Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Heroic Heroes

One of my main complaints in yesterday’s review of Blaggard’s Moon was the character connection, or rather the lack thereof. Delaney is a narrator more than a protagonist. Jenta is passive for most of the story, and Damrick, probably the true hero of the story, displays actions and attitudes that make me recoil rather than like him. In short, I missed having a heroic hero.

Yes, I know there are many kinds of protagonists in fiction, including the antihero and the unreliable narrator. But as a whole, the protagonist (the character who moves the story forward through their choices) should be fairly likeable with redeemable qualities and enough positive attributes that the reader shouldn’t feel uneasy about getting involved. This is especially true in speculative fiction, where the heroic hero is almost a requirement of the genre.

So what is a heroic hero?

First off, it is not perfection. Since no one is perfect, we fail to relate to a character who is. Rather, heroic heroes have flaws and foibles, quirks and pet peeves like the rest of us.

However, the good must outweigh the bad. Heroes can and do make mistakes. But it is the laudable qualities and right choices, especially against strong opposition, that earns our admiration and approval. A heroic hero acts in the way we would wish to under similar circumstances. This is where I felt Damrick failed. The attitudes he displayed aren’t the kind I wish to imitate.

Therefore, since it is the choices that earn our approval, the hero must be proactive. We feel compassion for a person who, like Jenta, ends up in difficult circumstances by no fault of their own. But when a character makes a good and right choice that leads to problems—ah, our sense of justice kicks in. Something we all instinctively value is now at stake, and we will cheer on the character until the wrong is righted.

Of course, this only scratches the surface of character development. Building relatable protagonists is a complex process with a wide range of tools including (but not limited to) humor, sympathy, respect for skills/talents, and universal desires. Nor will all readers connect with every character, no matter how well built.

But in a world where role models frequently aren’t worth imitating and heroes are often anything but heroic, fictional protagonists who display strength, courage, compassion, grace, mercy, and other commendable traits under fire are desperately needed and deeply craved by readers today.


Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

But here's the thing. As much as we crave heroic heros, we won't find one, not apart from the True One. if we in our fiction offer a heroic hero, won't it come across as either untrue and idealistic or as false, holding out as possible the impossible.

In society at large there is this belief in Man as good, in the idea that all we have to do is tap into the best of who we are and we will be noble and good and do what's right.

If we offer heroic heros, aren't we affirming that latter fallacy?


Chawna Schroeder said...

You raise a good objection. However, I don't think heroic heroes set up an impossible or idealistic standard.

As I pointed out, heroic heroes aren't perfect and aren't suppose to be. Rather, they provide us an example: a signpost pointing the way to Jesus Christ and an encouragement that we too can live, with the help of Christ, in a way that demonstrates His character, especially under difficult circumstances.

And I don't know about you, but I have met and studied people who very much qualify as heroic heroes, from Dr. Livingston to a WWII vet in my church, from the disabled mother of two special needs boys to President Lincoln to the Apostle Paul. All them I admire, and while each has their flaws, I long to imitate many of their traits and pray that I will live half as well.

And even if humanism skews this as Man is good, isn't better to present a hero that, if imitated, would improve the world than one that would bring chaos and harm?

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

An important topic, Chawna. I decided to post on it today. We'll see if it generates any more discussion.