Heroic Heroes (How I Love Them)

In all the speculation about the soon-to-come Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie, a few people have expressed their hope that the filmmakers will not do to Edmund what they did to Peter in Prince Caspian — sap him of […]
on Dec 1, 2010 · No comments

In all the speculation about the soon-to-come Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie, a few people have expressed their hope that the filmmakers will not do to Edmund what they did to Peter in Prince Caspian — sap him of his nobility. Peter in that unfortunate interpretation was not the hero I remember in the books or even in the BBC movies; he was pettier, perhaps more relatable, but not nearly so much of a hero. I missed him.

I’m partial to heroic heroes. They’re one major reason I’m drawn to fantasy; this genre suits them. I love characters who have high ideals and principles, who will fight for their beliefs, and who, when challenged, don’t fall. I love men who are men and women who are women, and I love characters who are so good they are larger than life and they make want to be good too. I love characters in whom I see glimpses of Christ.

Last year a new editing client of mine was writing a book about young teen boys who get trapped in a cave-in. She was writing the book to tie in with a character curriculum, so she wanted to use the story to teach particular character qualities. A potential editor had informed her that in order to be believable, the characters couldn’t be so mature and principled. They had to be whiny, call each other names, fight more, disobey their parents, et al. She was really concerned about this. I told her that it wasn’t so; that in order to be believable, they had to struggle. But that didn’t mean they had to fail in their struggles.

I know that there are no truly good people in this world. I know that there is no perfection but that which we see in the face of Christ. But that is why I want to see heroes in fiction. They comfort my heart, they inspire me, and they remind me of who I’m supposed to be. They teach me to love holiness, for they show me that holiness is beautiful.

So bring on the heroic heroes, no matter how the world may scoff. This reader loves them — and I suspect I am not alone.

E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of Lorehaven.com and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. Krysti says:

    Rachel, I’m with you on this one!

    I couldn’t believe how Peter’s character was damaged in that last movie (I said some pretty pithy things about the whole movie too in my blog).

    I’m looking forward to seeing the Dawn Treader, and I hope hope hope that this group will have caught enough flak over the last movie’s flaws to not repeat them in this one!

  2. Rachel, thank you. This is particularly helpful as I begin edits on my last of The Lore of Efrathah.


  3. I love this post.

    And I so agree about Peter. I didn’t like the way they made the kids break the window and hide in the first movie and I didn’t like how petty Peter and Edmund and Prince Caspian were in the second movie.

    Wendy Lawton was talking about “good girl” books yesterday. You may find that post interesting. I think there is a need for heroes in all genres.

    And Jonathan Rogers had interesting post today in which he discussed Reepicheep’s brand of heroics a little bit. I thought what Rogers said was interesting. It is when we are not afraid of losing our lives that we can be heroic.

  4. Another thought on this — I would love it, so much, if nonchristian readers were able to say to me, “I was drawn to God because in your stories” — in all of our stories — I saw a vision of humanity I had never seen before.”

  5. Zoe says:

    I think it depends on the story. LOTR would have been so much less . . . epic . . . if Aragorn had been a shallow coward who took three books to learn to be brave and selfless. On the other hand, it would also have been far less powerful if Frodo had overcome the power of the One Ring and come away unscathed.

    But I do agree, it’s important to have real heroes, people we can admire and strive to be like, people who are examples of what to do -right.- Personally, I find it interesting when there is a character like that alongside a very flawed one, because then I relate to the flawed character learning from the nobler, wiser character, and I feel like I am learning along with them.

  6. shastastwin says:

    Agreed. That was the downfall in Faramir’s representation in the film of The Two Towers. I like struggling heroes, but they aren’t really heroes if they fail all the time. That’s less interesting than heroes who succeed.

  7. Steve says:

    In real life there are real heroes. And I’m not just talking about the police, fireman and military. Every day people just like you and me run up to cars that have been in bad accidents, with no regard to what we may see, just to help a stranger. We run into burning buildings to help someone and we defend off thugs attacking the weak. I really think when people need to be brave and stand up against danger most will do it. It’s not heroes that we lack, it’s the circumstances to be heroes. Books, especially fantasy, give us the adventures that bring out that hero in us. That’s why we not only relate but desire the chance to be a hero if not just in our imagination.

  8. Bethany J. says:

    Hurray! This is all so true, and makes me feel better about the more heroic characters in my WIP. I used to be a little embarrassed about them, and felt like they were too good to be true, but they DO have inner struggles. They can be both heroic and believable!

  9. Ken Rolph says:

    I’ve had to think carefully about this one. It seems to be an indicator of cultural difference. It’s the combination of heroes and success. I didn’t actually know that this had gone missing. I thought the foundation of American speculative heroes was the heroes journey, from Joseph Campbell via Christopher Vogler. All those writers out there learning the template and fillling in the blanks.

    I’ve been told that the foundational day of celebration for Americans is Thanksgiving. This celebrates a win-win situation. I don’t know how true this is. But the fundamental day of celebration for Australians is Anzac Day. This celebrates a defeat. In some instances a slaughter. Young men running into Turkish guns and dying at a rate of 1,000 every half hour. They didn’t succeed. They didn’t “win”. They were defeated but withdrew in good order. These are our heroes.

    So our foundational myths are not about prosperity found in the new world, but about the courage to take the defeat. Tolkien looked somewhat at this in his long essay Beowulf: the monster and the critics. He talked about the Viking theory of courage. Let’s face it, we are all going to die in the end. So why hold onto something, why sacrifice your life, why stand up for something. Before Christ this had to be done without hope.

    Eventually even Christopher Vogler figured this out. In his third edition of The Writer’s Journey he talks about what he has learned from various cultures around the world. He uses the unfortunate term “herophobic”. This is the stance of “I’m right and there must be something wrong with those who disagree with me”.

    It’s interesting that the name of Faramir came up in the discussion. LOTR is not an American work. Faramir was played by an Australian, David Wenham. He was a hero who “fell”. What is wrong with that? Do we say that only those who succeed are heroes? What does that tell us about our vision of the world.

    This is part of my personal study at the moment. I’m working on a larger work and obviously reading Vogler and others, just to learn HOW I should be writing. But I find myself wading through a mass of assumptions I cannot quite believe in.

    You may have heard that Australia is in drought. It was until just recently. Then it started to rain. Farmers were happy, But the rain didn’t stop. Now we are in flood, grain has fallen into the sodden earth, sheep are eaten by flies, cherries are split on the trees. The rain will cause lush growth in the bush, but eventually it will dry out and become a fuel load. Bushfires will start and the land will burn. In a land where the major cycle of the seasons is drought, flood, fire, no hero can claim “I conquered all”. “I survived” is the best boast that can be made. And probably not even that. There is a small literary magazine named Go Down Swinging. That’s what we expect of our heroes. They are outclassed by life, but if they go down swinging we still respect them. We know they are going down. Heroic heroes cannot be believed. They are some kind of delusional wish fulfilment.

    Faramir went down swinging. That’s courage.

  10. What Lewis and Tolkien knew well, and Peter Jackson, Adamson, and Apted apparently do not, is that heroism is not invincibility or success. True heroes, protagonists or not, can and do fail; if the heroes of your story can’t fail, that’s either because you’ve made their non-essential qualities too strong or because you’ve made their problems too small. And the truly important thing is that no character, heroic or not, should fail by acting contrary to his character, such as by having a character who will have to win through *moral* courage act immaturely in the middle of the story, or by sabotaging himself (except through an established character flaw).

What do you think?