Heroism: 1. extreme self-sacrificing courage esp. in fulfilling a higher purpose or attaining a noble end; 2. the qualities of a hero.
My doctoral dissertation dealt with mythology and how the myths we buy into cultivate our view of the world. And so it’s probably no surprise that I succumb to a bit of hero worship as a writer. Oh, I’m not talking about the nickel heroes we have these days: sports figures and movie stars, politicians and musicians. They aren’t heroes, even if we would like them to be. Take a look at the definition of heroism that I lifted from Webster’s Collegiate.
A hero is someone who does what is right to the detriment of their own needs. A hero is someone who puts others–or a cause–above his own benefit, or his own life, if necessary. I don’t care how good looking the actor or how powerful the athlete, if they can’t put others before themselves, they don’t deserve the title.
As a writer, I’m especially attracted to heroes–and heroines–who grow into the part. Because I believe that heroes are made, not born. I was never a big fan of James Bond–in the early days at least. Anyone who could cakewalk through adversity didn’t deserve my attention. I prefer the style of Indiana Jones, who toughed his way through adversity, and even though he was a lot worse for wear, ended with the girl and the trophy, but not usually for himself.
I’ve created my share of heroes, and they usually start off as common people who respond to an uncommon situation. In Infinity’s Reach, it was the pampered daughter of the U.S. Secretary of State, who just because of her father is chased, captured and attacked many times. She could surrender to circumstances. Instead, she learned to adapt to a hostile world and became a better person because of it. In the end, the goal of the nation became her goal as well.
I enjoy seeing the hero change as the story continues. If you have a story where the hero remains the same, as is too often the case in action movies these days, then I consider it a story that is sadly lacking. There should be internal and external change. And the internal change is best served when it happens to your protagonist. That’s not always the case, but I think it should be strongly encouraged.
Then there’s the postmodern view that we are all just victims of our environment, our circumstances. In the end, everything comes to a bleak, final conclusion. What do we gain from such a story? If mythology paints our view of the world, then we need hope in that illustration in order to survive.
Heroes play an important part in our psyche. What would our view of America be without heroes like Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln? I believe that writers have an obligation to consider what message their story is sharing with the reader, especially when it comes to presenting our heroes.
We all need heroes.
One thought on “I’m Holding Out for a Hero”
I love to read about and learn about heroes. I think there are a couple different kinds — those who are in the right place at the right (or maybe wrong) time and really have little time to think about what they are going to do…they just have to react. I think of the first responders out there who run into burning buildings and wade into flood waters and other dangerous places. All those characteristics that drive us crazy about our ADHD children are so necessary for those kinds of adrenaline loving heroes (My theory). But the kind of hero that moves me on so so many levels is the hero who stands and watches the crisis coming at them, knows that they will most likely not win the battle, but stands anyway. I think of the defenders of the Alamo and the soldiers described in the movie, “Glory.”
In many ways, we are called to be both kinds of heroes in the service of Jesus. On a day to day basis we fit in the first category, but as the end draws near, we will have to stand in the face of persecution. The thought almost takes my breath away as I think of the responsibilities involved in both — and then I remember that His grace is, and will be, sufficient for me.
Thank you for writing.
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