by Max Barry

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Magnus Hesche

Introduction

Magnus Hesche is the central figure of an entire franchise of creative works in the Federated Segments of Scolopendra. These works, which include comic books, novels, radio plays, films, serials, and computer games, almost exclusively fall within the adventure genre and usually include themes of heroism, swashbuckling, and the occult or 'metanormal' phenomena. Some confusion exists among critics and the general populace because Magnus Hesche is not a fictional character; he is officially a semi-retired Senior Diplomatic Officer of the International Relations Section. All of the works of the Magnus Hesche franchise are suggested to be biographical, and some of them certainly are, but given their fantastical and pulp elements most must be exaggerated to some degree and, additionally, given Magnus Hesche's biological age (42) he simply has not been alive long enough to participate in all these events. On the other hand, given that Magnus Hesche insists on playing himself in acted works and on writing his own dialogue in written works--and there is no record of this demand being violated--he has not been alive long enough to help produce all this media--indeed, the films alone show him on screen for over sixty thousand hours. The conventional wisdom regarding Magnus Hesche, given the available evidence, is that he is uniquely representative of the fractal nature of the modern multiverse.

"I don't quite get it myself, but hey, that's what we've got our brain trust friends for! Hi, Jimmy! Sorry about the oscilloscope!"

--Magnus Hesche, interviewed for this article

Recurring Characters

Magnus Hesche stories are primarily about Magnus Hesche and, as such, he is the main protagonist throughout the entire franchise. Unlike similar previous heroes, while he does go on group adventures he does not have a regular set of comrades, though there may be some repetitions in party makeup and cameos between stories. Recently he has adventured regularly with Rhiannon Hesche, one of his daughters, but this too is not constant.

Magnus Hesche, "The Man Himself"

It is difficult to disassociate Magnus Hesche the media franchise character from Magnus Hesche the real person. Magnus himself consistently conflates the two, and there is far less counter-evidence that would be expected to separate them. For the sake of this section it can be safely assumed that they are equivalent unless specified otherwise.

Physically, Magnus Hesche is a male Caucasian invariably described as having tanned skin due to an outdoors lifestyle, sunflower-blonde hair slightly tousled along the brow and neatly kept along the back, piercing cobalt blue eyes, bright (often "blindingly") white teeth and rugged features (particularly his lantern jaw, which is usually described as able to break ice or crack walnuts or diamond depending on the author). He stands about 1.98 meters tall and is usually described as massing approximately one hundred kilograms, with a build following the 'athletic swimmer' archetype. He usually goes clean shaven but does adopt 'manly stubble' when thematically appropriate. He speaks familiarly and informally in a distinctive deep baritone voice. His age is set, somewhat arbitrarily, at 42 although physically he could be rather younger and based on his body of work he should be much older.

Psychologically, he is self-assured, usually described as being nearly to the point of smugness, confident, and assertive, albeit sensitive to others. He maintains a boyish attitude in most cases, remaining irrepressibly positive and upbeat in even the most dire of circumstances, though he can and does show concern as appropriate. He seeks advice and input on situations and offers it without simply giving it in like kind, he makes decisions decisively, and perseveres in difficult situations. Quick to joke, he is only rarely truly serious and is, most often, a joking sort of serious (or, perhaps more accurately, a serious sort of joking). He follows rules other than his own as a formality and quickly discards them when the greater good or saving the day demands it.

Professionally, he is a Senior Diplomatic Officer of the Scolopendran International Relations Section on active reserve, or semi-retired. He is occasionally called in for very specific tasks by IntRelate, based on his specific skillset, attitude, and tendency for results. More often than not he spends his semi-retirement as a 'professional adventurer,' exploring the Periphery and generally chasing action across known space. He is often recruited by friendly foreign governments to deal with major problems, but he is not mercenary--he is very specific about who he helps and what he helps with. The few times that he has appeared mercenary have always been underlined by some sort of positive ulterior motive, usually kept as a formulaic twist ending.

Romantically, he is most closely linked to Marquise Aleinna Cúthalion of Aelosia, with whom he has in an open but strong relationship since Magnus Hesche: Awakening of the Hidden Spirit and is notable as the first recorded love interest he actually caught--though who exactly was doing the catching is a matter of lively debate in the fandom. He is also presumed to have slept with Empress Alessa Annirere of Roania and Ambassador Lady Aeselle Drakharn of New naggoroth, the last of whom he fathered at least one of two daughters with. The emphasis on elf-like noblewomen with A-names is actually not a trend throughout the whole of the stories; these are simply the ones who have been 'identified' by the public based on circumstantial evidence (or public admission) since Magnus himself refuses to explicitly "kiss and tell."

His background prior to Magnus Hesche: Infiltration at Midnight! is broadly unknown, although there are occasional allusions to some sort of mentor figure. He has no identified family except for his daughters: Rhiannon Hesche, and Ellenith and Scarlett Drakharn. Of these three, it is only near-certain that Scarlett (blond-haired, blue-eyed, Druchii/Human hybrid) is actually his blood; Rhiannon is considered probably adopted and Ellenith (brown-haired, brown-eyed, apparently full Druchii) probably sharing a case of superfecundation with Scarlett. Magnus is by all reports a doting father to all three, although he maintains a respectful distance from the last two by request from Aeselle.

Rhiannon Xiphilina Hesche

Magnus' most-recognized daughter, Rhiannon Xiphilina Hesche shares most of his characteristics: she is tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, athletic, and prone to heroism. She is noted for being, however, a little too statuesque; while Magnus is larger than life, Rhiannon physically approaches a flawless Platonic ideal. It is generally presumed by the fandom and the public at large that Rhiannon is actually an adopted dragon (hatched from an egg Magnus promised to take care of in Awakening of the Hidden Spirit) though Magnus himself and the franchise surrounding him have been very careful not to confirm this theory. Rhiannon herself refuses to confirm nor deny this origin specifically but she is on record as saying "the answer is pretty obvious, isn't it?" Evidence supporting this theory includes scenes from Magnus Hesche in the Many-Pillared Halls of Stone where she turns into a dragon, the lack of publicly-available Scolopendran birth records, and that the Scolopendran aerospace registry includes a tail number assigned to Rhiannon for an aircraft simply described as 'organic' well before she had a valid pilot's license. Therefore, while she is officially in her late twenties, her actual age is a matter of some debate.

Rhiannon's character is always described as studious, orderly to the point of regimented, lawful, polite, unfailingly honest (often to a fault), and extremely conscious of propriety. She is more prone to questioning and self-doubt than her father, and his lack of seriousness and his flirtatious nature embarrass her. She has a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of many intellectual subjects and practices many hobbies, often happening in the background of stories regarding her. Vignettes from childhood, beginning from Magnus Hesche and the Gestalt Caper and arguably ending in Many-Pillared Halls of Stone, are cataloged in what fans describe as the Cute Kid Sidekick story arc. After Many-Pillared Halls of Stone Rhiannon occasionally appears as an equal to, rather than a supporter of, Magnus. There are no stand-alone stories regarding her; Rhiannon has stated that she would like to write them herself at a later time when it would be more proper.

Notably, Rhiannon has never publicly or privately contradicted the fictional/real conflation of either herself or her father.

Professionally, Rhiannon is a minor agent of the Scolopendran Office of Psionic Operations. The OPO has limited its comments on her activities to that she performs 'field research'.

Thematic Lines

Magnus Hesche media broadly break down into two mostly-separate lines, commonly called "International Man of Adventure" and "Envoy to New Worlds." A third line, "Wonders of Everything," is primarily educational and usually consists of documentary formats where Magnus is not the primary subject and so it is considered an adjunct part of the Magnus Hesche media franchise.

Magnus Hesche: International Man of Adventure

The first line, in both publication and in-franchise chronologies, the "International Man of Adventure" media describe Magnus' adventures as an agent or a free spirit. He was first introduced as a 'psychic agent' in the (reportedly) autobiographical novel Magnus Hesche: Infiltration at Midnight! regarding his infiltration of an Inner Solar System trade port and subsequent breakup of a slave-smuggling ring. From this original story it is generally rumored that Magnus may have some relationship with the Office of Psionic Operations, though Infiltration at Midnight! predates the formation of the OPO by several years. The OPO has never officially commented on these rumors. Magnus, on the other hand, has stated several times that "it would be cool if true." The line has since shifted its emphasis more toward adventures as an explorer or a wandering righter-of-wrongs, but still includes the occasional secret agent story.

The biographical reality of the "International Man of Adventure" stories is disputed. There is usually very little concrete evidence to support the secret agent dramas, but circumstantial evidence does tend to support them when the placeholder names in some of the stories are replaced with real-world nations. The explorer adventures are corroborated by museum artifacts publicly donated by Magnus Hesche and by fellow explorers when he travels in a group (though the accuracy of his solo adventures are still disputed) and the righter-of-wrongs adventures are almost always corroborated by the people that he helps. Critical evaluation suggests that they are based in truth but are exaggerated, though this is often countered by other people in his stories who confirm his 'recollection' of details.

Magnus Hesche: Envoy to New Worlds

The most prominent line in the middle of his career--although it is now comparatively secondary--the "Envoy to New Worlds" line describes Magnus' adventures as a Scolopendran Diplomatic Officer. Beginning with Magnus Hesche and the Dragonisian Danger, the line illustrates his career first as a minor Diplomatic Officer whose special talents occasionally save the world but otherwise his dashing attitude is out of place and unappreciated and follows its progression to being a surprisingly respected and even admired diplomat who still saves the world and gets the girl at the end. This career trend roughly followed the market trend of his franchise, leading to the conclusion--that he himself does not deny--that the latter informed the former. The "Envoy to New Worlds" works present Magnus as unconventional; his tactics and mannerisms generally annoy his more professional superiors--who, unlike other media in this trope, are also shown to be effective--but they accomplish nigh-impossible tasks or brilliantly succeed beyond expectations. Several, such as Magnus Hesche: The Awakening of a Hidden Spirit and Magnus Hesche and the Haunted Fighter mix liberally with the "International Man of Adventure" line; the primary distinction is the official or unofficial nature of Magnus' presence viz the Scolopendran International Relations Section.

The "Envoy to New Worlds" works are generally understood to be accurate accounts, even if they incorporate fantastic elements. Other identifiable personalities in them either confirm the stories as related or refuse to comment.

Themes

Regardless of the specifics of the plot or its setting, any given Magnus Hesche media is almost certain to follow the same general themes.

Manliness

The Magnus Hesche franchise does not interrogate the nature of manliness; instead, it exemplifies it. Magnus Hesche as a literary character--although this too is in dispute, since all sources indicate that the literary character does not diverge from the actual person--can be described succinctly as a paragon of stereotypical manly archetypes, albeit primarily positive or neutral ones: stalwart, daring, self-assured, noble, assertive, sporting, heroic, and so on. From what he eats to how he dresses, he essentially lives as a man 'should' live as based on the seemingly eternal tradition of the everyday gentleman. Negative stereotypes are generally notably absent: while Magnus is assertive, he doesn't bully (unless it is for a better cause against bullies themselves); while he fights, he doesn't seek violence; while he keeps his emotions in check, he still visibly feels them, even if it is only to the degree of 'the single manly tear' as the situation warrants.

Sexuality

The older vampire smiled further. “Just out of cur…” There was a loud crashing sound, followed by the sound of increasingly nearing hooves, and across the hallway in front of them rode a unicorn. With Alessa riding it, enthusiastically enjoying the experience. Behind her sat an unmistakable face that flashes the briefest of white pearly grins as they passed.

The two vampires stared blankly at the brief interruption. It took about ten seconds for the image to figure itself out.

“Was that Alessa on the back of a unicorn riding through the halls with Magnus Hesche?” Sempero asked simply.

“Yes, yes it was.” Clodius turned back to look at Sempero. “Are you feeling that?” He asked, almost troubled.

“It's okay Clodius. That feeling means you are gay for Magnus Hesche. It’s okay, so am I.” He bit his lip and put his arm around his former superior’s shoulders. “Everyone is gay for Magnus.”

--excerpt from Magnus Hesche: There Will Be Cake!, confirmed true by interviews with Clodius and Sempyra (nee Sempero) of The freethinkers

"Romance" is not an accurate descriptor of this theme, although many Magnus stories are indeed romantic. Magnus is a highly sexual character (again, those who have met him confirm that he is truly like this) who takes apparent delight in romantic banter and teasing. While firmly heterosexual, this does not prevent him from engaging in said banter with other males. His sexual identity as a heterosexual man is part and parcel of his identity as a person and no effort is made to shy away from it. In earlier Magnus Hesche stories, Magnus would flirt with females (the unspecific term is intentional; Magnus is on record as saying "if she has all the right curves in all the right places, then I don't mind much else") constantly and always be rebuffed, which he took in happy stride; by later stories Magnus not only 'got the girl' (The Awakening of a Hidden Spirit is considered the turning point) but often had to try to avoid getting the girl in situations where it could cause her distress (Magnus Hesche and the Siriclone Family Dinner is considered a textbook example of this). As per the quote from There Will Be Cake! above, Magnus' virility has reached legendary levels. If the usual quote regarding James Bond was "men want to be like him and women want to be with him" (or Linksome variation thereupon), the equivalent one for Magnus would simplify to "everyone wants to be with him."

Even with this emphasis on heteronormative sexuality, Magnus Hesche stories are remarkably tolerant of non-normative gender and sexual identities. Magnus' philosophy, as described throughout the franchise, is that sex and sexuality are fun things that should be celebrated responsibly and respected for all of its variations and differences, so long as all parties are willing and capable of consent. Even the lack of any such identities is a good thing based solely on a sense of wonder and respect.

Wonder

Magnus is, throughout all related media, honestly filled with wonder at the universe around him and never cynical. He listens when people talk, and shows honest interest in nearly everything (repetition and artifice, however, bore him). While this is exemplified by the central plots of his adventure stories and their fantastic elements, critics note that it is also apparent in his more mundane interactions with more mundane people. talking about mundane things (again, exemplified in The Siriclone Family Dinner): only when he thinks the person is not being honest or being indecent does Magnus lose interest in a conversation. The overarching message seems to be--though Magnus claims that none of his media actually carries meaning, and therefore isn't art--that life itself is an adventure of many speeds and how one experiences it--as discovering the future or marking time until death--is broadly a choice.

Heroism

Magnus Hesche stories are absurdly heroic, almost to the point of deconstruction except that this over-heroism is not shown to be negative. Heroism permeates everything about a Magnus Hesche story, and it influences their overall philosophy. Socially, Magnus is intrinsically obligated to stand up for the marginalized, fight for the helpless and support those who are not (albeit for the greater good of truth, justice, and the Scolopendran way). Individually, Magnus is obligated to overcome obstacles in his way by strength of body or mind. Like many other archetypical heroes before him, Magnus often lives up to his hero-title by making the impossible possible by forging his own third-way solutions.

This tends to also reinforce a form of moral code that can best be described as socially-conscious libertarianism. Personal initiative, excellence, and self-improvement are of course highly promoted but those who chase these selfishly to the active detriment of others are cast as villains. Likewise, while Magnus is almost always described in terms of excellence and has many solo adventures, when he adventures as part of a group he always encourages excellence (or potential excellence) he sees in others--and the day is always saved in these cases as part of a group effort rather than that of Magnus Hesche and some hangers-on.

When asked his choice on the train-track dilemma (out-of-control train, two possible tracks before a switch, one with one very rich man tied on the track and the other with dozens of poor people tied on the other) he answered:

"Easy--take the flare gun out of the engineer's emergency box and shoot away the ropes on the rich guy, then switch to run him over--by which time he'll be long gone."

"That's cheating."

"Is not."

"Just assume that you have to make the forced choice, okay?"

"Okay." *no hesitation* "Still switch to hit the rich man. Sure, I understand the argument that he's rich and can do so much more good if he's spared when compared to the dozen or so serfs or whatever, but that's not assigning value to him, that's assigning value to his wealth. You're not saving him, you're saving his sacks of money which only maybe then he'll use to lift the families of the poor guys on the other track out of poverty or something. Still, he's one guy and maybe I'd have saved him only for him to get hit by a bus, thus rendering the money matter moot. No, I've got to save the poor people, even if there's only two. All else being equal--y'know, assuming that the rich guy isn't Mister Rogers and the two poor guys are Hitler and Stalin post-massacres--the two people as people are one more person than the one guy, one more chance for being a great guy, one more life to live. I could give other justifications too, but they'd be after the fact and not the real reason why I'd choose that way."

--Magnus Hesche, interviewed for this article

Challenge

It would not be overstatement to say that Magnus Hesche, as described in the media franchise, is a superhero. He is telepathic, has a suite of offensive and defensive psionic skills, and it is hinted that even his appearance is to some degree based on the psychic manipulation of reality. However, Magnus explicitly never relies on these skills--particularly the more reality-manipulating ones--to overcome a problem, instead preferring direct, more conventional effort. This would suggest operating on a handicap in order to maintain a challenge, and the philosophy espoused is that challenges are both educational and character-building. If something is not challenging, it should be made challenging so that it becomes an opportunity for growth.

Cultural Impact

What started out as a collection of biographical pulp stories have become a cultural phenomenon both within the Segments and beyond.

Within the Federated Segments

While many would argue whether or not Magnus Hesche is an (if not the) archetypical Scolopendran character, it cannot be argued that the Magnus Hesche franchise is easily the most famous and popular across the Segments. His name is almost universally recognized and a sizeable minority of Scolopendrans go through some phase either within the fandom or in multiple counter-movements against it. New major films appear yearly like clockwork, serials appear monthly, comic books weekly, and television dramas daily within the standard seasonal schedule. Magnus Hesche often appears on lists of childhood heroes and is an instantly-recognizable (and, by all reports, easily approachable) celebrity.

The Young Adventurers is an outdoors activity, self-improvement, and overall 'scouting' club founded by and closely associated with Magnus Hesche. Some critics have likened it to a paramilitary militia due to its use of uniforms and weapons safety courses, but this opinion is generally considered alarmist by the mainstream. While Magnus is the obvious public face and leader of the organization, he is by all reports quite careful to emphasize loyalty to local authority and presents himself as a guide and a cheerleader rather than an authority.

Internationally

The Magnus Hesche media franchise is quite easily the most recognizable, popular, and widespread Scolopendran cultural product in the multiverse, and one could easily argue that Magnus is more popular outside the Segments than he is inside. It is certainly true that the franchise first 'exploded' due to foreign sales, and this popularity fed back into the Segments. Every nation in contact with the Federated Segments imports Magnus Hesche media, and quite a few nations that aren't have been exposed by third-parties and media resellers.

In many ways, Magnus the heroic righter-of-wrongs (or meddlesome do-gooder, as the case may be) is the unofficial international face of the Federated Segments. This is sometimes diplomatically inconvenient when Scolopendran policy is constrained by realpolitik.

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