Heroes reflect back to us society’s values and aspirations. They help us see how we too can make a difference. And they’re pretty cool.
My youngest son was talking about Star Wars and how much he likes the character of Finn. He said: ‘everyone loves him. It’s because he’s brave and looks after his friends’. This is such a powerful message to kids. Finn isn’t the most competent or the most powerful hero, but he keeps doing things because he wants to help his friends. He’s actually like Ron Weasley from Harry Potter in many ways – sidekick to the powerful and the intelligent, hero in his own right, braver than he thinks he is, loyal to the bone. Not a surprise that the same son also loves Ron Weasley.
Heroes shouldn’t be perfect, because otherwise they are a) unbelievable and b) boring. Every character should have a flaw. For example, Luke Skywalker whined. Lol . No, to be fair, Luke’s flaws in the original episodes (won’t talk about TLJ because spoilers) were impatience and lack of faith (incidentally I think this is actually really similar to Poe in the newer films). Harry Potter is also an imperfect hero. We identify with him because of his imperfections.
The anti-hero or reluctant hero is more than just an imperfect hero. They are the ones drawn into events despite their wishes or stated desires. They don’t behave in the ‘heroic’ mould. I love the anti-hero; Han Solo probably imprinted on me at an early stage… Even Tanis Half-Elven from the Dragonlance Chronicles (my most formative reading in my teens) was a reluctant hero. He didn’t want to be the leader even though he took the role of leader more often than not. Although, that said, Tanis is more whiny about it than Han (sorry, but #truth). Flynn Rider in Tangled, my favourite Disney cartoon is also an anti-hero. He is a thief who makes a deal with Rapunzel to suit himself, not because he cares about her goals. It is the change in the anti-hero to make them heroic that we love. The moment that Han Solo comes back to save Luke so he can save the day in A New Hope we all cheered because, like Leia, we ‘knew there was more to you than money!”. Since none of us are perfect, the anti-hero is relatable and likeable.
Of course, we do like the noble hero too. One of my recent favourite noble heroes is Merlin in the BBC series. Although he’s often comical and makes mistakes and is not the sword wielding king, he is summed up by for me by these quotes (it was going to be two, but I love this show so here, have four) :
“You know what I like about Merlin? He never expects any praise. All these things he does just for the good of doing them.” – Gwaine
Arthur: All these years, Merlin. Never once sought any credit.
Merlin: It’s not why I’m doing it.
“It’s lonely to be more powerful than any man you know and have to live like a shadow. To be special and have to pretend you’re a fool”. – Merlin
“I won’t sacrifice my friend to save myself” – Merlin
Merlin can’t show his powers because magic is outlawed His bravery and self-sacrifice are not for show or for credit. They are for the greater good. The fact this makes it harder for him means we feel for him. We sympathise with him when he can’t show his true self to his friends, to Arthur, and we admire the fact that he always does the right thing regardless. We can only hope that we would do the same in his place.
Superheroes are everywhere. And I think we like them so much because they often started as ordinary people. I’ve talked before about how I came to like Captain America after thinking he was a bit self-righteous – the reason I like Cap is because he is: “not a perfect soldier, but a good man”. He’s supposed to be the ultimate soldier but he often doesn’t obey orders. He follows his own moral judgement of the best action to take. He can’t leave people behind if they need him. We like heroes we can see ourselves in, but our best version of ourselves. I think this is why Spider-Man is always so popular – he’s a teenager. He makes mistakes, he gets excited about stuff, and he does what is right while doing cool flips off buildings. Katniss in the Hunger Games was my oldest son’s favourite character for some time. He admired her loyalty and her courage. He thought she was clever and strong. I listened to him tell me why she was so great and all through it thought – “these are the qualities I admire in you”.
When I write now, I think about what my heroes are telling my readers about what values I treasure, how people can identify with them. I think about whether they are the noble, the reluctant, the comical, the aspirational hero. And I write people who I like, and who I would not mind being.
Who is your favourite hero and why do you like them so much? Let me know in the comments 🙂