Friday, December 14, 2007

Hero Worship

Disclaimer: this is an entertainment blog and therefore the "heroes" discussed herein will be fictional, not actual people. You'll have to find a meaningful blog if you want to read about that.

In view of the DVR wasteland where a Heroes episode should have been, I was thinking a little about some of the other fictional heroes I’ve discovered through the years. I generally prefer flawed heroes to the golden boys – I think most people do. They’re more human. There’s something identifiable about a hero who has been chosen and forced into action against his or her nature or someone who, but for the whims of chance, illimitable funds or a superpower or two, could be us. Faith is more fun than poor, put-upon Buffy. Achilles, pouting in his tent, is more interesting than noble Hector, while that sneaky trickster Odysseus is more interesting still than Achilles. Wolverine is way more compelling than Superman.

One of the first heroes I latched onto was Bigwig (Thlayli) from Watership Down. This bruiser could have been nothing but the muscle, an enforcer, yet he put his faith in the little brainy fellows leading the rebellion and grew to be much more than a brute soldier. His bloody battle against General Woundwort was epic and his military experience was instrumental in finally freeing the colony. But Bigwig was more than a fighter; he was impatient, funny, grumpy, forgiving, loyal and loved a good story. Oh hell yeah - I'm talking about rabbits.

I fell a little in love with Howard Roark the first time I read The Fountainhead in the 1980s. This talented, brilliant, unrelenting man who knew what he wanted to do and did only that fascinated me. To be able focus entirely on the work you were creating, with no regard for fashion, fortune or fame, was a heady concept to someone struggling with the cliques of high school. I never delved too deeply into Ayn Rand’s Objectivist leanings, however, preferring to simply see her protagonist as an icon of individuality and creativity, unburdened by too much philosophy.

Medea, specifically the character in Euripides’s play of the same name, captured my attention for my senior essay at university. Not a heroine as such is usually found in the Greek tragedies, Medea is a classical hero whose fixed purpose - to avenge the wrong done to her and bring honor back upon herself – is the focus of the play. After she is betrayed by her husband, Jason, she does not veer from her task; she adopts the heroic creed of “hurt your enemies and help your friends” despite the fact that she has no friends left and her current enemies used to be people she loved. She takes on enormous forces (her husband, three kings, her affection for her children, the traditional and powerless position of women ruled by men, the civic conventions of the time) and vanquishes them all, using her clever brain and her skill with poison to do so. Classical heroes do not normally possess the craft and persuasive powers that Medea does (with the exception of Odysseus, and he is almost as conventionally amoral as she is) but her character needs these strengths as her female physicality will not carry her through. Although her final revenge is unthinkable– she murders her own children to hurt their father – she must do it as the unspoken rules of classical heroic conduct do not allow for half-accomplished revenge. She must destroy Jason’s house no matter the cost and she does so by entering a form of aristeia [a transcendental state in which the hero archetype is able to go beyond the capacity of normal human behavior]. Madwoman, foreigner, mother, victim - Medea was many things to the ancient Greeks; Euripides made her one of the only female heroes as well.

Everyone needs a hero in his or her life. Hopefully, yours is a neighbor or father or big sister. But if you’re having difficulty tracking down real flesh-and-blood inspiration, crack a book. Joseph Campbell believed the same hero wore a thousand faces, showing up over and over again in mythology throughout human history. That means there are innumerable heroes out there, just waiting for someone to turn their pages.

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