I love the concept of the hero (male or female) and monomyth—the hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell aficionados will recognize his stamp, thanks to his seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I tend to gravitate to a work with a clearly defined hero on a mission. And Samurai Jack is a hero on a mission.
I’m too sexy for my shirt . . .
Who is he? The title character of Samurai Jack, an animated show created by Genndy Tartakovsky, which ran from 2001—2004 on Cartoon Network. Jack has an archenemy: Aku, the spirit of evil who continually sends assassins to murder Jack. Why? Jack has the only weapon in the world that can defeat Aku: a mystical sword. And Jack’s mission is to destroy Aku.
Okay, I see you rolling your eyes, so let me get to the point of this post. One of my favorite episodes of Samurai Jack, and one I saw again recently, is “Samurai Versus Ninja” (#4.1), a 2003 episode written by Bryan Andrews and Brian Larsen. I can’t avoid spoilers, sorry. In the episode in question, a desperate Aku sends a highly skilled ninja to kill Jack. For much of the episode, the ninja remains hidden in the shadows, watching Jack kick butt. To lure Jack into battle, the ninja kidnaps a child. When Jack rescues the child, he explains what he knows about the ninja:
Shinobi. Warrior of the night. Trained to use the darkness of the shadow. I know your arts as well. But I have been trained to use the light. (IMDb)
I love that quote! It makes sense in Jack’s case, since he’s the hero out to help those in need. I love the idea of a warrior trained to use light, rather than darkness. It shows the power of good, rather than the perceived weakness of it.
Clash of the titans: Jack versus the Ninja
I wrote a post before about how annoyed I get when heroes are portrayed as weaker than, and certainly less interesting than, villains. I realize I’m in the minority on that. After all, I keep reading about or hearing about actors who covet the villain roles in movies and on television because the roles are “juicier.” But I resonate with Jack’s methodology.
When darkness is total, light needs to be powerful enough to pierce through it. A weak light can’t do anything for you, except show you the cliff you’re about to fall from. But a strong light can show you the cliff’s edge before you reach it.
You know what? I get the fact that the world is messed up and times are hard. I get the fact that people suffer. I could tell you a story or two of suffering. But I’ve been trained to use the light as well—to use hope and encouragement even when I’m in the most need of both.
So yeah, I cheered when Jack handed the ninja his butt served on a platter. (Not literally. But it’s a more interesting way of saying “Jack beat the ninja.”) Jack fought against an extremely difficult opponent—a fight without shortcuts. He got knocked down, but got back up each time.
As I consider that fight, I can’t help thinking about Gandalf and Saruman from The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf was the “servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor.” If that’s not a description of someone trained to use the light, I don’t know what is. Saruman the White, the head of the White Council, was supposedly on the side of good. But his actions proved otherwise. He delved too “deep in the enemy’s council” and lost his effectiveness as a warrior of the light. When Gandalf and Saruman fought in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf lost at first. But ultimately, Saruman was the biggest loser.
Grumpy old men? Nope. Gandalf and Saruman chillin’
In times when darkness seems to win, we could use all the light warriors we can get. Warriors who know the struggle and the costs of the battle. Warriors who can say, “This is how you win it” without compromising or changing sides. I can’t help thinking of people like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, or others today who have suffered greatly, yet maintain their humor and verve—like Maria, that sassy Brick House Chick many of us know and love.
How about you? What are you trained to use? How has that helped you fight the good fight?
Samurai Jack images from images1.wikia.nocookie.net and sharetv.com.