Character Sketch–John

John Ivanhoe Elladan Halley

Born 1977. Started at The Citadel 1995. Graduated and commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps 1999. Deployed to Iraq 2003 with 2nd Marine Division; participated in Battle of Nasiriyah March 2003. Deployed to Camp Fallujah 2005 and 2007. Deployed to Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province; supposed to pull out in October 2014 but got delayed; only goes on leave in spring 2015.

John was originally named Ivanhoe Elladan Halley; like Rowena his first name is from Ivanhoe and his middle name is from The Lord of the Rings (Elladan was Arwen’s older brother). He officially took the first name “John” as an adult, but kept Ivanhoe Elladan as his middle names, although he doesn’t share them his friends and colleagues very often! He chose the name “John” because it’s common and unremarkable. It’s also the first name of Dick Francis’s Sid Halley, whose full name is John Sidney Halley, so that’s another nod in that direction.

John is in some ways Rowena’s “dark side.” Like her, he grew up in an alternative community, but he rebelled as hard as he could when he was a teenager, enrolling in The Citadel and then becoming a career Marine. However, as they both come to realize over the course of the series, they have a  lot in common: both are idealists committed to institutions that may or may not be serving their best interests.

A major part of my current “day job” research is on contemporary military prose. One of the fundamental questions that interests me is the effect of war on civilian life. So in order to explore this question and also put some of my research to use, I made a number of the people in Rowena’s life veterans or active-duty service members. Rowena’s civilian status and commitment to pacifism is thus seen against a backdrop of the Forever War and the War on Terror, which is constantly making itself known, along with other major world events.

I made John a Marine mainly because I didn’t know very many Marines, since I didn’t want to be caught in the trap of trying to try a portrait from life without actually turning a real person into one of my fictional characters. But this meant I’ve struggled to come up with realistic details for him, since a major point of the series is its ties to real life and the “real world” of current events. Two good books about Marines that I drew on for details and character motivation are Matt Young’s Eat the Apple and Phil Klay’s Redeployment. I’ve deliberately left a lot of John’s career vague, since I didn’t want to get too caught up in research for things that are only very tangentially related to the story. Of course, if you want to suggest possible career paths for him, feel free 🙂

Like Rowena, John is “Black Irish,” with dark hair and light eyes. But while Rowena is slender and willowy, John is stockier and more muscular, with a buzz cut that reveals that he’s beginning to go gray. Rowena never says whether he is conventionally attractive, but he is subject to near-constant female attention and admiration.

If it makes you happy, feel free to imagine him as looking sort of like Alec Baldwin

Whether this is due to his good looks and charm or his uniform is up for debate, however.

Or you can imagine him as William Baldwin, if you prefer

While Rowena is associated with motifs of the Sacred Prostitute, John is the Profane Prostitute, overtly promiscuous and always caught up in ill-advised sexual affairs, normally with married women.

His ambivalent feelings about his status as a sex object is something I borrowed from Phil Klay’s Redeployment. As John says to Rowena in Permanent Position:

“Sometimes I feel like I could have them fuck my uniform, and we’d both be happier. They don’t give a shit about me at all. I’m just a fantasy and a suit of pretty clothes to them.”

“Welcome to being an attractive woman,” I said before I could stop myself.

He laughed. “I walked right into that one, didn’t I? It’s not as much fun as I thought it would be.”

“So stop.”

“I don’t know about that, but I’ll give it a try. I guess. And I guess you’re going to tell me that now I know what it’s like to be you, right? I’m getting in touch with my feminine side, or some shit like that?”

“Mary Wollstonecraft would be so proud of you,” I said.

“Who the fuck is that?”

“An 18th-century feminist scholar who said that both women and soldiers were defined by their clothes.”

I found Klay’s description of the experience of being a male sex object very interesting, but thus far male veterans whom I’ve asked about whether they felt sexually objectified have responded mainly with a squeamish lack of understanding. Rowena, however, has the opportunity to contemplate these issues and interrogate her brother about them, even if it makes him uncomfortable.

While John is a secondary character who only appears occasionally in the series, he’s an important foil for Rowena, acting as her Dark Double, as well as coming through for her when times are hard.