Beta & Gamma Characters – Bless the Beasts and Children
Bless the Beasts and Children follows a group of six teenage boys who share a cabin at a residential summer camp in the western mountains. The camp seems to be designed for parents who want their sons to be as “tough” and macho as possible.
Each of the six is a misfit in one way or another, both in the camp and in society.
The group, derisively dubbed “The Bedwetters” (though only one of them is), is ostracized by the other boys at the camp, both individually and collectively. The six form a bond based, in part, upon this broader social isolation. They best the other boys at camp, taking each cabin’s trophies according to camp tradition. However, because they use stealth and subterfuge, rather than direct confrontation, they are looked down upon still further. After a field trip to see a herd of bison selected for culling by local hunters, they observe the hunters shoot the fenced-in, docile, nearly tame bison like stationary targets (a metaphor for what society would like to do to the boys themselves).
When the boys return, disgusted at the slaughter, they resolve to sneak away from the camp and set the penned-in bison free. Working together, they rustle horses and break out of camp that night to stop the hunt. They ride horses into town, and one of the boys hot-wires an old truck. However, they run out of gas just before reaching their destination. They continue on foot and make their way through a maze of fences on the ranch until they get the bison’s exit gate open. However, the bison are content and have no intention of escaping until the same boy who hot-wired the first truck hot-wires another. One of the boys drives into the herd of buffalo while blowing the truck’s horn, sending the bison out the gate and to freedom. This alerts the hunters that are camped out nearby. The boy driving the truck takes it over the edge of the Mogollon Rim to his death, which ends the book as the hunters surround the other boys, who remain defiant and triumphant, even in their capture.
Think “The Bedwetters” have no place in fantasy? Consider “The Losers Club,” a group of outcast kids in Stephen King’s novel It:
Bill, the stammerer, whose written words compensate for his less than articulate oral ones, leader of the gang, guilt ridden for his unintended role in the horrible death of his kid brother;
Haystack, the shy, fat, fatherless kid with a genius for building anything;
Beverly, the “rag doll,” with thrift shop clothes and a domineering, abusive father – and a dead aim that may be the saving of them all;
Trashmouth, brash, wisecracking, determined to keep the gang together, the only one with nerve enough to taunt the school bully – but secretly terrified all the while – with a talent for doing voices that’s more useful than anyone realizes;
Eddie, tiny, frail, shy, “girly,” with a suffocating mother (Munchhausen syndrome by proxy?), an easy target for bullies, but determined to stand by his friends;
Stan, the skeptic – almost to the point of denial – bullied by anti-Semites – whose strict reliance on logic, order and cleanliness makes him uncomfortable about his latent psychic abilities; and
Mike, the narrator, apparently the only black kid his age in town, victimized by racist bullies, a born archivist and preserver.
Through Mike, they realize an inter-dimensional predatory life form has victimized the town for centuries, engaging in mass murder every 20 years. It has the ability to transform itself into its prey’s worst fears. It often takes the form of a sadistic trickster called Pennywise the Dancing Clown, but can re-shape itself into anything – or nothing – as it finds necessary. The kids vow to destroy the creature any way they can, all while dealing with the problems of their everyday lives. At first, they think they’ve killed off Pennywise. But as they hit middle age, he returns to the town, and they need to band together again to finish him off.
Bless the Beasts and Children; Pick the fantasy or magic realism antagonist of your choice – if you can’t see a similar gang of underdogs taking him/her/it on, you’re not trying.
G. H. McCallum
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