Luke grew up on a moisture farm, Clark on a farm in Kansas, and Bilbo and Frodo had The Shire. Not all epic heroes and their stories begin as farmers, but the idea that great strength comes from humble origins has a deep history in literature. Real life inspired a big part of that history. Heroes seem to rise to the occasion, Audie Murphy and Sergeant York come to mind from American history.
There’s nothing that says humble has to be linked to the land. “The Last Starfighter” was a high school student from a trailer park. Lots of 80’s movies had some version of the karate kid beating insurmountable odds. The message was that anyone could achieve greatness if they tried hard and relied on their talents (and their friends – like “Revenge of the Nerds”).
Modern fiction, especially fantasy, has strayed from the humble beginning more often, but Rand Al’thor was raised in the Two Rivers. I think the trope is still alive and well, but it’s not for me. Which brings me to how this idea impacts my writing.
Ashley Monahan, the protagonist in my debut novel, Fantastic America, is not a farmer. She comes from average beginnings, but is already a local TV reporter when the story opens. She is a humble person to begin with, but not a shrinking violet.
Daniel Forrester, the antagonist of the novel, came from an equally middle class beginning. His family was proud to see him attend college and join the infant Department of Homeland Security. He’s already successful when the story begins.
Even Jerry Farmer, the undeniable villain of the book, had an average middle class childhood. His parents raised him and his older siblings in an unpretentious New England neighborhood. What his parents saw as his poor mental health impacted their decisions for treatment, not their standing in the community.
The humble origin may appear for characters later in the Magic Unleashed series, but not because I believe it makes for better characters. I’d much rather see either relatable upbringings or far out origins that give a character immediate depth. Arya watched her father beheaded in public, branded a traitor to the kingdoms he swore to protect. That’s immediate and powerful baggage.