Heroic Tropes by: Ulff Lehmann
Before me now lies this task, this quest if you will, to delve into heroic tropes and squeeze something new out of the dried husk that is this topic.
Very well. I shall rise to the occasion and accept this challenge, though I have no bloody idea if I’ll succeed. Only time, and the words I put in here, will tell. Well, mostly the words.
What is a hero?
According to the Oxford Dictionary
A person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
The chief male character in a book, play, or film, who is typically identified with good qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize. (There are separate entries for hero and heroine which are in essence interchangeable.)
(In mythology and folklore) a person of superhuman qualities and often semi-divine origin, in particular one whose exploits were the subject of ancient Greek myths.
I’m gonna stick to the term hero, for simplicity’s sake, writing “or heroine” “he or she” etc gets tedious. None of this is meant as misogynist crap, and anyone who accuses me of being one can go and fuck themselves.
So, Frodo is the hero of The Lord of the Rings? Lancelot is a hero in the Arthurian myth? Luke Skywalker is the hero of the original Star Wars trilogy?
No, no, and yes.
Frodo is an addict who hasn’t any choice in the matter, if he wants to beat the addiction, and avoid getting butchered by the Nazgul, he has to go; Sam is the bloody hero because he does have a choice and is willing to sacrifice everything to get the thing done. Lancelot is fucking King Arthur’s wife, in the literary world he may be a hero (because PR) but in the stories he betrays his liege. Luke Skywalker chooses, well, sort of, to fight the Empire, but only after his aunt and uncle are crisped.
The problem with heroes in literature for me is really the one thing that makes a hero exceptional, to the narrative, the… dun dun duuun… quest. It’s always some save the world shit in fantasy. Drop the golden condom in the river before midnight or the world will end sort of quest. A hero without a quest is like football (or soccer for you Yanks!) without the ball, though it would be funny to watch football without the feet.
The quest must be worthy of the hero, otherwise they send the boy to much out the stables. Okay, Heracles did that, but there’s always exceptions to the rule, and Heracles is really more of a mythical hero than the shining knight kind of dude. But I digress. So we get the save of the world shit, because otherwise a band of mercenaries will do.
The world can be small, as in “Save the princess, she is my world” or it can be bigger, as in “save the city before the zombies come through”. Then we also have the save the literal world shit. Anyway, the hero is always noble, just, and plays by the rules, the role model for every child (if it weren’t for butchering various racial stereotypes as monsters trope).
The shining do-gooders, the paragons of virtue, the blablabla. Strictly speaking the entire literary hero thing is more a child of monotheistic savior bullshit, now that I think about it. The single, usually, white guy (or girl) who sets out to defeat virgins and deflower monsters… or something like this. Myths have been christianized, much like holidays (happy yuletide by the by) to fit the churchly narrative. And as such you couldn’t have the role models of yore, who slaughtered enemies and drank and had fun with the ladies (or lords). You needed sanitized stuff, and this sanitized stuff has been going through fantastic literature ever since.
Until Grimdark, but that’s a different story.
To me, a hero is the guy who throws himself on the grenade to save his fellow soldiers; the guy who takes the sword blow meant for the general. It’s not the guy who comes home and the plebs shower him with flowers and such, those guys only have good PR. A fireman (or is it fireperson) who storms into a burning building to save a bunch of kids is doing his (or her) job, so is a pilot who lands an airplane.
The stereotypical hero, aside from having all the knighthood christianity sanitized shit going for him (or her), is good at everything, except the stuff he needs henchmen (or women) for. Because that’s a hero, in fantasy anyway. The bugger also has a destiny (cue the choir singing hosanna). He will get the girl, or she the guy, but mostly he the girl, although it would be interesting if the girl actually tells him to beat it because she wants to be with the chamber maid instead. Or he gets the prince, granted, that’s pretty progressive for our sanitized fantasy, but according to some priests gay sex is worse than pedophilia, so what do I know? In the end we have restored some sort of status quo, everyone is happy, and that’s that.
In the end, heroic tropes is everything you bloody hate about Disney movies.
Yay, that wasn’t so difficult after all.