Saturday, April 28, 2012

Why I Love The Scarlet Pimpernel

Ok, so I just posted this on Of Trims and Frills and Furbelows, but several people asked that I repost it here, so I have. I'm sure that most of you have read it all ready...but at least, hey, if a new Pimpernel fan happens to stumble across the blog they can read it, right?

And I've got lots of TSP-related stuff that I found over the course of the prepare to hear from me more next week. :-)

Hehe. Anyway. So basically as most of you probably know, I had one of those "ask me any question you want" things and this was one of the questions. So. My very long and deep anwer. :-D
Why do you like the Scarlet Pimpernel?
Here’s the answer, for two reasons. One because I never shirk from gushing about My Favorite Subject, and two because since it’s a part of this blog so much, I might as well explain it all. So sit down and prepare for a Deep Post. Because believe it or not, I am quite capable of becoming deep. Yuppers. I shall now proceed to prove it.

And a note. I am in no way trying to bash the other fans out there (Janeites in particular) for liking other heroes and stories more than TSP. I understand that everyone has different personalities, likes, tastes, etc. I am only responding to the question and explaining why to me personally TSP is the best. I'm not trying to convert you...although if ya did, it wouldn't be a horrid thing, ya know...hehehe.    
(and wow, two deep posts in a row?! I am proud of myself. Hehe.)
Growing up I was captured with the idea of the hero that did something. I loved Cinderella, of course, but as I got a bit older the Prince was…kind of lacking. He only just sat there and saw her, didn’t go after her when she left, and sent the duke to find her (I know, in the Disney version). While I was scared silly of Sleeping Beauty, Prince Philip was more up my alley (although those annoying fairies had to help him, argh…), slaying the dragons and hacking his way through to get to the Princess and deliver her with True Love’s Kiss…yup. More like it.
I went on to admire such film gents as Davy Crockett in the Disney film of the same name, who fought Indians, blazed the wilderness, and gave his life defending freedom at the Alamo, and James J. Andrews in The Great Locomotive Chase (both played by my first huge celebrity crush, Fess Parker. I was a gentle five years old…), who went undercover to steal a train, thwart the Confederate’s plans and died for those courageous acts (that was, of course, before my conversion to the Confederates. Also something that is a subject for a whole ‘nother post…so no comment on that, please. Thanks. :-P). As I got older, the heroes in the various war movies that my brothers always thrived on further sculpted my tastes. Having three younger brothers and no sisters until I was ten meant that I was exposed to a lot of “boys heroes” during my younger years. And although I was much too much a prissy girl to become a tomboy, it did whet my appetite for the kind of men that went above and beyond the call of duty. I listened to G.A. Henty books with them, watched war movies, and played the Barbie nurse to their GIJoes, who usually were wounded in Highly Heroic deeds (and I always inserted the – in my twelve-year-old mind – much needed romance angle between nurse and Seriously Wounded Soldier. It’s always been there, peoples…).
Besides that, my view on what a Truly Heroic Man was like was shaped by the biggest hero in my life, my dad. He was always my hero, and through the years as he would stand for issues he believed in, no matter if it made him “popular” or not (most times the latter :-)), it began shaping the idea in my head that Real Men like my dad weren’t afraid of what people thought. The year I turned eleven, a tragic scandal at the church I grew up in resulted in a huge church split that changed my life forever. When my dad stood up for what he believed in and faced the huge flak that followed, without even realizing it then, it set me on the path of admiring the men who were would be intimidated by nothing, never back down, and never stop standing for what they believed in.
That year was the turning point in our family’s journey. It set into motion the events that would send us into the ministry, meeting people and doing things that I never even imagined we’d do. It set hardships in our path and made us closer as a family. But through it all, I saw my dad continuing to stand for right in the face of opposition. I saw him risking his life over and over and over again – something that continues to this day – and never, ever back down. From the ministry to political involvment to defying the traditions of men to get down to what the Bible says, I saw a true example of a real man in my own father. And in my mind, as I grew older and began observing the men around me, it set all those apart. Most men I knew weren’t like that.          
During my early teens I began the foray into the period drama world with the staple Austen adaptations and others like Louisa May Alcott and Janette Oke’s adaptations – I all ready had been an avid fan of the Anne films…and although I absolutely loved all of those for the romance angle, something was missing. I just couldn’t find that hero – my hero. These men were all chivalrous and manly, to be sure…but there were none of the “willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause” type that I had grown to admire.

And then, on the verge of my seventeenth birthday, my parents rented a movie they’d seen years ago and thought I’d enjoy. And the minute Sir Percy Blakeney pulled off his wig and fake nose in the 1982 version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, I knew I had found my literary hero. 

Into the Fire
Marguerite bowed her head in silence. There was nothing more that she could say, no plea that she could urge. Indeed, she had understood, as he had begged her to understand. She understood that long ago he had mapped out the course of his life, and now that that course happened to lead up a Calvary of humiliation and of suffering he was not likely to turn back, even though, on the summit, death already was waiting and beckoning with no uncertain hand; not until he could murmur, in the wake of the great and divine sacrifice itself, the sublime words: "It is accomplished." – El Dorado
At last, here was someone who did more. He had the romance of the other heroes in spades, but he risked his life and stood for what he believed just like the Real Heroes did. I was instantly obsessed, smitten and otherwise taken (the fact that Anthony Andrews was an incredible actor – and incredibly handsome…cough, cough…had nothing to do with it :-)). 
Just a few months later I stumbled across the book, and then the sequels as my TSP insanity grew (and believe me, my fangirlness is nothing compared to six years ago). Within a year I was a die-hard TSP fan, and to this day Sir Percy Blakeney is my favorite of all literary heroes.   
 Why do I like the story of The Scarlet Pimpernel so much? First, as I’ve all ready explained, because of the hero. Because of the way he’s strong and courageous and heroic. Because he is willing to risk his life – over and over and over again – for the sake of what is right (and give up his reputation for it, too…what manly guy really likes the idea of being known as a ‘brainless fop’? Seriously, people :-)).
“If we are to succeed, we must maintain our anonymity, mask our identities, even if it means suffering the mockery of others. Being taken for fools, fops, nitwits, even cowards.” ­– The Scarlet Pimpernel
And Sir Percy isn’t the only hero willing to sacrifice all like that. There were real live men, like William Wilberforce in Amazing Grace (the scene in the garden when he’s venting his frustration to Barbara about how nothing has changed despite their efforts always has me giggling…because her response would totally be my own in the same situation, a dazed, open-mouthed Wowwwww. :-P), or William Wallace, who in the film Braveheart (which I do not, by the way, recommend without the use of ClearPlay :-)) boldly challenged his men to not give up in the face of danger –


And that drive is the idea behind the mission of the Scarlet Pimpernel - that same self-sacrifice ready to give all to the cause.

The Scarlet Pimpernel did not take it upon himself to punish the guilty; his care was solely of the helpless and of the innocent. For this aim he risked his life every time that he set foot on French soil, for it he sacrificed his fortune, and even his personal happiness, and to it he devoted his entire existence. [...] The Scarlet Pimpernel was a personality of whom an entire nation might be justly proud. - El Dorado
Now, I’m not bashing the other heroes. I don’t want anyone getting that idea at all. We can’t all go chasing after justice like Sir Percy or the real live fellows like Wilberforce or Wallace. And that’s ok. We need men to run the life back home while the Visionary men go out chasing bad guys and fighting for justice. We need the other guys to hold down the fort. So in no way am I going to bash Other People I Won’t Name for not doing all that. I’m sure that were the situation brought up, they’d do it, too (yes, I’m sure they would. I’m pretty sure they would. :-P JUST KIDDING) . So this is not, in any way, shape, or form, meant as that (and not every girl wants the kind of guy, too. Which is nice ‘cuz it leaves the few ones for us. :-)).    

I've gone into the heroics of Sir Percy enough times on here to not rehash everything all over again. But it's the courage and fearless devotion to what they believe in, who aren't content to just let the world pass them by that draws me to these heroes, Sir Percy Blakeney chief amongst them.

Perhaps it's because as I said before, I grew up with that. And it's a part of me. I can't stand the idea of spending the rest of my life doing nothing. True, my life may not consist of daring escapades (really, who in a hundred does?) but as it has been so famously said, "I am only one, but I am one. And I may not do everything, but I can do something." There are so many things wrong today and no one to fix them. If only one person did something, just like William Wallace or William Wilberforce or yes, Sir Percy Blakeney did, what kind of an impact could they make on the world today?

Lest you think I will continue on forever about Sir Percy, let me point out that I love TSP not only for the hero, but because he loves his wife so much. Because he and Marguerite have such a beautiful, tender, passionate relationship. It seems to me that most men who have a deep passion for a vision in life tend to have that passion in everything else - including the love they have for the woman in their life.     

Thus he saw her as he re-entered the room, and for one second he paused at the door, for the joy of seeing her there seemed greater than he could bear. Forgotten was the agony of mind which he had endured, the humiliations and the dangers which still threatened: he only remembered that she loved him and that he worshipped her. – The Elusive Pimpernel
Despite what some people may say (and now I’m quoting my mother, because I have no experience in this matter yet :-P), it is possible to be just as in love as any storybook proclaims, and the love they have for each other is one of the major draws in my love for the story. Part of it, I understand, is personality. While I do love the "sweet" romances in some stories, I'm much more along the lines of a passionate, dramatic romance lovin' person (to quote my kindred spirit Marianne, "to love is to burn, to be on fire..."), and Percy and Marguerite's romance definitely falls in that category. My mushy-scene-loving-soul thrives on their beautiful love for each other.   

But more than that, I love it because of how much she loves him, and what an incredibly strong heroine she is. 

Marguerite did not utter a cry; she did not even tremble. Just for one brief instant she closed her eyes, so as to gather up all her courage before she dared to look again. Then with a steady and noiseless step she came quite close to him. She knelt on the flagstones at his feet and raised reverently to her lips the hand that hung nerveless and limp by his side.

He gave a start; a shiver seemed to go right through him; he half raised his head and murmured in a hoarse whisper:

"I tell you that I do not know, and if I did--"

She put her arms round him and pillowed her head upon his breast. He turned his head slowly toward her, and now his eyes--hollowed and rimmed with purple--looked straight into hers.

"My beloved," he said, "I knew that you would come."

His arms closed round her. There was nothing of lifelessness or of weariness in the passion of that embrace; and when she looked up again it seemed to her as if that first vision which she had had of him with weary head bent, and wan, haggard face was not reality, only a dream born of her own anxiety for him, for now the hot, ardent blood coursed just as swiftly as ever through his veins, as if life – strong, tenacious, pulsating life – throbbed with unabated vigour in those massive limbs, and behind that square, clear brow as though the body, but half subdued, had transferred its vanishing strength to the kind and noble heart that was beating with the fervour of self-sacrifice. – El Dorado

(by the way. The prison scene in El Dorado should be like, required reading once a month for everyone that calls themself a TSP fan. Just to remind everyone how awesome it all is.)   

Yes, I love TSP not only for the hero, or the couple, but thirdly (and now I’m sounding like a sermon :-)) because of Marguerite. Because she is a strong heroine, someone whom he can trust (after the first book, of course :-P), that even in the face of death he can rely on the fact that she’s going to be strong and do what needs to be done. That’s why they’re my favorite literary couple. Not just because he’s an incredible hero, but because he’s got a great wife. We do kind of forget sometimes that every good hero needs a good heroine. :-)
He had no need to tell her that duty and friendship called, that the call of honour was once again—as it so often has been in the world—louder than that of love. She understood and she knew, and he, with that supersensitive instinct of his, understood the heroic effort which she made.
"Your love, dear heart," he whispered, "will draw me back safely home as it hath so often done before. You believe that, do you not?"
And she had the supreme courage to murmur: "Yes!" – Lord Tony’s Wife

Whether our hero defeats dragons or plugged drains, fights the injustices of the world or the bills at home, every good hero needs a wife who will stand by him, be his most faithful confidante, his strongest cheerleader, and not only listen to his ideas but help him fulfill his vision. Every man is born with something God wants him to accomplish, and a woman can either make or break him, the biggest lesson I’ve learned in this past year of my “Marriage Prep” studies. Whether it’s Sir Percy Blakeney or Mr. Anonymous, every man needs a woman who believes in him. As one of my favorites songs puts it,
He has a thousand dreams that won’t come true,
You know that he believes in them,
And that’s enough for you.
You’ll always go along,
Defend him when he’s wrong,
And tell him when he’s strong…
He is wonderful.
He’ll always need your love,
And so he’ll get your love…
Something Wonderful"
 from The King and I

 And it was that way with Percy and Marguerite Blakeney. And they weren’t perfect…something I really do love. They had misunderstandings and hurts to get past. Marguerite struggled in the beginning with accepting the fact that Percy’s life consisted of risking his life over and over again. She doesn’t always respond correctly, which is encouraging for this so-less-than-perfect gal. But she loves her man and she believes in him. And that’s what I want someday.
When it all boils down, I love the story of The Scarlet Pimpernel so much not just because Percy is amazing, because the romance is so beautiful and the adventure is so thrilling. It’s because it’s about someone who wanted their life to count for something, someone who believed they could and helped them accomplish that, and how together they did amazing things, no matter what the cost. And in my deepest heart, that’s what I want to do. My Sir Percy, wherever he is on the planet at this moment, may not do huge things. I’m not expecting that. But a man of courage and conviction and fearless devotion to what is right?
That’s what I want. And that’s what I love about The Scarlet Pimpernel.    

The Impossible Dream

1 comment:

Anne said...

What to say? Spot on, right on the money, hit the nail on the head…
I LOVE how the qualities you admire most in a man are those you find in your father. I concur wholeheartedly!
I LOVE that Percy has a cause, that he is a man of action, of passion and intensity:
“This time he broke into a laugh. A good, hearty laugh, full of the joy of living, of the madness and intoxication of a bold adventure, a laugh that had not one particle of anxiety or of tremor in it.” (-The Elusive Pimpernel)
“…The reckless enthusiast who tossed his life against an ideal.” (El Dorado)
But the point that most gets me is the one who first attracted me to Sir Percy, before he was Our Dashing Hero, and just that handsome man I happened to catch on the Tuner Classic Movie channel. Every pore of his face glowed with happiness, with joy, with love, when he thought of his wife. Even weeks afterword, long after I had forgotten the name “The Scarlet Pimpernel” I often thought of that face, and wished I could remember his name. Another scene that stuck in my mind is where he goes to be “shot” in order to save Marguerite, and she faints. Normally that is the point where I scoff, but then I didn’t, as he simply said it was a lucky thing she was saved the trauma, and that he loved her. Where other ”romantic” heroes (not any of our really good heroes, but the modern ones, you understand) could go around with overdramatic angst and say they would die for love, Percy really would have, without hesitation, take upon himself any trial, any pain, for the woman he loved and for his cause.