realize that even with all my flaws and failures, I am redeemed.

Perhaps the gamesters/story tellers and the flawed heroes got it right after all. Good will triumph no matter what – we just might not need sophisticated weapons or strategies, virtual or real, to defeat evil.

We just need to have enough faith and the flaming sword of the grace of God will do the rest.


Elizabeth McKenzie is a Melbourne writer.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources

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