A while back, I started re-watching the BBC show called ‘Merlin’. It’s clearly about Merlin from the Arthurian legend. This time he’s a young wizard who is working as Arthur’s servant. Uther is the king and hates all magic, so Merlin has to keep his power hidden while protecting Arthur and his friends. This got me thinking about having the main hero being a secret protector. It’s an interesting concept.
First thing I noticed is how the character is perceived by others. The audience is well aware that they’re the main hero or at least a capable person. Yet, they routinely have to act weaker and occasionally inept to maintain their cover. It creates a sense that they’re the supporting cast in the eyes of the other heroes. If not all of them then the one being protected will see it this way. It feels like a key component is for the protected one to remain in the dark and act like a ‘real’ hero. This is difficult to pull off because readers will want the true protagonist to get a lot more credit than they can. So, you need to find a nice balance.
That balance can be achieved by having at least one other character know the truth. This gives the secret protector a confidant and someone who will keep their spirits up. It’s a little bit of recognition even if it’s in the shadows. That can go a long way for someone’s psyche after they’ve done so much and suffered. I would say that authors know this all too well. Characters get a lot of the attention, so the occasional thanks from someone who remembers there’s a person behind the adventures is nice. Same goes for the secret protector who has be under a lot of stress.
Skills and personality are something else to consider. The character needs to be able to maintain their secret, so a flashy personality or powers that you can’t hide wouldn’t really work. Not without a second identity, but then they wouldn’t be able to protect very easily in an unexpected crisis. Of course, this touches on superheroes and their secret identities, which stretches events. In both situations, the secret protector needs to either get out of the area to act or find a way to use their power without being seen. This requires that villains take their time with their own actions and eventually making that one big mistake to give the hero an opening. The more subtle the skills and cunning the personality, the easier it is to do this without making it so contrived.
I think comedy helps here too. If the secret protector doubles as comic relief then they are less likely to be suspected. Think about the people you interact with. If someone proves that they’re accident prone, easily fooled, or anything that can be perceived as immature or silly then you might be less likely to think they’re capable of great things. That’s insulting, but it kind of happens. You won’t trust someone with a history of tripping over things to carry something breakable or a person who is always late to be on time. This comic relief persona can be something that the secret protector cultivates to make sure they aren’t found out until they’re ready.
Funny thing is that these characters can live in fear of the one their protecting finding out more than enemies. This is because their friend discovering their true nature changes the dynamic of their relationship. It could lead to feelings of betrayal. With the villains, there’s the fear of being outed, but that can be countered by making sure there’s not real proof. Why would the other heroes believe the bad guy? This is another type of manipulation that can happen further into the story. I think it ends up being a sign that the story is reaching the final leg of the journey too. If not for the heroes then for the villain.
So, what do you think about the concept of secret protectors?