The Most Memorable Kind of Hero

Is this true that a memorable hero of incredible wisdom and strength can only show full worth when pitted against an incredibly powerful villain?.  The similarities between villains and heroes are often noted in fiction. So how does an author make a hero shine? The hero must have a type of strength greater than the villain, but not too much, because then it is no memorable thing for him to defeat the villain. However, if the hero lacks the amount of power the villain possesses, would it even be possible to defeat this extraordinary antagonist?

To understand how this works, the concept of power in a story needs to be defined. A person can be physically more powerful than others. One of the most famous fictional characters with this trait is Jean Valjean from Les Misérables. His strength was so notable that when he rescued a person pinned under a cart the police inspector suspected Jean might be the escaped convict he was trying to track down.

However a physically strong person can be defeated by someone who is mentally stronger or smarter. Such as is the case with Sherlock Holmes. When his creator Arthur Conan Doyle tired of writing his detective stories, he decided it was time for Holmes to die. But, he had to pit him against Moriarty, a more intelligent criminal, and not some thug who simply had greater brute strength.

Then, there is a social strength which is usually the following or the popularity that the protagonist uses against the enemy. This is prevalent in dystopian novels in which the enemy is society. In many of the modern YA versions of this genre, such as the Hunger Games trilogy, the protagonist must sway the opinion of the populace. However, even in ancient legends such as ones about Robin Hood, the hero has to gain the support of the people in order to overcome an antagonist like the sheriff of Nottingham.

However, there is one more type of strength. Let’s return to the first protagonist mentioned, Jean Valjean, to describe moral strength. It is the ability to know and do what is right. The character who is not as smart nor not as strong and doesn’t have public support sticks his neck out when the villain comes around and seems sure to be defeated but ends up winning anyway. This is often repeated in plots that resemble the movie High Noon. Because of the hero’s moral character, another person is willing to step in and help.

However, the morally gray character is growing in popularity as a hero. Perhaps readers like this kind of hero because any protagonist who is absolutely perfect seems unreal. The misbehaving character with the physical ability to do almost everything seems to have an edge on the “Goody Two-Shoes” kind of characters who are near perfection in behavior. The one reason why morally gray heroes do not always fulfill expectations is because their tendency towards villainy does not cause them problems. So, they never learn from their moral errors and still manage to get the right thing done.

This brings us back to the hero with moral strength. Jean Valjean had gotten away with doing the wrong thing, and even allowed others to do the same, resulting in a woman’s death. This sense of debt owed, rather than an attitude of moral perfection is one reason his hero type is one of the most memorable and keeps reappearing, generation after generation in books. 

This entry was posted in Characters, Creativity, Drama and movies, Literary devices, Writer's resource and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Most Memorable Kind of Hero

  1. Strength is one of the many characteristics I look for in a character. Jean Valjean is one of my favorite protagonists in many ways

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