The Nature of a Hero: Epilogue?

So, I’ve talked a lot in recent posts about these categories that I’ve come up with about the nature of a hero; that is, what defines a hero in popular mythology, fiction, comic books, science fiction, or whatever genre in which they appear. I’ve been working through this to help organize my thoughts for the novel on which I’m (slowly) working, because I want to explore this theory of heroism with the characters. Also, I think that this has a direct impact on our daily lives in more ways than we realize.

I was thinking about the general categories that I’ve formulated a couple of weeks ago, and I thought that there is another important aspect of the hero in fiction that I should mention, although this one doesn’t involve the hero so much as the other people impacted by the hero.

A hero does a sort of performance, like an actor. They arrive from nowhere, take on an evil that we cannot hope to overcome on our own, defeats that evil, and flies away wanting no thanks or reward other than to know that they’ve done good. As with an actor giving a performance, though, there is another component to this: the audience. When a hero fights and defeats a villain, there are other people involved in the situation, and that is those whom the hero is saving. This may be as simple as the damsel tied to the train track in cheesy old black and white films, or Lois Lane’s helicopter falling from a tall building to be caught by Superman, or the scientist and her friends standing behind the powerful figure of Thor as he defeats an extradimensional death machine. The hero is acting to preserve life, so there is a friend, a loved one, or a stranger…or a group thereof…in the shadow of the hero, applauding when the job is finished because it is their lives that have been saved.

Those other people…the rest of us, if you will…are forever impacted by the actions of the hero. An important part to any hero story is how we respond. This is a sort of epilogue to the story, because we have some basic choices as the everyman character in these stories as to how we respond to the hero’s actions, because not responding, or pretending that our lives haven’t been effected, isn’t an option, at least not one that will really hold up.

We can choose to live in gratitude, and choose to become a hero ourselves, as much as we can in our own lives. Or, we can choose to dismiss the event, pretending that it has not altered us in any substantial way, and go on with our lives until we’ve convinced ourselves to forget. We can even go the opposite way, and become angry, choosing the path of the villain or the antihero.

The amazing part of this…the thing that makes comic books and other superhero stories so profound…is that these types of events occur in all of our lives at some point, and they do impact us forever. Obviously,  Spiderman doesn’t swoop down to catch the purse snatcher in “real life,” but first responders do. Fellow citizens jump onto subway tracks to save the seizing child. People put themselves in harm’s way every day to save someone that they don’t know, and the person that is saved will never be the same after that moment. There are philosophical implications to this, there are sociological implications to this, and there are enormous faith implications to this. What’s so amazing, though, and what makes these stories resonate so deeply with the human condition, is that they have occurred, or will occur, in all of our lives at some level and in some way, leaving us unable to see the world in the same way as we did up until that point.

Then, we have to decide what to do with that, because we have been forever changed by a hero.

Photo Attribution: shauser under Creative Commons

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