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Venturous Smuggler

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"If you're a famous smuggler, you're not doing it right."
Davos Seaworth, Game of Thrones

An often-romanticized character archetype found in many genres, portrayals of the smuggler can range from a Lovable Rogue Running the Blockade to subvert an oppressive government, to a slimy criminal profiteering off scarcity. Most fiction seems to agree, however, that it takes considerable guts to repeatedly risk the wrath of both the authorities (if you get caught with illegal cargo) and the clients (if you lose said cargo).

Sub-trope of Lovable Rogue. Sister trope to Gentleman Thief, Intrepid Merchant, and Bold Explorer. May also overlap with Courier.


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    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Dark Knight: They never appear on-screen, but Batman hires a crew of South Korean smugglers to help him kidnap a Chinese money launderer from his home base in China. The implication is that they're this trope.
  • James Bond's ally Columbo in For Your Eyes Only. He cheerfully admits that he is a smuggler, but he does not smuggle drugs. That is the purview of his Archenemy (and the Big Bad of the movie) Kristatos.
    Columbo: [after playing the recorded conversation of Kristatos and Bond] I'm here, Mr. Bond of the British Secret Service. But I'll tell you... it is Kristatos you want, NOT me. He told you about himself. He's the one with the powerful connections, not me. Locque works for him, not me. He told you that I was a heroin smuggler, yes? That is partly true. I'm a smuggler. I smuggle, yes. I smuggle gold, diamonds, cigarettes, pistachio nuts... but no heroin. Sit down. That I leave to him... when he is not too busy working for Russia against my country and yours.
  • In Revolver (1973), Vito and Ruiz employ Carlotta, a female smuggler who makes a living running people across the Italian/French border, to smuggle them from Italy into France. She also serves as Ruiz's Love Interest.
  • Han Solo from the Star Wars original trilogy is one of the best-known examples of this archetype: a Lovable Rogue who is Not in This for Your Revolution and whose Cool Starship is famous for making a notoriously difficult smuggling run in twelve parsecs.
    • Solo established that Lando Calrissian was already an accomplished smuggler before he and Han met, and lived a far more ostentatious lifestyle.
  • Casablanca: Rick Blaine used to be an Arms Dealer for the Spanish Republic, and now specializes in helping refugees from Europe passing through Casablanca, for a price.
  • Blow: George Jung likes to portray himself as this type of Lovable Rogue, even waxing poetic in court about "moving plants over an imaginary line".

  • Vahanian is a mostly straight example in Chronicles of the Necromancer: as the Lovable Rogue the heroes come for to help, with one exception. He has a personal history with Arontola and is quick to agree to work for the heroes because of it, rather than how most of this trope are Heroic Neutral.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: Edmond is rescued by a group of smugglers when he escapes prison and quickly becomes The Ace among them, later secretly recruiting them for his many plans.
  • Discworld:
    • Vetinari is (secretly) willing to tolerate some smuggling in Ankh-Morpork, seeing it as a good way to keep people smart (both the smugglers and the customs police).
    • Chidder in Pyramids is always quick to say his family is in commerce, and always vague about what that commerce is. Teppic isn't particularly surprised to notice that his merchant ship, the Unnamed, seems to have a much smaller hold than you might expect from the outside, and also a hidden ramming spike.
      Chidder: We're poor traders.
      Teppic: The usual phrase is "poor but honest traders".
      Chidder: Oh, I think we'll stick on "poor" at the moment.
    • In Reaper Man, Miss Flitworth's father was a reciever of contraband, and her firm moral absolutism includes that she's absolutely sure there's nothing wrong with smuggling. It appears this is common in Sheepridge, since it's suggested that the reason everyone was suspicious of Bill Door's strangeness was that they thought he might be a revenue man.
  • The Romney Marsh smugglers are the heroic figures in the Doctor Syn ("The Scarecrow") books, supported by the local population for the wealth they bring to the area.
  • Deconstructed, like so many other romanticist tropes, in A Hero of Our Time: Danko from Taman is first presented as a larger than life figure that challenges the elements to visit a loved one across the sea, but once Pechorin realizes he and his girlfriend are just smugglers, he is majorly disappointed and stops caring about them.
  • In Lucifer's Star by C.T. Phipps stars Cassius Mass, who is a navigator later captain of a huge freight hauler. He eventually turns to smuggling as a way to supplement his legitimate income. He is somewhat different from other examples because his spaceship, the Melampus is the size of a small town and he's closer to a Rogue Trader from Warhammer 40,000 than Han Solo.
  • Davos Seaworth from A Song of Ice and Fire is a former smuggler captain, who was so good at Running the Blockade to deliver food to Stannis Baratheon's besieged army during Robert's Rebellion that Stannis knighted him for his services — right after chopping off four of his fingertips in punishment for his earlier crimes.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Talon Karrde, introduced in The Thrawn Trilogy, is a mix of this and Knowledge Broker. His organization managed to pick up most of the pieces of Jabba the Hutt's criminal empire after Jabba's death, and Karrde himself has a reputation as a respectable and trustworthy business partner - as much as a smuggler can be trusted, anyway. Karrde tried to remain neutral in the Galactic Civil War, but eventually Defaulted to Good, helped the New Republic defeat Grand Admiral Thrawn, and went on to help them and the Imperial Remnant make peace in the Hand of Thrawn duology. His personal ship is the Wild Karrde.
    • Dash Rendar of Shadows of the Empire is a Suspiciously Similar Substitute for Han Solo, who of course is frozen in carbonite for the duration of the story. He's brash, cocky, an expert pilot and gunslinger, and owns the flashy Corellian YT-2400 light freighter, The Outrider.
    • Booster Terrik was a successful smuggler with close ties to the Rebellion, and a personal friend of Rebel pilot Wedge Antilles, until Booster was caught by the Corellian Security Force and sentenced to five years in the spice mines of Kessel. Upon his release he tried to go back to smuggling but found that the solitude of hyperspace was too similar to the crushing boredom of the mines, so he gave his Pulsar Skate to his daughter Mirax (who became a successful smuggler herself) and entered quasi-retirement, negotiating on others' behalf rather than running his own business. Booster played a major role in The Bacta War, and when an Imperial captain surrendered to him personally during a Brandishment Bluff, Booster found himself the first civilian in the galaxy to own an Imperial II-class Star Destroyer. After some negotiation, he was allowed to keep the partially-disarmed warship, which he renamed the Errant Venture and turned into a mobile resort/bazaar/casino. It wasn't quite a happy ending, though — Booster soon found that managing a capital ship that size was a major headache and hellishly expensive (especially his decision to repaint it red), and his daughter Mirax ended up marrying Corran Horn, son of the very CorSec officer who arrested Booster.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blake's 7: A member of the elite Alpha class, Jenna was a beautiful but cynical smuggler/self-styled "free trader". She clearly had some involvement with resistance groups (most likely smuggling supplies to them) as she had once met the resistance fighter Avalon. She was captured by the Federation and sentenced to be transported to the prison colony on Cygnus Alpha. However, she befriended Blake, assisted in a mutiny on the transport ship and escaped with him and Avon aboard the Liberator. A talented pilot, Jenna initially took charge of all navigation duties aboard the Liberator. She was the only crew member capable of piloting the ship when Zen was inoperative or unwilling to do so.
  • Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds from Firefly fits this archetype, as the swashbuckling Lovable Rogue captain of an interplanetary smuggling crew. His first mate Zoe and right-hand man Jayne do as well.
  • Duke from Haven captains his own cargo ship and is a self-described "businessman," though his business is almost always below-board. This is somewhat of an Open Secret in town, with the Haven Police Department and even the Coast Guard knowing what he's up to (and he makes little effort to hide it), but nobody even tries to bust him. For reasons unexplained. He's definitely of the Lovable Rogue variety, with his heart in the right place, and a surprisingly strong moral compass for someone whose living involves being paid to transport contraband.

  • Scottish folk classic "Smuggler" deals with wine smuggling from France to Scotland to avoid taxes, making the beloved beverage available to people of small means.
    Why must I make do with homely goods when there's foreign gear so fine?
    Why must I drink from the riverside, and France be full of wine?
  • "A Pirate Looks at 40" by Jimmy Buffett is from the point of view of an old drug smuggler.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Blades in the Dark lets you play an entire smuggling crew, specializing in carrying contraband, arcane goods, weapons, or passengers under the nose of the Imperial authorities and organized crime.
  • Scum and Villainy, which is based on Blades, has the Stardancer starship/crew archetype, which specializes in space smuggling and is heavily based on Serenity from Firefly and the Millenium Falcon from A New Hope. Among Player Characters, the Scoundrel playbook in particular is inspired by archetypal smugglers like Han Solo and Mal Reynolds.
  • It's fairly common for player characters in Traveller to at least dabble in smuggling, especially given the multi-megacredit mortgages on their ships.
  • Warhammer 40,000: A Rogue Trader is an independent ship captain who's equal parts smuggler, pirate, explorer, and mercenary. Many are used as Inquisitorial agents (knowingly or not), especially where the smuggling of forbidden xenos artifacts is involved.

    Video Games 

    Web Original 
  • Kingmaker has the international smuggling/thieving duo of Iyer and Winterlich: General Services who save Colette's life in the Seltsamwald.

  • Girl Genius: The "Wulfenbach Dark Fleet" were mentioned briefly in the comic, but given a bit more detail in the novel Agatha H. and the Siege of Mechanicsburg. Rumors portray them as a group of dashing rogues who skirt Baron Wulfenbach's laws by smuggling goods around his vast airship fleet to those in need. There is absolutely no evidence that they actually existed, and the Baron was getting rather impatient that no one was filling the obvious niche.
    Footnote: He was beginning to think that, like so many other seemingly obvious things, he would have to do it himself.