Who is Jack Reacher?

Lee Child is today’s Ian Fleming and Jack Reacher is the modern Bond. Of course, Jack Reacher is nothing like James Bond. How could he be? He’s a fictional character created in a different world — about half a century after Bond. Different times require different heroes.

Jack Reacher is a fusion of the contemporary and the traditional hero. He works with people like a contemporary hero, has romantic relationships like a contemporary hero, but his skills and judgement is almost superhuman, very much like a classical hero. In some ways he’s more capable than James Bond (Ian Fleming’s Bond not Hollywood’s Bond). His strength and intelligence is on the scale of Doc Savage.

Reading a Jack Reacher novel in first person is a bit like playing a first person shooter computer game in ‘god mode’, you know that Reacher is invulnerable. Part of the fun is finding out how he outsmarts his opponents. He’s as sharp witted as Sherlock Holmes.

At times Reacher does come close to being a know-it-all. But he isn’t. Why’s that?

For one thing, he occasionally admits that he’s flummoxed. A real know-it-all wouldn’t do that. A know-it-all is someone who gets his or her facts mainly from reading about things. Reacher knows the things that matter because it comes from his actual experience. Because of that, we respect him. He understands the world, at least his world. He’s focused on getting the job done, not trying to impress us. Lastly, and probably most importantly, the reader wants him to take command of the situation, to be in control. Heroes (male and female) are control fantasies.

Reacher is likeable because he’s selfless and risks his life for others. He is a semi-superhero, especially when he takes on multiple opponents in a street fight, and he’s not exactly a lazy lover either.

Reacher’s character is many things. He’s the unassuming hero with no name. Except that he does have a name. He’s a wandering loner hero like a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western character. The man from nowhere arrives at a small town and is forced into battle with the baddies. Once he’s secured victory over them, justice served and the truth exposed, he leaves without any fanfare.

Reacher is also part Dirty Harry. He has a healthy disdain for bureaucracy and management types. He sympathies with the ordinary man and women. He is disdainful of politics and politicians. He does things his own way. Takes shortcuts.

But Dirty Harry is a conventional character mostly working within the system. Reacher is different because he usually works outside of the system. In this sense he’s like the hero of the TV series, Kung Fu or, The Hulk. And his lack of materiality verges on the monastic, again like Kung Fu. He’s also part chivalric knight, bound by a code of honour. He’s part hardboiled noir character (not much of a talker), and part Sherlock Holmes (sees all the clues and makes insightful deductions), and part Richard Hannay from The Thirty-Nine Steps (uncovering a mystery on his own with little, or no backup).

Being an outsider, a wandering loner, could mark Reacher out as a creepy weirdo, especially when he’s hanging around a neighbourhood in out-of-office hours. To counteract this, Reacher has romantic relationships that show he’s a well balanced, normal person. But the relationships never last.

His need to keep moving means that he can’t lead a regular life, have a long-term relationship, settle down, maybe even have a family. He is too busy being a hero to do any of that. This makes him earnest, a character the reader can empathise with because he’s making a sacrifice. He can’t have the one thing that most of his readers have — an ordinary life.

He’s free like Wyatt and Billy in Easy Rider — there’s something of the counterculture about him (but he would hate that). But he’s not an anti-hero, that’s for sure. He is not immobilised by guilt, confused about his life, or wrapped up his emotions. He is more of an old fashioned hero in this respect, not much of a talker, like a John Wayne character. He is free of all that emotional baggage — too busy fighting the bad guys.

Who is Reacher?

Reacher is a fictional hero with contemporary and classical traits. He’s selfless, helping others, exposing lies and injustice. He’s not materialistic and has no interest in getting rich. He is free of society’s ills — greed, vanity, and bullshit.