All About Fantasy Heroes
A hero is a mythical or real human being who, against overwhelming odds, fights adversity by feats of courage, intelligence, or strength. Like other previously only gender-specific words, hero can be used to describe any gender, although hero only applies to women. Often called a “born hero,” heroes are hailed as “hearts,” but also as people who inspire others and change their lives. Most often heroes are depicted as strong individuals who overcome great odds, yet humans are inherently timid or afraid. Defiant heroes are almost always depicted as masculine, while those with a more timid nature are often female. In general, it’s been suggested that good heroes are male, while the heroics performed by females are typically considered heroic acts.
While most of the world has a common idea of what constitutes a hero, defining what a hero is to you may be a matter of personal interpretation. Some people view a hero as a bundle of instincts or qualities, like courage or intelligence, and put heroes in categories that fall along the masculine and feminine dimensions of human nature. Others see a hero as a creature with a soul, a special blend of qualities, and thus a hero would be one with those qualities in its fullest perfection. Still others see a hero as an abstract concept, but one that can be understood and in some way parlayed into an idea of immortality.
In ancient Greece, three main Greek gods were identified as the mortal vessels carrying the souls of the dead souls into heaven. These three figures were Hercules, Demeter, and Perseus. Hercules was the strongest of the Greek gods and thus the bearer of the mighty steed, the Chariot. Demeter was the mother of the Gods and the embodiment of womanhood, since she was the mother of the Gods Demeter, Perseus, and Hercules. Finally, at the start of the Common Era, there was nothing else but Apollo, the God of the sun, who then became the pre-eminence figure for most of Greek Mythology.
The central concept behind Greek Mythology, especially concerning the achilles heel, was the belief that a hero could be forced to turn into a monster by the demands of his deeds. Achilles broke his leg so that he could climb onto the war chariot of Dionysus, and the Greek poet Aeschylus claimed that it was because of this act that Achilles’ spirit was haunted by the ghost of his greatest enemy, Hector. While it might appear that the achilles heel was a necessary component of Greek Mythology, modern scholars have pointed out the fact that the belief in the necessity of the achilles heel came later, once the narrative devices of Greek Mythology had allowed them to develop a more elaborate mythological system. For a detailed description of the achilles and the related myths, read “Achilles: The Myth of the Hero,” by Peter Wright.
Early in the 20th Century, the term “fantasy” was not in use, and those who advocated the heroic fantasy were routinely dismissed as nut cases. But times have definitely changed, and now almost anyone can claim to be a practitioner of fantasy. People of every age group are fond of playing fantasy games, ranging from board games to computer games, and they tend to associate these games with a particular culture. The Harry Potter series, for instance, has very powerful magical powers, and a lot of young readers will immediately connect the novels with Ireland, where the Harry Potter world is very much a part of their fantasies. The protagonist, Harry Potter, and his friends are also widely perceived as Irish.
In many ways, the hero of a literary work is not much different from a modern national hero. In fairy tales and in popular media, the hero must overcome the limitations inherent in his nationality (for example, a German hero may become a princess or a Japanese hero may become a dragon). But it’s important to keep in mind that the hero can only be fully human if he is also a hero in his own right, just as the heroine can only be a real human princess if she has a fairy friend.