Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Where Have All The Heroes Gone?

Who is your hero? For that matter, what is a hero? One definition is: a man distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength. Of course, "man" in this sense is a person, regardless of gender. I'm saddened to see the gradual change in our society that invests sports figures and performers in the entertainment world with this title. Why should an outfielder who hits the baseball well be a hero? Why consider someone who gets a multi-million dollar contract to sing or dance or act a hero? To my mind, these people are neither heroes or (in most instances, at least) role models.

The men and women who braved the disaster of the Twin Towers in rescue and recovery efforts are heroes. The pilot, Sully Sullenberger, who demonstrated skill and bravery in landing his crippled plane and saving the lives of hundreds of passengers is a hero. And the breadwinner, regardless of sex, who scrambles in this tough economy to make a home and provide for his/her family, making sacrifices and working long hours, is a hero.

In our novels, we often speak of our protagonist as a "hero." That's not always the case. They may be the lead character. They may demonstrate grace under fire toward the book's conclusion. But not always do they rise to the level of heroism. In instances when they do, the reader should turn the last page of the book, inspired and encouraged. An author can hope for little more than that.

5 comments:

Rita Gerlach said...

Excellent post. Thanks for reminding writers what a true hero is. If we are setting out to make our lead character a hero, then we have to have him demonstrate true heroism that endures to the end.

Rita Gerlach
http://ritagerlach.com/

Timothy Fish said...

You make some good points. As for the hero/protagonist confusion, I think that idea probably developed because many of the old stories were told with a protagonist that the storyteller wanted people to mimic. In the modern novel, it isn’t just the case that the protagonist isn’t a true “hero,” but he could just as easily be the villain. Recently, I haven’t seen many books with great heroes, but I haven’t given up hope that the trend will shift.

Richard Mabry said...

Timothy,
Excellent point. I'm going to break my usual silence on responding to comments to add this note. Writers who haven't yet read Vogler's The Writer's Journey would be well-advised to do so. Vogler compares the plotting of modern fiction to mythic tales, and it's amazing how well most books conform to this.
As for modern novels with villains as the centerpiece, one of my favorite authors, Lawrence Block, has one series where the protagonist is a professional hit man, another where the lead character is a burglar. And, I must admit, I enjoy the books. Most protagonists are good with some flaws. These are flawed with some good qualities. Go figure.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Richard: Thanks for this unusual and thought provoking post.

I agreee that sports players and entertainers should not be heros, unless they do something else to merit our admiration.

Jesus is mine. And my husband, who is the most like Jesus of anyone i've ever met. Except when he annoys me, then i like my kids and my cats.

Jen

Richard Mabry said...

Timothy,
Excellent point. I'm going to break my usual silence on responding to comments to add this note. Writers who haven't yet read Vogler's The Writer's Journey would be well-advised to do so. Vogler compares the plotting of modern fiction to mythic tales, and it's amazing how well most books conform to this.
As for modern novels with villains as the centerpiece, one of my favorite authors, Lawrence Block, has one series where the protagonist is a professional hit man, another where the lead character is a burglar. And, I must admit, I enjoy the books. Most protagonists are good with some flaws. These are flawed with some good qualities. Go figure.