About the Author
41 years old, native of Staten Island, New York, an ex-pat living between the coasts in Minnesota (The Great White North!). Reader/Writer. Roleplayer. Science-geek. Amateur Photographer. Lover of Science Fiction, Fantasy and History. I’m just this guy, you know?
Holding out for a Hero
In modern society, the people held up as heroes are, too often, praised for their physical prowess. Sports figures, particularly. While we are told again and again they aren’t role models (especially when they get involved with things they should not), the archetype goes back, as many things do, to high school. Its the High school quarterback, paired with the head cheerleader, of course, who is the classic archetypal model of a mimetic fiction action hero.
While other kinds of heroes exist, from the brave firefighter facing an inferno, to the man willing to walk 200 miles to be a part of the March on Washington, to the woman willing to keep a OB/GYN clinic open even against prejudice and hatred, in the end, our society seems to value the physical hero more than heroism of other sort. Its as if we are hardwired to respond best to these kinds of heroes.
And in fantasy and science fiction, there are heroes of this stripe. There are plenty of classic warrior heroes for people to identify with in fantasy and science fiction. Knights of the round table, roaming out to do good. Aragorn the heir to a Kingdom he has to first save from Mordor before he can contemplate taking a throne. Conan the Barbarian. Druss the Legend. Xena Warrior Princess.
However, none of these, in or out of genre, are really heroes I can deeply identify with and emulate. My lack of physical strength and dexterity are routinely mocked by anyone who has spent any time in my company. I once managed to hit my own ear trying to throw a punch. And yet, the joy and what speculative fiction has taught me is that there can be other kinds of heroes. Heroes that I might identify with.
“Merlin is my hero” proclaims Arthur Freyn in the beginning of the movie Zardoz. And I agree with him! And Merlin is not the only hero of his class. Through speculative fiction, I met the kinds of people who become heroes that I can identify with. Pug, in the Raymond Feist novels, going through trial and fire to become a magician. Jimmy the Hand, Squire James, was a lot of fun, too, being a squire who still keeps his hand in his thieving business. I liked them both far more than the more standard heroes like Prince Arutha.
Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, who used his courage, quick thinking, and a certain magic ring to defeat spiders, outwit elves, riddle with a dragon and come home with a share of the treasure. Thorin Oakenshield might have been the hero dwarf of the company, but it was Bilbo who was much more the character I most wanted to be.
FitzChivalry, the titular hero of The Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb, too, uses guile, skill, stealth and his wits. He learns to be an assassin, learns magic, and progresses and grows over the subsequent novels. He pays heavy prices, sometimes runs away from his problems, but when the chips are down, he rises to the occasion.
And the character in the Harry Potter series I felt the most akin to? Not the “sports jock Harry”. Not the big brash family centered around Ron Weasley. No it was bookish Hermione Granger, at Hogwarts solely because of her skill and ability. . I suspect that if I was 25 years younger when I read the Harry Potter novels, I would have had a major character-crush on her.
Is it any wonder that in Dungeons and Dragons, I tend to play Magic Users, Clerics and Rogues much more often than Fighters or Paladins?
It is these sorts of heroism, the heroism of the mind, of quick thinking, of courage, of loyalty, of skill and knowledge, more than heroism because one has a magic sword or can swing a fifty pound battleaxe, that really makes for heroes that I can emulate, aspire to be, look up to, and identify with.
And, heroes I can identify with are hardly restricted to the fantasy side of the genre, either.
Consider Jimmy Pak, skillful enough to have smuggled a skybike on the mission to explore the titular ship in Rendevous with Rama? Biking across the skies of Rama to get to the inaccessible far side of the ocean and cliff. That took daring, skill, and bravery to pull off.
Or perhaps Hari Seldon, the mover and shaker behind the First and Second Foundation. A figure determined to, by hook, and by crook, to keep the deep darkness at bay and bring about a new and better galactic Civilization. He was hero as chessmaster, setting things in motion hundreds of years in advance. I was shocked, the first time I read Foundation, to encounter The Mule, who seemed tailor made tto unknowingly ruin his plans…
Or Jame Retief, the hero of Keith Laumer’s Retief novels and stories. Even if he did use fisticuffs more than I would be prone to do, he was the antithesis of a do-nothing bureaucrat, exposing alien plots, making the best diplomatic deal for Earth in his role in the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne, and foiling the enemies of Man.
And who didn’t want to be Han Solo, with his own ship, the best partner a guy could have, and he gets the girl by the end of the trilogy?
So, with heroes like this to show the way, I, too, can have heroes that I can aspire to, and identify with. I, too, can be a hero. That’s one of the many things that speculative fiction has taught me.