I noticed something while busing across the Ross Island the other day. It’s weird that I had not noticed it before; spending most of my life in this town, growing up on the streets of Hawthorne and Belmont, leaving for Eugene for a few years and returning to find the neighborhoods in NE expanded and grown, avoiding Downtown for the most part, but still inevitably giving that instruction of, “I’ll met you at Pioneer Square”, you’d think I’d have realized it. I didn’t. But it came to me in a sudden rush while heading to work.
Portland is a small town.
Looking at the downtown skyline (because that’s how you judge a town, right?) I realized there were only a couple of large buildings. Calling anything a skyscraper would be laughable. Sure, you’d have a hell of a time walking from the Alberta Arts district to Sellwood. It would take the better part of your day. But you could do it.
We have this lovely little town, and we often forget how small it is. I think that’s why I love it so much, why I feel so at home here. We are both smaller on the outside. We care about books, bikes, beers. We try not to force ourselves on our surroundings. We care very much about what people think of us. And we don’t let our size make us small.
I’m not tiny. I’m 5’5″, exactly. There are many men shorter than I, though many more men taller. And I’ve always been short; even in grade-school I was small for my age. As I grew, I stayed comparatively short to my fellows, despite reassurances that I would continue growing, even after 18, 19, 22. It’s weird how the reassurances are the only thing that ever made me feel short. That, and trying on clothes. While I rarely wish I were taller, the times I do are when I am standing in a changing room, wondering why the fuck American Apparel is the only store that makes shirts in XS.
But I cannot complain: While treated differently, and represented differently, I am not an oppressed minority. I am as privileged as any other white male, despite studies showing that I will make less money than a taller man. The truth is, I’m probably never going to be in one of those job markets to begin with.
Pop Culture has had a sordid history of representation. Fantasy and science fiction have had their own particular issues with this. Women, people of color, basically anyone who isn’t the perfect white male figure, have all been mis/under/unrepresented.
The other thing that fantasy and sci-fi have almost completely failed to deliver is a short male hero. Heroes must be large, strapping men, usually white. Short men are relegated to villains, side-kicks, and punching bags. And nothing scares Hollywood more than the concept of a woman being taller than a man.
I’m not going to champion a campaign to demand shorter heroes. It’d be nice to see, but there are bigger issues at stake. Still, it isn’t talked about much, and it’s something I have some authority on. So without further ado, I present my short list of:
The Top Short Heroes of Fantasy and Science Fiction:
1. Wolverine: Marvel Comics
Arguably Marvel’s most popular hero (besides maybe Spider-Man. Incidentally, Ultimate Spider-Man, probably my favorite incarnation of the hero, also stands at 5’5″!), Wolverine stands at only 5’3″, before he hunches over. Beloved by comic fans since his introduction to the X-Men in the 80’s (though he appeared in comics before then), Logan is Marvel’s resident underdog/anti-hero/badass. He’s the best at what he does, and what he doesn’t isn’t pretty. Or tall. But his size never gets in the way of his heroics.
Wolverine never lets his height get in the way of the ladies, either; His most famous relationship is with the red-headed, often dead, and married Jean Grey, AKA Phoenix. While she never fully betrays Scott Summers with Wolverine, her desire for the tiny, hairy Canadian is always made clear. Oh, and Jean’s 5’6″, putting her a good 3 inches over Wolverine.
On a related note, as much I like Hugh Jackman, and while he had a few good turns in the series, I’m disappointed he was chosen to play Wolverine. I realize that Hollywood has a particular aesthetic, and I really can’t complain about the way they represent men in cinema, but they had a chance to be brave and cast a height appropriate actor. Movie Wolverine is a solid foot taller than his comic incarnation. Comic Wolverine is also gruffer, hairier, and meaner. Trying to capture Wolverine’s dichotomy of charm and brutality with a shorter, less “traditionally handsome” actor would have been inspiring. But that’s not what an action hero looks like, right?
2. Gaius Baltar: Battlestar Galactica
Gaius Baltar is one of my favorite SciFi TV characters. I love his moral ambiguity, his failings, his humor, and his charm. One of his most defining characteristics is his romance with Six, and it’s one of my favorite SciFi TV relationships. It’s a dark, haunting, twisted, sexy, and touching romance, that happens to be between a man who is 5’7″ and a woman who is 5’10” and often in heels. Granted, the height disparity is used often to highlight the power dynamic between the two, but it’s still refreshing to see a shorter man with a taller woman without it being a source of humor.
BSG is refreshing in general because of its lack of moral clarity. Gaius is not the villain, nor is he the hero. On another show, the short, weedy man would definitely be the antagonist, and not the clever, seductive anti-hero who has a threesome with a blond amazon and Xena.
3. Tyrion Lanaster: A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones
I am reticent to include Peter Dinklage’s beloved Game of Thrones character in this list. It would be the height of arrogance to claim any authority on the experiences of a dwarf, and it’s entirely different from being a short man. But Tyrion is one of the most currently beloved heroes of genre television, and at 4’5″, probably the shortest. This is due to Dinklage bringing his brilliance and charm to the wonderfully written character. It would be unfair to say that Tyrion makes the show, but I’m going to say it anyways: Tyrion makes Game of Thrones.
4. Harry Potter: Harry Potter
Another character I am reluctant to include, this time because I don’t think of Harry Potter as being this:
But rather this:
While Daniel Radcliffe is the same height as I am, Harry Potter in the books is not necessarily short. Shorter than Ron, yes, but he still has a growth spurt at 16, and it’s implied that he is not short.
“And it doesn’t hurt that you’ve grown about a foot over the summer either,” Hermione finished, ignoring Ron.
“I’m tall,” said Ron inconsequentially.
I’m guessing they did not include this dialogue in the movie, unless Harry was diminutive in Order of the Phoenix.
Nevertheless, Harry is well known by his film representation, and he’s arguably the most famous fantasy hero of our generation. Plus, it’s pretty cool to think that if I ever did meet The Boy Who Lived, we would be the same height.
5. Frodo Baggins: The Lord of the Rings
Frodo Baggins, and the hobbits in general, is the poster child for short heroes. The repeated maxim throughout the series is that size does not equal strength. In a world of heroic and powerful Men, Dwarves, and Elves, the story still revolves around 4 small, overlooked, and unimposing hobbits. In the end they save the day, not through brute force, but cunning, courage, and honor.
Elijah Wood as Frodo gets two points: not only is the character of Frodo short, but Elijah Wood himself is only 5’6″, making him the shortest member of the company in all respects.
Oz: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
My reason for not including Oz on the list itself, other than wanting a list without Buffy on it for once, is that despite being portrayed in a positive, heroic light, and rockin’ the taller girlfriend, he’s still a sidekick. Being one on BTVS is way more respectful than being a groupie for another hero, as Whedon is fantastic with ensemble work, but it still disqualifies him. If he ever had his own spin-off that would be one thing, but the Whedonverse has yet to have a short lead male.
Leave a comment on anyone I may have missed, or how irrelevant the plight of the white male is!