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Article / Review - Part Two

 

Why Are Our Heroes Getting Darker?

I know this is a terrible request in my first article, but I am going to ask you to close your eyes. Go ahead! After putting in a few hours of hard reading here at Fantasy-Faction, I think you’ve earned it.

Now, picture a hero. A generic, off-label, all purpose hero. Flesh out the details: gender, age, hair color, clothes, weapons, and mission. Close your eyes and picture the first heroic figure that comes to mind.

Don’t over think it, and don’t worry – I’ll wait.

Back with me? Good!

If you are up to the challenge, post a description of your heroic icon in the comments below. And remember- this is Science™, so be honest about what you pictured!

Now, in an attempt to lead by example, I offer you the following.

As a budding writer, it is a bit embarrassing to admit that my template for a hero is a blend of Arthurian archetypes and Western ideals. But if you are anything like me, chances are your hero had at least a few of the following qualities:

– shiny armor
– white clothes
– blonde hair
– a blinding smile
– piercing eyes
– a shiny weapon
– a mission of justice
– a penis

(As an aside, it’s nice to know that, in spite of 20+ years of education, marketing and mass media is still so effective at programming my brain for me.)

lord of valor by chrisnfy85Awkward as it is to confess, this blueprint my subconscious created is pretty interesting. Even more fascinating is my response to the next question:

Would I bother to read (or write) about Mr. Blonde McPaladinpants?

My answer is a resounding “heck no!” And judging by bestseller lists in the fantasy genre, I’m not alone. Squeaky clean, pink cheeked, maiden-saving do-gooders are just, well, predictable. We know their story because we’ve heard it every day of our lives. They live by a code that is unrealistic, they carry out tasks that are altruistic, they succeed with nigh comedic regularity, and they are almost always rewarded in spite of their insistence that they thrive on little more than righteousness and sunshine.

Blech.

It seems that there are four main problems with this heroic archetype:

1. They have an extremely naive code and worldview, which makes it hard to respect them.
2. They act with no ulterior motives or expectation of reward, which makes the entire story unrealistic.
3. They succeed in spite of everything, including themselves, which makes it hard to relate to their experience.
4. They are about as diverse as the cast of the Brady Bunch, which makes it hard for most of us to imagine ourselves in their shoes.

The Advent by EireenIt’s true. We live in a grossly unheroic world. Most people over the age of ten can tell you that believing something is true does not make it so, and most people over the age of fifteen know that when someone offers you a hand, you’d better be prepared to give them a bit of cash or help them move a couch.

Traditional heroes don’t line up with our world on a good day. And this mismatch is all the more insulting for those of us following the fantasy genre. Who among us has not thought about Aragorn’s coronation and let off a bitter laugh as we try to reverse an atomic wedgie?

We’re dorks. We get picked on, knocked down, tongue-tied, and most of the time, defeated. We do our own awkward battle in a world where cute boys stare past us and pretty girls forget we exist, which makes marrying them at the end of the story kind of difficult. We come in every color and shape, and according to society’s rather narrow standards, most of them aren’t ideal. We do the right thing and help one another, and get laughed at for it.

No, the problem with the classical heroes isn’t the heroes- it’s the stories they live in. The truth is we grew up with these do-gooders as our idols, and we try to live up to their ideals every day. But we know how their stories actually play out, and reading about their happy endings insults our intelligence and serves as an ugly reminder: We’re probably never going to come out looking that good.

The Prince of Nothing 1 by CASOLARIWe want the truth instead. The more we see the bad in the world, the more we need heroes who experience similar troubles and survive them. Forget triumphing over their challenges, or even meeting them – we just want someone who makes it to the next act without becoming a complete monster.

Over time, we’ve come to demand realistic change in our heroes. When tragedy strikes, the protagonist has to be altered by it. Their actions, motivations, and even worldview are put on the line – and that is what we hunger for – because every day that we live in our own chaotic world, our worldview is challenged.

We need heroes we can look up to and learn from. We can’t respect a hero enough to admire them, though, if we are savvier and less naive than they are. So we seek out heroic figures that are jaded, weary, and watchful. At times, their doubt in the world is well founded, offering us a cautionary tale. Other times, their mistrust is countered with a reminder that there is still good in people and in the world – a reminder that we desperately need in our own lives.

Planetary Alignment by Julie DillonWe need a hero whose motivations are in flux, because our own intentions are constantly changing. It is not enough to see a hero claim they simply want to do good. Even if their intentions are admirable, we must fully understand them to trust their actions and believe in their fight. Flaws, such as selfishness, greed, or revenge tinge their mission with reality, and remind us of our own mixed motivations. These flaws also serve as a path to redemption or enlightenment for some heroes, reminding us that we have a choice to make in how our intentions shape our actions.

We need heroes to reflect our experiences. Success is never guaranteed in our world, and it should not be guaranteed in theirs. Stories that offer cycles of triumph and failure seem much more realistic, and speak to our own personal victories and defeats. When we are not certain that a hero with prevail over the odds set against them, or even their own flaws, we celebrate each step forward as a mirror to our own. When they lose, we grieve just as deeply, and take this as a change to reflect on our own losses.

daidoji defender by crutzWe need heroes to reflect ourselves. As fantasy as a genre grows in popularity, the audience expands in terms of diversity. Gone are the days when an Anglo-Saxon man is sufficient in all roles. We want to see heroes which carry a part of us – some women, some men, some black, some Chinese, some 15, and some 65. Books and movies which explore these new fantasy heroes take risks, of course, but we seek them because there is a piece of us in even our most basic descriptors. Furthermore, the impact which these features – age, race, religion – have on a character help to explain our own histories.

Dragon Knight by Keun-chul JangWe ask for these new, more realistic heroes, darker in attitude, surroundings, and world. We want them because we seek a cipher for ourselves and our lives. Being able to relate to their appearance, worldview, intentions and experiences is key to trusting them with our personal and intellectual growth.

In the end, the heart of a hero has not changed much, though. Regardless of their world-weary attitude, their mixed intentions, their string of losses and their increasingly diverse exterior, the soul of a hero still sits in their basic act of doing good in a bad world. They are changing, yes, but I believe this change is simply maturing.

The wonderful thing is, as we watch them mature, the genre matures with them. It’s not enough for fantasy to be escapist anymore – we seek reflection, introspection, and understanding about ourselves and the world around us in our fantasy literature. Having darker, more complete heroes as guides offers a gateway to this enlightenment.

Title image by Chris McGrath.
This article was originally published September 25, 2011.

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45 Comments

  1. Anne Lyle says:

    Great article, Tegan, and I agree with you – a flawed hero is much easier to believe in nowadays. We lost our innocence several decades ago, and Mr Blondie McPaladinpants doesn’t cut it any more.

    I have to confess I didn’t imagine anyone quite that squeaky clean in the first place, perhaps because I was forewarned by the title (and perhaps because my own protagonist is no paladin either). Male, yes, well-armed and with a steely glint in his eye…but also grimy and grizzled from surviving one too many battles against an implacable foe. More Logen Ninefingers than Sir Launcelot :)

  2. Matt Walters says:

    I think your observations are spot-on. I would also say that any era’s hero archetype is precisely what that era needs. You’re correct that we need flawed heroes experiencing the same trash events as we do and surviving in order to take them seriously. I think the Chaucerian Knight existed only because of the puritanical ideals set in place by that era’s media and marketing. That type of character was marketable then because it was what the more powerful (and those with most of the money) wanted to see, if not necessarily what they believed. I may color with my opinion, but I’ve heard it said that characters such as the Miller, the Cook, the Merchant, and, of course, the saucy Wife of Bath, were more popular with the majority of the populace because they were more relatable or lowbrow and entertaining. The latter of these is something I love exploring in my own mind and [hopefully] subsequently in my own work.

    Admittedly, when I pictured a hero, I pictured someone more aligned to a character I would write. That is, a disillusioned, perhaps slightly angry young woman with a less-than-ideal, non-“media attractive” physicality and visible touches of lowbrow/ subculture style. I’m a child of the 90’s disillusionment movement and I regret that, over time, it has changed into this hipster-ey bullpat. I prefer my dissatisfaction with the status quo to be tinged with action and anger rather than apathy or irony, thank you!

  3. Very nice article, Tegan, and I generally concur (but then, I’m a bit biased on this topic.:) )

    I have a question though: Do you (or any of the readers here or on the forums) see the pendulum swinging back the other way at some point? Can you imagine a time where a predominant number of heroes move back to the shining armor and pure goals of the genre’s past? If so, what do you think could cause this: over-saturation of the market? Gray-Hero fatigue? A fantasy blockbuster that causes a tectonic shift? And how do you think that new-old hero would be changed by what’s been done with heroes/heroines and their anti- cousins?

    (Okay, that was more than “a question”, I admit.)

    I’m going to toss this up over in the Forum, but I think it might be interesting to see what people think here as well.

    • Autumn2May says:

      Good question! Here’s the link to the forum post if any of you are interested. :)

      http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/fantasy-book-discussion/what-could-make-a-shiny-hero-work-for-you

    • Overlord says:

      Hahaha – Yes Mr Hulick, I think you are living proof that a writer can make dark, dark characters like-able ;-)

      I personally don’t see it ever swinging back to light characters. The way you phrased the question actually made me think… there are hardly any novels released recently with really, really light characters. I mean, you look at Name of the Wind, Painted Man, Way of the Kings, Mistborn, Mazalan, First Law, all those series are based on dark-ish characters.

      I think the problem with ‘light’ characters is they come across as pompous. A good example is when you look at say ‘Othello’ by Shakespeare… Othello is in all sense of the word… a hero. He is brave, a great fighter, always wins in battle, has a beautiful wife and is a great talker… yet… we roll our eyes at his speeches of greatness.

    • Tegan Beechey says:

      Douglas,

      Fascinating question!

      I think there is the chance, actually. Really ‘pure’ characters come about in times of immense social upheaval- just think Superman. I suspect this might have something to do with a need for simpler stories and more gratifying endings when everything is so frightening and stressful.

      Right now, the world is chaotic and sometimes painful, but we still have enough emotional flexibility left to deal with heartbreak and loss in a story. If, on the other hand, we find ourselves surrounded on all sides by heartbreak again? Well, then, I think we may have another time where purity and heroism are sorely needed.

    • Gretchen Winters says:

      Yes and for several reasons.

      1) Believing in and being motivated to act towards justice creates agency. That means it gives a character a reason to stick their neck out and take risks and fight.

      Without that possibility, you’re left with forcing characters to take action. You use other motivations – someone they love is being held hostage, or you promise a heft reward, or you give them a semi-suicidal “who cares anyway at least this entertains me” outlook. Sometimes a writer has to really reach for something to get a basically selfish person off their ass. These characters can be wonderful fun and they can make great stories, but they’re not always enough to carry out an entire arc. (Imagine luring Frodo to the end with promises of wealth – it wouldn’t work.) Some stories need a different motivation. Or at least the possibility of it.

      I don’t know about you, but if I heard a strange noise at night while out alone, I’d do a little move I like to call “getting the hell out of here” which has served me well. In a horror story, they stay or investigate because they are stupid or ignorant of the danger. In a story about a hero, s/he stays and investigates because s/he is choosing act bravely – in spite of the danger – and ensure the safety of others. (Or because of the indomitable human spirit to explore depending on the context.) That’s agency. And it’s respectable.

      2) Because we often want to read stories about people who get off said ass and DO something. We continue to be attracted to bravery and heroism in real life and in stories. And many of us attempt to be a part of it – I know people who rescue animals, who donate blood, who volunteer at shelters, who work with disadvantaged populations, who turn around and help every day even when it’s hard and the odds are overwhelming. You probably know people like that, too. And you may be a person like that at least at times.

      3) The point is, if you go too far in the other direction, it’s just another flat stereotype albeit a selfish and boring one verses an unrealistically altruistic and selfless one. That gets old and predictable. Selfishness is stunningly predictable as a matter of fact. It always chooses whatever pleases itself and that tends to be whatever feels good i.e. wealth, comfort, and power. Formulaic, even.

      Heroes struggle between those two natures – the selfish and the selfless. That struggle is human. Tragic heroes fail to overcome whatever flaw dogs them through the story. They chose wrongly at a fatal moment. (Or a selfish person becomes a tragic hero by choosing rightly at a pivotal moment.) They are people out of tune with themselves and what they believe.

      Heroes are people who, while tempted, while fallible, believe in justice over revenge. They strive to better themselves. They work toward equality and good. They will choose to put another’s needs above their own from time to time because sometimes you have to be the good you need. They believe strength is not a reason to bully or demean, but a responsibility to uphold and create. And they use their strengths and resources to do that.

      Heroes and protagonists aren’t always the same thing. And that’s fine. We need protagonists too. (But we tend to like the ones capable of a moment of heroism.) Your enemy to a hero is the opposite coin – the same struggle, but s/he falls on the other side. S/he chooses to be less than what s/he could be and to care about less than what s/he has the capacity to care about. S/he – no matter how wealthy or how powerful – chooses to be small instead of choosing to transcend the self. Do we want permission to be small sometimes? Hell yes. But we also want permission to be bigger than ourselves and to be connected with each other – that’s the hero.

      4) Sometimes we want to read something that makes us feel better about our lives and ourselves and the world we live in and the people we share it with. Heroes and heroic stories do that. We don’t have to be desperate to want to be better. We just have to be alive. Sometimes we want to be energized and refreshed and inspired. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

  4. Autumn2May says:

    Great article, thanks for posting it! :)

  5. Chrysoula says:

    What makes this extra-interesting to consider is that the classic Knight in Shining Armor was no Galahad. No, he was Galahad’s father. :-) And he was about as dark and conflicted as any modern hero: sleeping with his King’s wife, turning into a mad wild-man when she rejected him; a peerless killer whose passions led to the downfall of Camelot.

    I think the most unpopular ‘Shining Heroes’ are the ones who are shallow, who are living embodiments of an ideal rather than fully formed personalities.

    • Tegan Beechey says:

      You’re dead on on that, Chrysoula- The classical heroes aren’t particularly neat and tidy as individuals. I think that the ‘white knight’ archetype emerged much later, and stuck around thanks to (SOME) fairy tales. But good lord, how boring!

  6. Chrysoula says:

    Could also toss in ‘heroes’ like Odysseus and Achilles, neither of whom were exactly Hectors.

  7. My favorite character is Raistlin from the Dragonlance series. Dark and slightly evil, but still a hero in the end.

  8. Tegan Beechey says:

    Thanks guys! This was so much fun to write- I can’t wait for my next article!

  9. Khaldun says:

    Tyrion Lannister FTW.

  10. kiwi365 says:

    I think that a knight in shining armor can work as long as he has a sidekick to temper the pomposity. Think Don Quixote and Sancho Panza???

    • Tegan Beechey says:

      Interesting observation, Kiwi! I think that really may be the case. Perfection mixed with either silliness or gruffness seems to mute the irritating aspects of the ‘pure’ character. Kind of like how lemonade is way better than pure sugar water?

      • kiwi365 says:

        Exactly, especially if that sidekick takes the mickey out of the hero, makes it more palatable i think. Or such is my theory anyway.

  11. kiwi365 says:

    Whoops, should also say, Brilliant article, i really enjoyed it.

  12. Excellent observations, Tegan. I couldn’t agree with you more except that my concept of a hero is no longer the bright and shiny type. When you asked us to imagine our ideal hero, I automatically thought of the dark version.

    This goes really well into what I’m planning to blog about on Wednesday: books and characters that explore the gray between good and evil. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to link to your blog as an example of how things have changed.

    • Tegan Beechey says:

      Not at all, Laura!

      I have to say, I love darker heroes, and it was weird to see under the hood of my subconscious. Thankfully, the heroes I write about are generally cowards and murderers, often female :P so I guess the stereotypes aren’t that powerful.

      Link your blog entry on here, too, when you are done! I’d love to read it!

      • Gretchen Winters says:

        Actually, females are stereotyped to be cowards (and even murderers when they aren’t too cowardly) pretty often in history. Are you sure your subconscious didn’t trick you?

        Because it sounds like it may have.

        • Tegan Beechey says:

          Ha! Maybe, though historically, women are stereotyped as cowards by their inaction, where my female characters have to deal with the cowardice of taking the wrong action and living with the consequences. Though obviously there is still a great deal of stereotyping in terms of how their guilt manifests. Ah, the archetypical gender roles and behaviors…

  13. I really agree with this and others have given a similar opinion to mine and in a much better way, so I’ll just nod and add my, “you’re totally right,” to the list. :3

  14. Gretchen Winters says:

    My hero was:

    *female
    *wearing black and dark colours
    *holding a gun
    *in an aggressive pose

    And I am tired of shying away from the heroic. I am tired of lauding the mediocre as somehow satisfying. Is life hard? You bet it is. Do people suffer? Do we lose faith? Yes and yes.

    But are there heroes?

    Yes.

    I’ve seen them. And in some shining moments, I’ve even been them.

    Give me a real hero, with flaws, sure, but not a jerk without aim or care. We don’t have to be reactionary. And in this day, how I’ve grown up, it’s pretty damn impossible to find anything “heroic”.

    What you’re talking about is the backlash to realizing that you don’t get to be the hero unless you suffer and chose good. You’re talking about the realization that being good is WORK. It isn’t effortless or easy and it doesn’t always get recognized. But it’s worth it. And heroes know that. They aren’t good because they want accolades, they’re good because they believe in good. Because to be anything less is a betrayal of themselves and how they see the world.

    If you don’t believe in good, if you don’t strive for it even when you make mistakes, if you don’t run after it, seek it, and try your best to become it, you’re just some guy. If you haven’t sat up at night and wondered if it was all worth it, if you have never wondered if you were an idiot to believe in reason and justice in a world filled with idiotic and blind selfishness, you haven’t fought like a hero.

    The world needs heroes. We need to know that’s an option. Real ones, not stupid simpering stereotypes. And not selfish idiots who end up involved in some kind of exciting situation and survive, either.

    There will be another backlash to the robbery and corruption of heroes that started in the 80s/90s. And I hope it carries real heroes in its wake to add to the collection of stories we’ve told each other for thousands of years.

    Because if you’ll just look, you’ll find this is an old cycle and oft repeated.

    Come over to the bright side. Stand on the side of heroes again.

    • Tegan Beechey says:

      Fantastic observations! I think your right about the importance of choice. It’s all about choice. We don’t want heroes who choose good because it is easy, we want heroes who choose good because it is right.

      I also think you hit on an important point in your understanding of your self as a hero. There are lions within so many people, and so many of us have seen them stand and fight for something important. I think this is a sign that the bright, shining heroes have taught us most of what we know.

      I do agree that we should stand by our heroes. We can’t reject good behavior because it is too simple. That being said, I do think darker stories may make sense- because they help to shape the difficulty of the heroes choice. That choice is what draws us in. When that decision is as complex as the choices we make when we choose to stand and do good- well, I think that is when we see ourselves.

      Here’s to your gun-wielding dame, and the passion in you that drives her! :-)

    • I want to be Gretchen’s new BFF. I will stand in the coliseum and be her plant to start the cheering when she gives her “stand on the side of heroes again” speech.

      Loved, loved, loved both of your comments, Gretchen. :)

  15. Tegan, as you requested, here’s the blog where I reference this one. I hope you enjoy. You started a whole stream of ideas in me. :)

    http://lauraleenutt.blogspot.com/2011/09/gray-between-good-and-evil-why-weve.html

    • Tegan Beechey says:

      Hey Laura, I checked out your article and it was awesome! You should submit at FF sometime- I think you could do some great work on here! You have some interesting thoughts on the history of our heroes, as well- and it does seem like we sway between gray and white hat heroes, for the most part. I suspect we might move back to white hat at some point, but who knows! Anyway, thanks for sharing.

  16. [...] Beechey’s excellent article on the trend towards dark heroes in our favorite fantasy stories (If you haven’t read it, click here to do so!).  First I would like to mention that in the exercise proposed in her article (to imagine a [...]

  17. [...] in part by this post by one of my cohorts at Fantasy Faction, I started thinking about heroes again–what I look [...]

  18. Anonymous says:

    Lol it had only one of those things;
    He was a tall slightly stocky man with dull brown eyes that told of drink and drug, a black leather jerkin adorning his shoulders, an iron circlet dull on the crown of his head and a dull black blade at his side, the ten knives on his belt all glistened but with blood rather than light. Oh and he was on his way to commit regicide.

  19. Stephen S says:

    Great article! I really enjoyed it. While I think that you are spot on in this, I do think the issue is more complex. Fantasy literature is still a relative newcomer in the field of literature, and sadly it still is not taken seriously or felt to be more the fare of children and adolescents. However it is maturing. Like any literature/fiction genre, it goes through changes and growth. In its beginning and childhood, it represented the ideals of childhood. As children we looked at our parents as perfect heroes, paladins and paragons of virtue and righteousness. So it was in fantasy. It was very black and white, good vs evil, heroes vs villains. Heroes were good for goodness sake, and villains were evil for the sake of evil. And no matter the obstacle, the hero was neither swayed nor discouraged. And in the end, he overcame all difficulties and was victorious. It is a very childlike dream. I think now fantasy is growing into adolescents. We are not only embracing, we are seeking the tragic hero. The hero who is torn, tempted, fallen but manages to fight through the personal struggle. And we are broadening our horizons, breaking away from the stereotypical hero and embracing heroes of different gender and races and sexual orientation. I suspect that we will finally see fantasy grow into adulthood with truly mature characters that are flawed. We are seeing the beginnings of that now. There will always be a place for the classic paladin, I know that I still enjoy reading a lighthearted fantasy novel where good vs evil and in the end good/love conquers all (as long as I am expecting that). How many of us enjoy reading the classics, not just for their literary genius but also their nostalgia? But I think the flawed hero is here to stay. Because we are adults, and fantasy is finally growing into its adult stature in literature. Fantasy is finally growing into its place in literature, and making the world notice that it isn’t just escapist but also a viable form of art

    • How is fantasy a relative newcomer to the field? What do you mean to say that fantasy is only maturing now?

      I’m sorry, but I cannot help but completely disagree with you. You seem to be following the terribly outdated idea that fantasy as we know it today started with Tolkien and Lewis.

      Have you heard of Mervyn Peake? Have you heard of Titus Groan? It was published in 1946, a full eight years before The Fellowship of the Ring. Titus Groan is packed with morally complex characters. There is no great hero, but only a series of selfish, brutal individuals.

      What about Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth? This was published in 1950. His characters are as morally grey as it gets. His writing is infinitely more enjoyable than that of the Tolkien strain.

      Why not go back further?

      Fantasy is arguably the oldest form of literature. Despite what people will say – The Iliad and Odyssey were not written as history, and were the product of the careful treatment of myth. Fantasy literature is as old as it gets and the tired morality that you are speaking of is only a recent phenomena.

  20. A good article…I’ll fully admit to being “old school” in that I prefer my heroes to be…well heroic. I think of Rob Roy as portrayed by Liam Neeson. He is a man that believes in honor (“”Honor is the gift a man gives himself.”) and others pay for his choices. Is he without flaw? No…but I respect his adherence to his beliefs and the fact that he takes responsibility even for words he pledged that he can’t fulfill because of the misdeeds of others. But speaking of heroes – his own wife has a heroic part to play in that movie. Willing to bare the burden in silence and willing to seek out others to save her husband even as he is on his own path to destruction.

    Another favorite hero of mine – is interestingly played by the same character. Oscar Schindler starts out as a war profiteer caring only about his own success and making his millions of the backs of slave labor. But he is transformed throughout the course of Schindler’s list and saves more than a thousand people. A great transition made all the more poignant because of how despicable he was early on.

    And speaking about despicable. One of the truly great character studies of recent memory is Deadwood’s Al Swearengen – a completely reprehensible character that unlike Schindler never transforms and is just as despicable at the end as he was in the beginning, and yet we can learn to understand and even respect him as a man who get things done and are willing to use him to do the dirty work that needs doing.

    In the end it all comes down to perspective. In my books I have two polarized characters. Both have pasts that are far from “shiny” and both are on a road to become better men. Hadrian is the more optimistic of the two, more likely to believe in the good of people, and do the right thing. Royce is the cynical one who believes that “good” is anything that benefits him and “bad” is anything that goes against his goals. Which is the more realistic one? To be honest I get emails from people on both sides, and I think it says more about how they perceive the world, then how I wrote the story.

    For me, I do believe that people are basically good and if placed in a situation that requires them to rise to the occasion, they will. The problem is not too many of those types of occasions arise in our day to day lives. Sure I pull over when I see a car stranded by the side of the road and give a stranger a lift. Could I be killed someday by doing so? Perhaps…but I think the chances are small and it seems like such a small thing to do.

    One of my favorite movies is Second Hand Lions and mainly because of Hubb’s speech that condenses what “every boy should know to be a man” It goes like this:

    “Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good. That honor, courage and virtue mean everything ; that power and money … money and power mean nothing. That good always triumphs over evil. And I want you to remember this…. that love….true love never dies. Remember that boy … remember that. Doesn’t matter if it is true or not, a man should believe in those things , because those are the things worth believing in…… got that ? ”

    Yeah, my glasses are rose colored and my drinking vessel half full, but I’d rather live and write about people with those types of mindsets then wallow in a morass that has me reaching for a Prozac or two. So I’ll continue to write about heroes…not all shiny and bright…but with dubious pasts and making tough choices, and having terrible consequences because of them. If only I ever read the tales, I’m okay with that…but so far I’ve been fortunate enough to have others feel similarly and follow me and my characters on the adventure.

  21. 00000 says:

    I think it’s because the world is getting darker.

  22. Very interesting post, I was wondering myself why our fantasy heroes (and fantasy in general) has been getting darker and darker.

    Of course, I have two words in the defence of not-so-dark heroes: Harry. Dresden.

  23. Amin Tarabay says:

    Doing the eye-closing exercise, my hero came out to be a man in his forties who was once naive and altruistic but has become cynical and jaded. His hair was black peppered with gray and his physique was hard and wiry and not big and muscular. He was not handsome in the traditional sense, maybe a few scars.

    This got me thinking….maybe all heroes at one time in their life start out as the classic blond hero type but time and events conspire to evolve them into real heroes. If thats not the case then it should be.

    A hero to me is simply someone that should not have been able to win the day but does. A coward who finds courage. A cynic who discovers faith. A jaded person that learns there is hope.

    Loved the article!!

  24. Elaine says:

    I appreciate the repost, this is a great topic to study. While some of the trends in what we are reading our changing, it takes a longer time for the generalized ideals to change. Granted, everyone has their own tastes, as well they should. I’m working on my second full length work so I’m really questioning my own tropes and trends. I’m seeing a lot of similiarities between the two stories, and I wonder if I’m retelling the same one? Or if I’m pulling in the same preferences?

    For the closed eyes exercise…
    “Dark. Of Hair, and clothes, and temperament. My heroes are in the dark, shades of grey, shadows. Theres also wind for some reason, because his long dark hair trails in the wind. The stance, is one in motion. Not a pose, unless it is one perfectly captured in time. This hero is always moving, even in stillness. The hero caries a secret, something terrible, and potent. Is he running from it? or running towards it? Either way, he is drawn, despite the obstacles… maybe because of them even. What he faces will stretch him beyond the limits, but something will get him through, or at the very least, accomplish whichever cause has drawn him in, reluctant or no.”

  25. Rosalia says:

    Fantastic article, really makes you stop and think!

    I’m happy to say the hero that I imagined is the one I’m currently writing, and although he has a penis, he is quiet different: 38, dark complexion and eyes, a refugee from an exotic land, black and tan robes (mage), studded and tattooed, ready for bloody revenge but with a damn good reason.

    Perhaps one of the best heroes recently written is Kvothe from The Kingkiller Chronicles. He’s a very complex, questionable, and inspiring character.

  26. LJ says:

    I pictured a woman with a streak of grey in her mostly brown hair and a sombre expression. She was wearing worn chainmail over a shirt and trousers and had a sword hanging at her waist. She looked tired but determined.

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