Everywhere you look, you’ll see action heroes running from adventure to adventure, jumping in with both feet, and never looking back, proving that swashbucklers are one of the most popular archetypes. The original 16th century definition of a swashbuckler as a pirate or swordsmen like The Three Musketeers, Zorro, Wesley, Inigo Montoya, and Robin Hood has broadened to include daredevils chasing after excitement like Indiana Jones, Dirk Pitt, and Jack Colton, all fearless, energetic, resourceful, and passionate characters. They are always on an adventure, finding innovative solutions to problems, never doubting their success.
Robin Hood is an excellent example. In the various iterations of his story, Robin Hood is daring, doing something no one else is willing to do, finding creative ways to accomplish his goals, and never slowing down. In The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn and the more recent Robin Hood TV show created by BBC, Robin of Locksley is intense and passionate about his goal, helping the poor and keeping Prince John from becoming king, but he does so flippantly. He laughs and jokes, spends time wooing Maid Marian, enjoying everything as if it were a game, heedless of the consequences.
More modern interpretations of a swashbuckler include Michael Douglas as Jack Colton in Romancing the Stone and Dirk Pitt in Clive Cussler’s novels. In Romancing the Stone, Jack is a reluctant hero, but still jumps into an adventure including a ransom demand, a treasure map, a corrupt cop, drug runners, and private armies in the Colombian jungle. Dirk Pitt stars in over 20 novels and in each he races through another adventure with a disregard for personal safety, usually saving the world or at least a beautiful woman. Neither of these characters is a traditional swordfighter but still fit the swashbuckler archetype perfectly.
While swashbucklers are often the heroes of stories, they do have a less appealing side. Given the tendency to leap without looking they’re foolhardy, and while they are sincere, they are also forgetful often making them unreliable. One example of this is Peter Pan. While starring in a beloved children’s story, he can be selfish, pulling others into his adventures and convincing them to stay despite the dangers, quickly forgetting about them if they choose to leave. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean is frequently unreliable and selfish using the excuse that he is, in fact, a pirate. Maverick in Top Gun pushes the limits and takes chances every time he is flying. He is unwilling to let anyone else have the glory, trying to be first all the time, making him, at least initially, a terrible wingman.
Swashbucklers are generally considered to be men, but there are some notable women worth mentioning in this archetype. In more traditional swashbuckler roles, Maureen O’Hara in Against All Flags and Jean Peters in Anne of the Indies, play pirate queens, perhaps not fighting for good, but still leaping into adventures, sword in hand. Another example would be Xena, not a seafaring woman, but a warrior: fearless, resourceful, and energetic.
Swashbucklers allow us to jump into the adventure, caught up in the whirlwind without leaving home. Most of us have wished at some point to be that daring adventurer who leaps without looking, defies consequences and always comes out on top. Unfortunately real life and real adventures are never that easy, and they never come without consequences, increasing the appeal of these books and movies. We’ve all had that longing for danger and excitement, making swashbucklers, whether they are traditional swordsmen on the high seas or modern day adventurers, one of the most prominent archetypes.
By Melissa Blakely