A hero is a natural human being or a main heroic character who, against all odds, fights adversity through acts of courage, ingenuity, or strength. Unlike other previously only gender-defined words, a hero can be used to describe any male, although hero only ever refers to men. Often times, a character is presented as the hero because of his strengths or qualities. If an action is undertaken to overcome the challenge or danger, the hero performs the action with uttering of a special emotion such as fear, love, joy, anger, sorrow, or pity. These emotions are integral to our human ability to perceive and control our environment.
We all have different definitions of what constitutes a hero. For myself, as a child, I believe a hero is someone who, by virtue of his exceptional skills or personality, rescues or attempts to rescue the innocent, the poor or the helpless. I also believe that heroes possess a unique kind of purity, aloofness from worldly affairs, and above all, a clear conscience. By virtue of these beliefs, I would define a protagonist as someone who, by virtue of their abilities, attempts to achieve something which is not just the main protagonist’s goal, but something that serves the protagonist’s personal development or path to happiness.
Heroism is defined as extraordinary powers, and the consequent use of that extraordinary power. Examples of this are Jack Nicky, the original “Walking Dead” hero, and Neo from the Matrix series. Examples of fantastical heroes are Conan The Barbarian, and King Arthur, from Arthurian legend. There is a whole spectrum of hero types, each deserving of an individual column in this imaginary line. From a perspective of the author, a hero may embody strength, power, purity, wisdom, courage and imagination.
Of course, this definition excludes princesses, because they cannot act like any other human characters in a fantasy story. In a literary work, a fictional hero acts and reacts as the protagonist would in real life, but does not have superpowers or special abilities beyond their ability to think, feel and act rationally. This is the crucial difference between a superhero and a romantic hero. For fantasy to be meaningful, it has to include a protagonist who possesses qualities that are not typical for that particular genre – qualities that make him different and stand out. To create such a hero, it becomes necessary to break the mold established by the traditional heroic fantasy.
The best way to show the uniqueness of a hero, is through the sub-genre of heroic fantasy. There are several genres in this category, with each defining the essential characteristics of a hero. For instance, action films often feature a hero who is a master martial artist, who prefers to fight ‘intense’ battles in epic settings where he can attain awesome powers. In fairy tales, the most important character is the queen who protects the poor and handsome prince. In superhero fictions, the strongest and most cunning hero usually wins.
In popular literature, the central plot is the conflict between two or more contrasting characters. These characters may be humans with opposing traits, or non-human characters with contrasting characteristics. For example, in a story about two teenagers, the teenager who has the physical prowess to outsmart his opponent is the hero, while the weaker and less talented protagonist is the heroine. In epic adventures, the main characters are gods or supernatural entities, while the minor characters are common people. A modern example is the Harry Potter series, where the main protagonist, James Potter, is actually a very ordinary man with exceptional powers. In short, to define a hero, one has to think beyond the traditional definitions and think of new and unique qualities that define great characters.