About Heroes and Whole Cloth
Let’s talk about heroes. In literature, religion, mythology, they’re pretty much the heartbeat that makes the whole show chug along.
A billion thinkers have pontificated on why we love our heroes—the psychological, emotional, spiritual reasons we’re so drawn to, let’s call them what they are, archetypes.
I’m not one for giving straight-ahead advice, but here’s something everyone should try. Write a story, short or long, about a hero. Make it up from whole cloth. It doesn’t have to be good. But make him/her a good hero. One worth getting behind. It’s not that hard.
Here’s what you need. First, a great struggle. Great struggle doesn’t have to be saving the world, but the bigger, generally, the better. Universality plays well with the masses. Second, you need disorder. Call it chaos. Chaos comes in the form of a villain, an ideology, a crooked system, etc. In the Christian ethic, Satan is chaos. He’s a one-entity wrecking ball, and he’s a bastard that only a true hero can conquer.
That’s from a narrative angle. I make no spiritual assertions here, only to say that no matter what you think, it doesn’t get more heroic than the story of Jesus. He’s forsaken, and saves. He’s betrayed, and saves. He’s killed, and saves. He’s not taking—he’s giving. Uh… that’s a hero.
Now I’m no Bible-thumper, but I can recognize a hero. Let’s switch gears. Remember the movie, Shane? One of the all-time greatest heroes. He’s right up there. I saw the Logan movie recently and was reminded of the old western—they literally watch Shane in the course of their own story; actually not a bad idea. Good referencing. Both are kind of western in nature, hero journeys, self-sacrificing types. And they both have a name with only five letters.
Something about heroes with five letter names… I digress.
So if you haven’t seen Shane, too bad. You had fifty years to get on the ball, and you blew it. Shane comes out of nowhere. He’s a man that’s not afraid of the great outdoors, the elements, all the things that nature can throw at him. He wanders the west, not saying much, not hurting anybody, just a man and what he can do to tame the great beast that is the unknown.
For me, this is heroic in itself. But it doesn’t make him a genuine hero. We need that great struggle and that chaos.
He’s got it from all sides. First, he has to take care of some bad dudes that want to steal from all the decent people on the prairie. He doesn’t want to do it—you can tell his better angels are calling him to a life of peace, but Shane knows there’s no peace without a fight. A hero can’t walk away from great struggle. It’d be like a fish taking a walk along the shoreline. And there’s more. He forms an unspoken love with the wife of the good man that has taken him in. He wins her love, because women love heroes, but, and this is where it’s good, he doesn’t act on that love. He protects her and the good man but makes no romantic moves. That wouldn’t be cool. It wouldn’t be heroic. They knew about the bro-code in the fifties. I bet they knew about it in 50 A.D. I mean, it’s the bro-code.
Really, Shane is perfect. He’s the kind of complex dude that can somehow keep it simple through the whole bloody fracas. He’s a hero. And I’ll be a stickler: he’s not just heroic, he’s a freaking hero. This is the difference between the essence of character and the manifestation of character. It’s why he’s a classic, archetypal. That’s why Marvel is still referencing him in their mutant movie. (Which is actually pretty good)
From Harry Potter to Luke Skywalker, you’ll find similar traits in your big-time heroes. There’s books about the hero’s journey but they’re all kind of obvious. It’s tinkering with the formula that can be fun. Write your own hero. Or hell, be your own. Anything’s possible.
Onwards and upwards. Cheers. See you after.