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In Praise Of Younger Men

(Published in Romantic Times, March 1996)

On the way home from the movie BRAVEHEART, my eighteen-year-old son and I chatted about the real history behind it, about the Scottish/English struggles, and about fighting against oppression.

That was when I realized how much better the movie could have been, how much more thought-provoking, if Mel Gibson had stayed in the director's chair and cast a younger man as William Wallace. A much younger man.

Wallace moved onto the historical stage at just past twenty. At the time of that last, disastrous battle, he was only about twenty-six. Robert the Bruce was even younger. On the screen, however, they were being portrayed by men of nearly forty. When we see youth fired by injustice and willing to suffer and die for it, we witness a different truth.

And it is a truth that has run through history.

Someone mentioned to me watching a movie about World War II pilots and feeling uncomfortable at the youth of the actors playing the part. But then she realized that these actors were older than the men who had really flown those planes. The wallpaper image is of my father, on his way to fight in the first world war at the age of twenty.

Today, in a world dominated by baby boomers, we're in danger of stealing youth from the young, of denying them the qualities that make them great. Consider another movie, FIRST KNIGHT. Of course it's based on myth, but aren't we supposed to see it as the dashing young knight and the older, wiser man? Why then, was Lancelot played by a man of nearly fifty, well old enough to play Arthur himself?

Does this magical ability to translate middle-age into youth apply to women? Oh no. The heroines are appropriately dewy-skinned young women in their twenties. Tom Hanks once played against Sally Fields as his love interest. In FOREST GUMP, she plays his mother? If there was any honesty to the business at all, Meryl Streep should have played the French princess in BRAVEHEART and Cher should have played Guinevere!

So we have two assaults here.One is on women, who are by implication incapable of being romantic heroines when over thirty. Thank heavens today's romance genre is firmly on the side of truth and justice on that issue. But the other is against young men, who are so rarely portrayed as heroic.

Here, the romance genre is not entirely innocent. The heroes are getting older because this appeals to many readers, again that baby-boomer bulge. There's nothing wrong with this, but we shouldn't forget that when it comes to fighting for dreams against impossible odds, it's young people who have historically led the way and spilled their blood.

Myths, as we all know, are important. Mythic heroes shape our dreams. What sort of dreams do our sons have if all the derring-do is apparently being done by men with wrinkles and graying hair? As the mother of sons, this disturbs me.

Marco Polo went to China at seventeen. What's the betting if Hollywood were to make a movie of his story, he would be played by some guy in his thirties or older?

Yuri Gagarin circled the earth at twenty-seven.

William of Normandy seized control of his duchy and defeated France when just over twenty. He was only twenty-six when he married Matilda, a story worthy of a romance. But not with Kevin Costner in the lead, please!

Nor does this only apply to active heroes.

William Wilberforce finally got his anti-slavery bill through the English parliament when he was thirty. The mathematician, Pascal, proved Pascal's theorem when he was seventeen. Newton came up with the binomial theorem when twenty-two. And we all know about Mozart.

Life certainly doesn't end at thirty, but to imply that it begins there is both unwise and unfair.

(Copyright Jo Beverley. This article may be freely reproduced and distributed, but only on the following conditions. That it is unaltered. That the copyright is in place. That no profit is made.)

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