Monday, August 9, 2010

An unlikely paladin

On gaming websites, there are occasionally discussions of which fictional characters would be paladins. If you're not familiar with the word, a paladin in this context is someone so virtuous that they dedicate their entire lives to opposing evil wherever they find it. (The concept was taken from the peers of Charlemagne and strongly influenced by a 1961 fantasy novel by Poul Anderson, Three Hearts and Three Lions.) D&D has a concept called alignment, with two Axes, Good-Neutral-Evil and Lawful-Neutral-Chaotic. You take one from column A and one from column B, resulting in nine possible alignments. Paladins must be Lawful Good.

In these discussions, somebody usually names Superman right away and Captain America shortly after that, and there is some debate if Batman is a paladin of sorts, and then as the thread wraps wraps up, people start nominating the Punisher and the any character they happen to like.

Paladins and Lawful Goodness are concepts that are frequently misunderstood by many gamers, who think that paladins must be overbearing moralizing hypocrites or gullible simps.

I was thinking about Mister Rogers the other day. A blog I follow linked to an article about him, so I spent some time reading about him. He was such a profoundly decent human being. I don't think anyone would argue that he's anything other than Lawful Good. This is the quote that made me think of him as a paladin.

He was barely more than a boy himself when he learned what he would be fighting for, and fighting against, for the rest of his life. He was in college. He was a music major at a small school in Florida and planning to go to seminary upon graduation. His name was Fred Rogers. He came home to Latrobe, Pennsylvania, once upon a time, and his parents, because they were wealthy, had bought something new for the corner room of their big redbrick house. It was a television. Fred turned it on, and as he says now, with plaintive distaste, "there were people throwing pies at one another." He was the soft son of overprotective parents, but he believed, right then, that he was strong enough to enter into battle with that--that machine, that medium--and to wrestle with it until it yielded to him, until the ground touched by its blue shadow became hallowed and this thing called television came to be used "for the broadcasting of grace through the land."

That's what a paladin should be. Patiently, modestly, pushing back the darkness and advancing the light, day after day.

Over at Mental Floss, there is a list of fifteen reasons why Mister Rogers was the best neighbor ever. I especially liked this one.

Mister Rogers seems to have been almost exactly the same off-screen as he was onscreen. As an ordained Presbyterian minister, and a man of tremendous faith, Mister Rogers preached tolerance first. Whenever he was asked to castigate non-Christians or gays for their differing beliefs, he would instead face them and say, with sincerity, “God loves you just the way you are.” Often this provoked ire from fundamentalists.

And one more quote and a cartoon from xkcd:

He had already won his third Daytime Emmy, and now he went onstage to accept Emmy's Lifetime Achievement Award, and there, in front of all the soap-opera stars and talk-show sinceratrons, in front of all the jutting man-tanned jaws and jutting saltwater bosoms, he made his small bow and said into the microphone, "All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are ... Ten seconds of silence." And then he lifted his wrist, and looked at the audience, and looked at his watch, and said softly, "I'll watch the time," and there was, at first, a small whoop from the crowd, a giddy, strangled hiccup of laughter, as people realized that he wasn't kidding, that Mister Rogers was not some convenient eunuch but rather a man, an authority figure who actually expected them to do what he asked … and so they did. One second, two seconds, three seconds … and now the jaws clenched, and the bosoms heaved, and the mascara ran, and the tears fell upon the beglittered gathering like rain leaking down a crystal chandelier, and Mister Rogers finally looked up from his watch and said, "May God be with you" to all his vanquished children.

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