Have you ever noticed that stories love to celebrate the daring and the quirky? Perhaps that is no surprise; characters who enjoy staying at home to garden or read, or whatever it is that nice, quiet people do, are not exactly as exciting as characters who head off to slay dragons or explore space. But sometimes it can feel as if stories, far from accepting the joy of a quiet life, instead dismiss those who do not crave novelty and adventure. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, a great many of us are probably the “boring” type of person that (some) stories tell us must be shallow, without vision, and unfulfilled. That is far from the truth. Even the most boring of us can be fulfilled and, yes, even interesting.
Not every story dismisses the “boring” characters, but a great many do imply that anyone who just stays at home or does not “put themselves out there” is somehow lacking. Think of all the stories where characters have to “find themselves” by doing something unusual–maybe taking a road trip across the country, skydiving, or attending a bunch of parties in order to be “cool.” While there are certainly benefits to traveling, trying something new, and being social, oftentimes these types of stories suggest that the people who do not do these things just do not have the same zest for life as people who are always searching for novelty. They suggest that, had the character not taken a European tour, or not smoked that thing at that party, their lives would have been empty, their transformation incomplete.
Most recently, I was pondering the retelling of Peter Pan in Soman Chainani’s Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales. [Spoilers ahead!] Narrated by an older Wendy, the story follows her initial crush on Peter, her realization of his brutality, and her subsequent romance with a pirate. Despite her love for the pirate, however, she leaves Neverland and marries a boring man. But she carries on an affair with the pirate for years, eventually bearing him a son. The implication is that, because the husband is boring, because he has not been to Neverland, and because he presumably never would want to visit Neverland even if he had the chance, his wife is fully justified in cheating on him and having a child with another man. A person just can’t love a man who carries on through daily life as if there is nothing more.
However, the reality is that many people probably would not want to go have adventures in Neverland due to the high probability of death or injury. Which seems very reasonable. Adventures are nice to read about, but not necessarily nice to have. But does that mean that the people who would not fly away to fight with pirates are not worth respecting and not worth loving? Though Wendy tells the story and gives readers her perspective on the matter, I could not help but sympathize with the husband. It is not really his fault that he is satisfied with his life and his job. His main mistake seems to have been marrying someone who does not appreciate him. If only he had married an equally boring person who would have been content to live a quiet life–and loved him! [Spoilers ended.]
Quite a lot of people probably qualify as the “boring” characters so many stories dismiss. But there is nothing wrong with leading a quiet life or being content with what one has. Nor is it true that one cannot find one’s self unless one spends a lot of money to go on a trip or unless one does things one would not normally do. Self-reflection can happen anywhere, not just exotic locales. And unusual external events do not have to be only impetus for change in one’s life.
It makes sense that writers love to write characters who encounter exciting events or who find themselves in unusual circumstances. But not everyone has to chase novelty to be fulfilled. So let’s celebrate the boring characters–the ones who, hopefully, have already found happiness in their lives and in the simple pleasures those lives bring. In some ways, that seems more inspiring than having to chase adventure to find meaning.