“Every ounce of my cynicism is supported by historical precedent.” — Croaker, Shadow Games
I’m over halfway through the Black Company books by Glen Cook now and I wanted to state a few general thoughts on the primary narrator of the early books and my favorite character, Croaker. It may be a bit of a cop out to attach oneself as a reader to the narrator, especially when there is such a large and varied cast of misfits to pick from, but Croaker strikes me as being relatively unique among fantasy protagonists–at least insofar as I have seen.
Very little about Croaker’s early life is ever revealed, save that he came from the slums of a faraway city, and his true name has not been revealed as far as I have read. I doubt it ever will be. When we first meet Croaker way back in The Black Company, he is the outfit’s physician and annalist. It is through his eyes and his voice that we witness the events unfolding in Cook’s epic. Needless to say, Croaker is a common soldier and no knight.
Croaker isn’t really that bad of a guy for coming from a world where nearly all power is evil and common people basically have to constantly choose the smallest evil to side with. He is kind but not foolish about it, and he cares a great deal about his fellow brothers in the Company. He has also helped the less fortunate at many points in his career, which causes him to stand out quite a bit.
Another trait that makes Croaker unique is his mind; in a setting where few commoners can write their own names, Croaker is fully literate and conversational in several languages and (as I mentioned earlier) a capable medical doctor. In point of fact, he possesses some medical knowledge and a few beliefs that are anachronistically modern in comparison to the humours and leeches of many of his contemporaries. Perhaps battlefield necessity has made him more competent than most.
All of this is not to say Croaker isn’t competent as a soldier as well; his oaths and position require that of him. While he favors a bow in most encounters, Croaker is shown to be experienced in all manner of tactics and proficient with several weapons. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), though, he possesses no skill at magic, which makes him an even more attractive character for me.
I enjoy fantasy that downplays its magic, like Cook and George R. R. Martin’s works. Having a protagonist in The Black Company who is unskilled with, and suspicious of, magic is a breath of fresh air compared with the number of fantasy series that figuratively force their magical systems down your throat from page 1. And this is not to say that magic is absent from Croaker’s tale–far from it. Magic is power and power is evil, of one sort or another.
I hope that these words reach fantasy fans that think the way I do and share my tastes. I also hope that those of you unfamiliar with Glen Cook’s work and Croaker’s adventures may now be a bit more curious about all of it and give it a look. Trust me; you will not be disappointed. I wish there were more characters like Croaker out there in all the manifold fantasy worlds being published.
Hmm… I may have given myself an idea. Let me know your thoughts below.