When the dwarfs said that they had come to hire a burglar, Bilbo Baggins was insulted. He was a respectable hobbit, a bit reclusive but generally admired in the community. He certainly was no thief. The dwarfs indicated that they meant no offense. You can call it expert treasure finder if you like. It’s all the same to us. It wasn’t all the same to the honorable Mister Baggins of Bag End. Imagine being treated as some sort of rogue.
Yet he is one of our heroes, and indeed many of our heroes share something of the rogue, that clever and shady character who skirts the law and uses perhaps disreputable techniques, but always for a good cause.
Robin Hood has become an icon in this regard, a common highwayman whose robbery by threat of violence received the immortal stamp of virtue by virtue of the facts that he robbed from those whose wealth was unfairly built on the starvation of the workers, and then gave the proceeds of his efforts (after covering his expenses, of course) to those overtaxed peasants. We hardly think of him as a criminal, nor even a rogue, given the positive image that has been created around him.
A better example might be Han Solo, smuggler in Star Wars who becomes involved with the good guys to pay his debts to the syndicate while operating under the radar of the evil government. Unlike his Jedi friends, Han isn’t here because of some noble ideals about freeing the universe from tyranny. As he tells Princess Leia, I’m in it for the money. We know he has a good heart; we know that notwithstanding all his objections, he will risk his life for his friends and do the right thing when it counts. Still, there’s that entire aspect of his character, that he doesn’t follow the rules and doesn’t care who thinks he should.
The ninja has something of this. Of course, depending on who you read, historically the ninja were either a major criminal organization or a special secret espionage branch of the military. The image is further complicated by the various roles these have played in American fiction, from skilled martial artist to master acrobat to cat burglar to professional assassin. The various forms of this character will probably return in future archetype discussions. Yet at the moment, we see that there is something in us attracted to the shady character, the one we aren’t really sure we can trust, and yet trust all the same.
One of my own childhood heroes was Thomas Hewitt Edward “T.H.E.” Cat. This single-season detective series back in 1966 featured a retired aerialist/acrobat and cat burglar as a private investigator and bodyguard, and the black-clad stealthy Robert Loggia character was everything an American ninja should be, including one of the good guys who always seemed to resort to disreputable means to achieve positive ends.
The warped values such a character reveals are almost too plain to bother to mention. They speak of our belief that the powers in the world are all evil, out to get us, and because they are so powerful we must cheat them to thrive, even perhaps to survive. Rogues flaunt their freedom in the face of authority, telling us that we don’t have to do what we’re told, we can rebel. It’s good to lie and steal and cheat, if it’s in a good cause, and what can be a better cause than protecting yourself against the rest of the world? If these were the only values the rogue reflected, it would be a sorry archetype for the Christian.
Yet I am reminded that an excellent book on the type, GURPS Rogues, was written by a long standing member of the Christian Gamers Guild, Lynette Cowper. She, at least, must have seen something noble, or at least praiseworthy, in the type, not merely to have agreed to write such a book but to have studied the idea thoroughly enough that anyone asked her to do so. On examination, there are virtues to the rogue.
One value the rogue reflects is an avoidance of violence. Although it may be for selfish reasons (like not wanting to get killed), the rogue reminds us that violence is not always the best, let alone the only, solution to our problems. There are ways to work around these things, if we use our brains and our other talents. It doesn’t have to come to blows if we’re willing to explore other options.
The rogue sometimes tells us that it’s alright to run away. Perhaps my favorite thief is Blake’s 7‘s Vila Reston. He once said, “There isn’t a door I can’t open if I’m scared enough.” It’s alright to be afraid and to avoid confrontation. We don’t always have to stand up to the enemy and fight him toe to toe if we can get out of his way and let him go. This, too, is a virtue worth emulating at times.
The rogue is nothing if not clever. In this sense, he represents the ability to think your way out of trouble. Although there are other archetypes which have greater intellect and greater knowledge, perhaps, what is appealing about the rogue is that he is able to find solutions to his problems which are simple—the sort of solutions which might work for us, because they don’t require that we do anything really extraordinary beyond a bit of effort and a bit of risk and a bit of care.
Care is another of the virtues of the rogue. Sometimes things must be handled delicately, whether it’s our relationships with people or our unobtrusive passage through the bad part of town. He reminds us that we need not come on strong nor be strong to succeed, that sometimes those are not assets but detriments. That encourages us, because most of us are not strong, either in body or in character, and the thought that we might be successful anyway helps us recognize that we, too, have skills that will solve some of our problems.
The rogue also shows the virtue of practiced skill. We know that he does things we could not do; but we also know that he can do them because he has worked hard at what he does. If he has any talents, they don’t seem so special, at least in that they are not decisive. We can’t all become heavyweight boxers and we can’t all become Nobel Prize winning geniuses, but with some work most of us could be decent rogues. We just need to practice—a lot. And in whatever we do, being reminded that practice will bring us to a point where these skills can be used to solve serious problems is a good thing.
So although the rogue seems at first to be problematic, he does reflect some positive values which we can embrace.
This article was originally published in September 2004 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.