Books, heroes, heroines

What Makes A Hero?

In keeping with the recent post on Peter Pevensie (AKA High King Peter the Magnificent – now there’s a title to live up to!), which got me thinking again about my Hero and Everyman post, and also with the start of a brand-new season of NCIS:LA this week (yes, aside from figure skating – and by the way, you will probably have to suffer through a post or two on that this winter, because that’s just how I roll – the NCIS shows are the only television I really care about anymore. Although I am really, really curious about Once Upon A Time starting in October, given its fairy tale premise), I got thinking about the kind of hero that I have always been drawn to, both in literature and film (and television).

So here you have it.

The type of hero I prefer:

Sam more than Callen (NCIS:LA)

Will more than Jack (Pirates of the Caribbean) (only in the first, though, because then Will just got irritating and Jack got immensely more charming)

Faramir more than Boromir (Lord of the Rings)

Mr Knightley (or Henry Tilney) more than Mr Darcy or Captain Wentworth (Jane Austen’s novels)

Etc, etc.

Not necessarily the squeaky-clean, never had any faults (like Peter) hero, but the one who isn’t angsting all over the place, the one who is truly good, the one who knows what is right and strives to do it. Not so much the tortured anti-hero for me. One of my chief complaints about the LotR films was the changes they made to Boromir and Faramir’s characters – how they made Boromir, the weak one, seem more heroic, and turned Faramir, who was strong and just and good, into somebody who was weak and willing to do almost anything to earn his father’s approval. GRRR.

I think that’s one reason I like Edmund so much in the Narnia books, because we get to see his journey from the most un-heroic beginning to a man who is confident in what is right, and acts upon it without much inner anguish or tortured questioning or intense struggles between what he wants and what he should do.

(Unless, of course, you are reading much of the Narnia fanfiction out there, where Edmund spends the rest of his life beating himself up for his temporary alliance with the Witch. GRRR again.)

Taran, from Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, is another similar character – one who starts out with foolish ideas about what a hero is, and grows to be a quiet and unassuming hero of his own without even realizing it.

This applies to heroines as well, of course. I have mentioned before about my fondness for Cecy and Kate of the Sorcery & Cecilia books by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. There are two girls who are confident in what is right, and able to act upon it. Granted, their actions often stir up yet more trouble, but that just adds to the fun. And it’s not over-confidence, either – don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of the smug, or even the one who never questions. I think that’s why I liked Will so much in the first PotC movie – when his sense of rightness clashed with “the rules” he’d always lived by, he had to undergo a struggle to determine which was stronger – his instinct for justice, or what he’d always believed. Which made his decision in the end far more cheer-worthy.

Or Sam, from NCIS:LA – though it tore at him to break away from NCIS in last season’s finale, to walk away from the structure he lived by, it was more important to help his friends (and save Hetty). If Callen hadn’t walked away first, would Sam have done so? I’m not sure, but once Callen did, Sam had to back up his friend and partner.

And that is awesome stuff, and to me, the sort of thing that makes a hero (or heroine) truly interesting, and truly worth emulating.

What sort of heroes do you prefer – the tortured ones, the ones suffering from a lot of inner angst, the anti-hero like Captain Jack Sparrow, or the simpler heroes, like Sam and Faramir, etc? I think there’s a lot to be said for all kinds, and I’m always interested to hear where other people differ from my preferences – it helps me broaden my writing repertoire as well as gives me stuff to chew on personally! Also, when it comes to Jane Austen heroes, am I the only one who thinks that Mr Darcy remains something of a bore even after his change, and that Mr Knightley is one of the greatest heroes in literature (I know Rockinlibrarian agrees with me on Henry Tilney’s swoon-worthiness, at least!)?

13 thoughts on “What Makes A Hero?”

  1. Amazing post… Being a conflicted world leader myself, I have found the struggle to lead extremely daunting! (Think Aragorn, King Arthur or your least favorite Boromir… When do we finally grab the sword from the stone and say? "Follow me! I'm heading the right way!")-Ethan M

  2. I like the angsty ones myself as long as the angst is legitimate. I don't like it when they spaz out over nothing, but if there is a good reason it captures me. That is, as long as they are not whiners.I guess I get bored with a character who always knows what is right. The issue is creating a situation where there is not necessarily a right and a wrong.

  3. Ok, I'm guilty of letting Firth's portrayal be my main influence here, but I don't find him boring at all. (I guess it's valid, given your drooling over Tilney!) Reformed Darcy is so beautifully charming to the Gardiners, so satisfyingly "shut UP" to Caroline Bingley, and so chivalric in every way regarding the Bennet scandal – his discretion toward Lizzie, his sternness toward Wickham (that scene where he stands up suddenly behind them at the wedding, with that, "don't even think about backing out, you CREATURE you" expression – YUM), his sweet awkwardness about how to approach the whole situation with her. A bit stiff, perhaps, but I think that was the point – Lizzie livens him up. I guess I'm more drawn to the heroes who have to come through some sort of arc to get to that status. So for me it's an Edmund more than Peter (and perhaps Eustace more than both), a Taran more than Adaon, a Darcy more than Knightley, a Luke Skywalker more than Ben Kenobi. I find Sam Gamgee the most interesting hero in LotR. Simple and good, but still a huge arc in terms of what is required of him. The Jack vs. Will thing is a different sort of comparison. The hero vs. the lovable rogue; you love them both for different reasons. I lean towards the rogue, though…Han over Luke, too.

  4. I can't say that the heroes I like fall into any particular category. I love Edmund, Capt. Wentworth, Mr. Darcy, and Faramir (mostly because he reminds me so much of my husband). But I do like them to have a growth arc–I want them to learn goodness through suffering.

  5. Ethan – that is a question for which I have no answer, but is really, really great to think about.Olene – conflict and questioning is definitely good, too. Like I said, I can get behind the Edmund character better than the Peter character – there is never any conflict in Peter, but in Edmund we get to see him overcoming his inner demons to grow into someone wise and just.Sunrise – I rarely say this in film characters vs book characters, but Colin Firth's Mr Darcy is far, far superior to Jane Austen's Mr Darcy, in my opinion!Reading your comment helped me clarify my thoughts a bit more, too – in general, I do prefer the Everyman who grows to be the hero – Taran, Sam, Eustace, etc. But given the choice between, say, Adaon and Ellidyr, the genuinely noble character vs the tortured character who only chooses goodness at the end, I will pick Adaon every time. Which is probably one reason why I hated Anakin Skywalker through all six films. (And dare I confess I've always preferred Luke over Han? See, as much as I like the rogue, it's the genuinely good guy who gets me every time.)Connie – learning goodness through suffering – I LOVE that concept. As for the growth arc – thinking about it, I definitely see that I prefer that, too, only usually, for me, I like to see it go from the hero thinking he knows what is right, and slowly coming to see that life doesn't always fit in to the categories he always thought, and needing to come to terms with that.Taking Star Wars as an example – as much as I loved it, I probably would have loved it even more if Luke had started out as a firm supporter of the Empire – not because he was evil, but because he, being stuck out on Tatooine, only saw the order and safety they stood for. Then, throughout the films, if he learned more about how his family had stood against the Empire, and then saw its evils firsthand, and had to join the Rebellion even though rebellion itself stood against everything he believed in … Wow. Just wow. So that he doesn't go from evil to good, but that his knowledge of what is good grows and expands, and he learns to judge things as they are, instead of by appearance.Hey look! I wrote another post just in the comments. Sheesh. Sorry, guys.

  6. Wow! I love the in-depth character analysis. I've never thought about it very much, but I think I like all three types of heros. It's really very interesting to read the comments and hear it broken down in this way.

  7. Huh, I don't know I've ever decided– it depends on what you mean by "hero" too, protagonist or important character? I'm not sure I'd CALL Mr. Darcy a hero, good or otherwise. Well, I guess he is in a sense or two. Anyway, I LIKE Mr. Darcy quite a lot as a character, and I think he's just right for Lizzie and all, but I, personally, would not want to marry him. Grouchy stick-in-the-mud. Even WHEN looking like Colin Firth. And I do like Mr. Knightley quite a lot too, but more in the same way I like Mr. Darcy– as a character, not as someone I am personally in love with. Whereas Captain Wentworth is generally pretty boring, but he's just so dang SWOONY that I can't keep my head on quite straight about him. I guess if I had him in real life I'd get bored with the swoony and demand some personality. You know, like Henry Tilney has. Oh, Henry Tilney. Hey, nobody else in the comments has agreed with us about Henry Tilney yet. COME ON, PEOPLE! WE MUST EXPAND THE HENRY TILNEY FAN CLUB! Moving away from romantic heroes, or at least Austen heroes…I don't know. I like my heroes to be well-rounded– a little bit of dark AND light, a little bit of good AND selfish, a little bit of ignorant and smart. I am tired of the "I am so tortured so that makes me romantic and sympathetic" trope, but I like heroes to have SOME inner demons to wrestle– just not overwhelmingly all the time. And I do like seeing realistic growth and change in the character. I like characters to be faulty, but for them to work to overcome the faults. That's all I can think of right now.

  8. Kirsten – I know, I think I'm learning way more just from reading everyone's comments than all the pondering on the subject I did this past week.Rockinlibrarian – Oh, yes, I do want my heroes (or protagonist, or even Important Character) to have faults. To be human. But I think what really draws me to a character is if they have that genuinely good core to them – or even if, because genuine goodness is a hard thing to carry, they are always seeking the good. I just thought of another example – do/did any of you watch Star Trek: Voyager? Chakotay was my favorite character on that show, because of his selflessness and the way he always sought the best for those around him, regardless of what it did to him. And he wasn't perfect, by any stretch, but it was his struggles to do The Right Thing in the midst of impossible situations, and even against his own desires at times, that made me like him so much. And yes, we need more people in our Henry Tilney fan club. Just because the book is (deliberately) silly doesn't mean the man is! Well, sometimes he is, but that just adds to his personality. He's charming! And witty! And wise! And his eyes twinkle as he teases people! You won't ever see Mr Darcy's eyes twinkle, no matter how much he loosens up.

  9. (I just posted a long response to Ethan's original comment on FB (which was copied to the blog here), and wanted to post it here as well, just to keep the discussion flowing):… to give some semblance of an answer to your question, I would say it is a GOOD thing for a leader of men to always be questioning his (or her) purpose, to make sure that the intent of his heart is pure, that he seeks what is best for those who follow him instead of personal glory and gain, that he only leads because it is how he best serves those he loves. Take Boromir – he led because he believed he was best fit for it, because he had extreme confidence in himself. Aragorn, the true king, led because his love for his people would not allow him to abdicate responsibility onto another's shoulders. Even if he was uncertain of the best way forward, he would do his best and give his life to keep those he led/served (because what is leadership except the highest form of servanthood, really?) without hesitation.

  10. I actually COMPLETELY agree with the admiration for Mr. Knightly and Henry Tilney. I would pick either of them over Mr. Darcy any day. Though I have to admit that Henry Tilney is something of a new discovery for me since I only watched Northanger Abbey for the first time, a couple of weeks ago. But overall,I think that Mr. Knightly will always be up there with Gilbert Blythe as my favorite romantic heroes. P.S. I have to admit that I do have a bit of a soft spot for Captain Jack Sparrow. =)

  11. Laura – absolutely, no whiners need apply for hero-ship!Jill – I don't think that's terrible at all. Different stories call for different types of hero.Gabrielle – yay, little sister, join the Henry Tilney fan club!

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