What Makes a Hero?

I’ve been binge watching the Arrow over Christmas. Just finished season 3, so I’m done until season 4 is on DVD. I guess I can get back to writing. The show made me wonder, what is a hero?

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I would use the google definition but it ticked me off when it said, typically a man!

According to Webster (1983):

  1. a mythological/legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability.
  2. a man admired for his achievements
  3. illustrious warrior
  4. one that shows great courage
  5. the main male character in a literary work
  6. central figure in an event.

Hmmmm, not sure I approve of all that! I’m not going to rant about the capabilities of women. I’m using Hero as gender neutral.

When I think over the mountain of books I’ve read over my life, certain types of heroes come to mind. This isn’t the scholars list of heroes, this is just how I see them.

  1. The Perfect One: The hero is perfect. He/she has no problem in making a decision. There is only one way. Everything is black and white and they never drift over to the dark side. I call this the Superman hero. Like Superman they never make a wrong or questionable decision. He never cheated on Lois Lane and sent Lex Luther to prison for his terrible crimes. These are great heroes when we are young, but as we grow they begin to seem flat and unrealistic.
  2. The Lonely One: The hero that remains alone, even after saving the world. He separates himself from the rest of society either because of the chaos he has seen or the baggage he carries. He/she is destined to be alone. Poor Frodo suffered this fate. He destroyed the One Ring only to return to the Shire alone. I assume you know how it ends after her returns. He didn’t get the girl, Sam did. It’s a bit melancholy but believable. You undertake this great quest, how do you return home and be happy? I don’t think it was just from the blade of Mordor. I think Frodo’s scars were mental as well.
  3. The Chosen One: This hero is the only one who can defeat the villain. No one else has the skill, ability, or prophesy to do so. These heroes are readily available on every YA shelf. Harry Potter is the chosen one…or is he? Sorry couldn’t resist. For whatever reason this hero must defeat the villain, that is his only purpose. The overall plot surrounds the ultimate battle.

    Heroes in waiting.

    Heroes in waiting.

  4. The Scholar: Not all heroes use their physical strength. Some use their mind. I love these. They’re smart. Take Hermione Granger. No matter what Harry was capable of, he could not have survived without the intelligence of Hermione. Brute force only takes you so far. Someone has to know how to break into the enemies computer system and unleash a nasty virus. Some may say this is the realm of the sidekick, I disagree.  They are heroes.
  5. The Misfit.  This one is popular in YA. The hero that is a total screw-up and only becomes a hero when tested. But even then, they make huge mistakes. They usually lack experience and are thrust into battle unprepared and must learn as they go. We cheer for these because we see ourselves in them. If they can be a hero, why not me? Percy Jackson comes to mind. Like the Perfect One, we outgrow these as well. Eventually this hero must grow and become something more.
  6. The Amateur: This isn’t your traditional Fantasy genre hero. The one I’m thinking of is usually found in the cozy mystery genre. The every man/woman. Usually a woman. She’s living her life and then out of no where someone dies. She’s tasked with the burden of solving the crime. No experience in law enforcement, just smart and nosy. Miss Marple comes to mind. She’s not a traditional hero, but she saved many from jail and others from murder. She’s persistent. This hero is consumed with righting wrongs and keeping the innocent out of jail. No super powers necessary.

    Knights in the woods.

    Knights in the woods.

  7. The Warrior:  We love a warrior. They fight the epic battle of good vs evil. They are the knights, soldiers, and samurai. They fight for the cause regardless of personal loss or danger. They are battered, bruised, and blooded. Good warriors have a dark side. They have seen and done terrible things in battle. But they stand true to the cause. Think about Beowolf, Lancelot, and Jamie Frasier. That last one is my favorite. It’s not uncommon for their lives to be tragic.
  8. The Anti-Hero: This is my personal favorite. They are dark, angry, and cross every line imaginable. They aren’t always a hero, sometimes they are the villain. Everything is grey. Every decision they make is based on their perception of the cause. In comics, Wolverine is the perfect anti-hero. I would place Professor Snape in this category as well. He even died not wanting the world to know he was a good guy. This is the hero that will kill an innocent, if it will stop a worse fate. They make difficult decisions other heroes would shy away from.  Anti-heroes have layer upon layer of back story and experience to play with. They keep the reader guessing.  In a world where the lines are continuing to blur, the anti-hero is becoming more relevant.

There’s probably dozens of other examples and types of heroes. These are the ones that kept me awake last night. My newest project is the tale of a hero. I am sorting out the character and the kind of hero she will be. It’s so much fun.

What is your favorite type of hero?

Who is your favorite hero?

-CK

 

 

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