This is a guest post about quiet characters from Shiri Sondheimer, Core Contributor to @GeekMomBlog. Author of HERO HANDLERS. Employee of the Department of Therapeutic Adventures. Comics geek. Padawan. Stealthy Wookiee. Belter. Paladin of the big cat robot. MsDoctorStrange. Non-compliant female. Herder of genetic descendants. Drinker of much coffee. Stepper-uponer of multitudinous Legos. Follow her on Twitter @SWSondheimer.
Our world is loud. Constant input from electronics, people, pipes, washing machines, unreasonably talkative cats, neighbors having mid-week parties even though they shouldn’t because they have kids now too and what the hell…
As the world gets louder, so to do those in charge of it. (Mostly) men in positions of power seem increasingly enamored of their own voices, actual and digital. Celebrities Instagram their $200 breakfast shakes with gilding and their jade eggs. Even if we wanted to forgo our vigilance for a time, it’s well nigh unto impossible to escape the shouting completely if we want to remain connected to anyone else in the world and, as we all know, in times of stress and anxiety, those chosen connections are important.
Still, respite is necessary. For sanity. For survival. For not ending up in prison for punching someone in the face, breaking dishes against the wall, or running through an entire Napa trip’s worth of wine in a couple of days.
Sometimes, we, especially we readers, need silence. It’s one of the reasons we love to read. Why we love to read alone. To do so gives us complete control of out interactions and the volume at which they occur.
Sometimes, the need for quiet extends to characters with whom we interact. Conventional wisdom might suggest those born of written word, or written word and art, must speak to engage, to be interesting, to lead a story, to lead a nation or history, but is that the case? Must a character, in either pure written or comic form, be loud and loquacious to to wield power? To engage a reader?
Nope and hell nope.
Some of the most powerful (physically and/or intellectually and/or mentally and/or a bunch of other stuff) characters in literature and comics can’t, or don’t, say much at all. They have all come to this state in different ways: some choose not to speak, some have been conditioned by circumstances or trauma not to speak, and some physically can’t speak due to injury or to their voices being weapons of mass destruction. The result, however, is the same:
Strength and power without the noise.
Need an escape as badly as I have lately? Spend some time with one of these quiet characters (note: to qualify for the list, the candidate must have been born in literature, though he/she may have taken on other forms since):
5. Groot: Flora Very Colossus
Groot was mentioned by multiple members of each of the various geeky/readerly hive minds I polled for this piece, though a couple of folks raised the point he hasn’t always been the strong/silent and that, even now, he does speak, though only Rocket understands him. All of that’s true: when Groot was first conceived by Stan Lee & Co. in 1960, he was an alien intent on invading Earth and he wasn’t quiet about it. He was also a huge jerk. When Groot reappeared in comics in 2006, it was as a good, but chatty, guy who had no difficulty making himself understood. It was only after he was nearly killed in 2007-2008’s massive Marvel Crossover, Annihilation Conquest, and regrown from a carefully tended sapling Groot took on his more stoic, plant-of-few-words persona (which, according to the Marvel Wiki, is actually a clear dialect altered by stiff, inflexible vocal cords). The fact remains Groot doesn’t have to go around shouting his status as Emperor and genius physicist to do the things of benefit for his friends or others in need.
Read: Guardians of the Galaxy, post Annihilation Conquest (after 2008)
4. Vidarr: The Silent God, Avenger of Odin
There are several different explanations for Vidarr’s silence but it seems likely the state was self-imposed: Tactius notes many warriors of the Germanic tribes who took vengeance oaths also vowed not to speak until they had fulfilled their promise and slain the enemy. This would apply, in Vidarr’s case, to both Loki (who killed Vidarr’s brother, Balder) and Fenrir (who bit Vidarr’s father, Odin, in half). Vidarr wasn’t gentle with the comeuppance either: the god took the wolf’s jaws, the jaws that, once again, sundered Odin in twain, in his bare hands and ripped them apart. The Silent God was also said to survive Ragnarok and we’re taking an apocalypse that destroys the mightiest of the Æsir and the Vanir. (I really, really want to make a silent but deadly joke, but that would be immature).
Read: The Poetic Edda (the Voluspa, Vafpruonismal, Grimmnismal, Pulur, and Skaldskaparmal specifically) by Annonymous
3. Amos Burton: Speaks Rarely and Softly, Carries and Enjoys Massive Guns
Amos Burton, of James S.A. Corey’s (aka: Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) Expanse novels has lived a difficult life. And that was before he joined the Roci’s crew and started fighting multi-national corporations; governments; and sentient, glowing, alien slime. Born in Baltimore, the son of a sex worker, drawn early into a life of organized crime and violence, Amos suffers from severe dissociative disorder and still manages to form meaningful relationships and attachments (he really is the most layered character, and psychologically powerful character in the whole series though he’s often over looked because he’s also the member of the core group who speaks least). Amos recognizes his difficulties negotiating social situations and that, when he does speak, his vicious, involuntary honesty often disturbs others and so, most of the time, he keeps his own council. Amos is also physically intimidating and has a well-honed, long necessary-for-survival proficiency with both his fists and various and sundry firearms. Many folks of Amos’ stature, regardless of pasts, would use their stature and intimidation factors to get what they want when they want it; Amos, like Groot, uses his to protect his chosen family and those in need.
2. Julie Mao: Changes History Without Even Being There
Julie Mao is the impetus for a change in the course of human history even though, for the majority of the story, she isn’t physically present. The eldest daughter of an industrialist with the power of nations, a rebel attempting to bring freedom to the oppressed, Julie becomes a martyr to a cause not her own and, by so doing, brings down a massive conspiracy and opens the solar system to human exploration and habitation (and a whole new set of problems). None of the other key players in the series ever meet Julie and they don’t need to – the presence of her memory is enough.
Read: The Expanse books 1-3 by James S.A. Corey
1. Black Bolt: King of the Inhumans
Black Bolt (Blackagar Boltagon – don’t look at me like that, I don’t make the news, I just report it), one of Marvel’s Inhumans, has the power to control electrons; his powers manifest in several ways but the most unique, and most destructive, is the “quasi sonic” scream created anytime he speaks – even if it’s at but a whisper. At the age of 20, trying to save the Inhuman’s home of Attilan from a Kree invasion, Black Bolt used his scream to bring down an enemy space ship: the impact killed his parents and drove his brother, Maximus, engineer of said invasion, insane.
Black Bolt became king of the Inhumans, one of the most powerful groups on the planet, one which could crush humanity (who, quite frankly, have it coming) with half a thought but, acknowledging the power of words and the damage they can do beyond the norm, he must rule them without so much as a sigh, lest he accidentally decimate the entire planet.
He succeeds. With patience, with wisdom, and with the assistance of trusted advisors, family, and friends. Also, his phase-shifting bulldog (come on, the guy at least deserves a giant, slobbery comfort animal). Saving his people from annihilation on multiple occasions, keeping the peace when everyone else wants war, and without ever resorting to Twitter, Black Bolt wields an absolute monarch’s power without ever saying a word.
Read: Marvel Knights: Inhumans by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee (Marvel, 2015)