“We’ve come to save you. This man in the ridiculous black costume – ”
“It art not ridiculous, thou pigeony person!”
” – is the Florid Sword. Or you can call him Gammon, like I do.”
– Andrew Peterson, The Monster in the Hollows
The Florid Sword was a dashing hero in black, jumping down from rooftops to skewer Fangs and foil Stranders. As a rule, Stranders need foiling and Fangs need skewering. That so few volunteer for the job is a pity, though not a wonder. This is especially true in the case of the Fangs. Fangs may be stupider than Stranders, but they are also crueler, and they have armies behind them – and the fist of the Nameless One. People usually submitted.
The Florid Sword rebelled. Under the blackness of night and his own clothes, with a quick blade and cat-like grace, he gave a sliver of justice to an oppressed people. Mysterious and anonymous behind his mask, rumors about him ran far.
He was a Masked Hero. Unquestionably, a man has reason to disguise himself in his double life as an outlaw – even when, like Gammon, he is an outlaw in his primary life, too. It’s a wonderfully solid excuse for a grown man to run around in a costume and say things like, “The Florid Sword hath run you through like unto a bolt of iron lightning piercing the watery depths of the Mighty Blapp, may she run wide and muddy all the days of mine own life!”
It’s also a good excuse for an author to have a character exclaim: “I seest only children in the sights I see with mine seeing eyes!” But it must be said that Andrew Peterson is unique in making such dialogue an advantage of the Masked Hero.
Other advantages he finds in the Masked Hero are typical – stock, even. First among them is all the romance and swashbuckling glory of the hero whose face no one knows. Second is playing the mystery of who is behind the mask. Zorro, the perfection of the Masked Hero, began as that sort of drama. The climax of The Curse of Capistrano was when Zorro was revealed to the readers to be Don Diego. A few of them had probably guessed it already, but until then no one knew.
Now everybody knows. Now the drama of Zorro is in watching him try to keep his secret while enemies and friends alike try to uncover it. This is the second way of mining story gold from a Masked Hero. I think it is also the more common one, and probably the more popular.
The Masked Hero is never too far from a cliche, but it’s a good cliche. Something in him makes the imagination leap. Human beings love a secret, after all, and the face behind the mask is a delicious one. Who doesn’t like to see the Masked Hero finally unmasked? And who, knowing the secret, doesn’t like to watch characters try to discover it?
Who wouldn’t like to step out of their ordinary lives, put on a dashing costume, and run into the night to perform daring and heroic deeds?