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.