The Sons of Jason – The Explorer Heroes

The Sons of Jason – The Explorer Heroes

This is the third part of my series on the heroic archetypes. Parts one and two can be found here, and here.

Today, we’ll be examining a heroic type that has been quietly banned in America.  The Explorer hero.

There was a huge boom in Frontiersman fiction in the America of the 1950s.  Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and Jim Bowie were suddenly back in the limelight as well as a host of fictional heroes from the Old West. When Walt Disney opened Disneyland it would have been unthinkable if one of the gates hadn’t been Frontierland (Tall tales and true from America’s legendary past). They were incredibly popular in comic books from that period as well.

There were also new explorer heroes, Astronauts were rock stars in the fifties and sixties.  Science fiction heroes of that period were almost all explorers.  Gene Roddenberry sold Star Trek by lying about it being Wagon Train to the Stars. John Kennedy landed a solid rhetorical punch with his New Frontier speech. The constant refrain was that America is the Nation of Frontiersman.

Where did the Explorer Hero come from in the first place? Why did he resonate so strongly in Fifties America?*  And why has he been completely banished today?

The Frontiersman Hero is not uniquely American but our attitude towards him is.  In the 1800s citizens of the United States lived on continent where a big chunk of the landmass was a great big scary Unknown.  I know people understand it intellectually, but most people can’t get how that made people feel.  Once you had crossed the Cumberland Gap and were living on the other side of a nice tall and very protective, natural border of a mountain range. You were living with only a river (admittedly a horking great big one), standing between you and the unknown. 

The unknown is the realm Chaos, the place where Law does not exist.  There is nothing to defend your family, your property, or your livelihood in the realm of Chaos, nothing but you.  The flip side is that there would be no one to judge your own actions in the realm of Chaos because it is a place of All against All. Where there is no law and no order, there is opportunity.  If you are in a place where everything is a matter of chance, then chance may favor you, and perhaps greatly.  But, easy gains are easily lost in the state of Chaos because there is nothing to protect your wealth.  

Naturally, men want to make their fortunes in the realm of Chaos and then return to the lands of Law where their gains will be protected.

But who determines where the boundary is? 

The Explorer Hero.

The American frontiersman is a good example of this archetype of being a man with one foot in two worlds.  Take Hawkeye from last of the Mohicans.  He was raised by Delaware Native Americans but as he repeatedly says, “I am a man with no cross,” meaning, I am not a half-breed, I’m a white man living in this world.  The American frontiersman freely interacts with both the White Man and the Indian, he is accepted by both and knows the ways of both but he never quite fits in with either one.  

Back when America was allowed to have “real life heroes,” the more questionable events in the lives Boone, Crockett and especially Bowie were quietly sanded away in primary school history books.  Not so much denied as never brought up.  Stuff like that was for college courses where you were expected to challenge your preconceived notions (God, I miss America). But for the masses heroes were allowed to stay pure.  The Frontiersmen were a roughhewn subset of the Aspirational Hero.

Since the Explorer hero delineates the boundary between Law and Chaos, he is a source of security in times of insecurity. Which the 1950s most definitely were.

Everybody thinks the 1950s were a time of incredible stability and prosperity for America.  And they were, but you have to take into consideration what the previous forty years had been like.  A gargantuan war in Europe, followed by a decade of out-of-control behavior where anyone who had a beer was a lawbreaker, (meaning everyone was a lawbreaker). This was followed in turn by ten years of complete economic collapse and famine, with a new and global war batting cleanup.  Of course, everyone was insecure.  How could they not be?

The really worrying thing for people in the Fifties was that while everything was calm at the moment there were worrying rumbles beneath the surface like the first warning tremors the people of Pompeii felt coming from Vesuvius.   There was something coming, they could feel it and they didn’t know what it would be.

Consequently, the heroes that had always held chaos at bay provided a great deal comfort for people that were feeling secretly terrified about things they couldn’t control.  Besides, the story of the how the West was won was the story of the triumph of Law over Chaos.  America had done it once, surely, we could do it again, right? Right?

That answers where the Explorer hero came from, and why he appealed to 1950s America. 

My last question was, why has he been banished?

Beloved Readers: Do you really have to ask, oh Dark Herald?

Not really.

Okay, I’m done here.

*(The period between 1947 to 1965)

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Comments (8)

  • Kyle Reply

    Would the fantastic four count as a team of explorer heroes, at least for the first couple of decades?

    June 3, 2021 at 12:27 am
    • Robert W Reply

      I had the same thought after reading this, it may explain why the first family has struggled to transition to any type of screen.

      June 6, 2021 at 2:17 pm
  • Chris Lopes Reply

    The official answer is that the explorer became to be associated with colonialism and the oppression of indigenous people. The unofficial (and real) reason is that such heroes are part of a western tradition that some insists on dismantling.

    June 3, 2021 at 1:16 am
    • Seeker Reply

      Ironically, the vast majority of Amerindian heroes are the explorer archetype as well.

      June 3, 2021 at 8:27 am
  • jorgen Reply

    Maybe thanks to flat earthers believing there is more land beyond Antarctica on the infinite plane of puddle earths, the explorer hero will return.

    June 3, 2021 at 3:39 am
  • Robert W Reply

    Sons of Jason is an excellent term for the explorer archetype, did you coin it?

    CS Lewis the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Caspian & Repicheep especially) fits in this vein and was written in the same period.

    June 6, 2021 at 2:21 pm
    • The Dark Herald Reply

      Yes, I did coin it.

      I’ve been using “Sons of…” to desiginate the various heroic archetypes. Sons of Mercury, for Speedster heroes. Sons of Apollo, for Aspirational heroes. You get the idea.

      June 6, 2021 at 5:40 pm
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