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The Hero

Sunday, August 21, 2005
I've spent some time over the last month or so thinking about what makes a hero truly heroic, as opposed to just a strong man or a decent, stand-up guy.

Mostly it was when I inadvertently lit a fire by proclaiming that Lance Armstrong is not a hero. An inspiration, certainly. A man with amazing talent and fantastic go-to spirit. But not a hero.

I can hear the collective outraged gasp from here.

But lemme splain. I think, perhaps, I have a pretty stringent personal definition of hero and it goes way past winning a battle with cancer. It's not just someone who doesn't quit. To me, a hero is someone who goes far beyond the call of duty. It's someone who sacrifices.

Someone who sacrifices their personal goals, their dreams, themselves in the name of a greater good. Whether that good is love, family, country or God. If they've lost something -- deliberately set it aside to strive for something even better -- that's a hero.

Now, I'm talking in huge broad strokes here. I'm sure if I took it down to individual decisions, there are flaws in my reasoning. I don't doubt that. I'm also going to try to guide this particular argument toward fictional heroes, because I really, really don't want to fight over the graves of those who, over the centuries, have given their very lives for something they believed in.

So let's talk fiction. Like the vast majority of writers, I read books by the bushel. Most things I read are, frankly, forgettable. Not because the author didn't craft a good story, or because she failed to draw me into the conflict, but because my very favorite characters are the ones who make the big sacrifice. The ones who are willing to lose it all. And not just lose it all in a gamble to maybe win the heart of his or her lover, but the ones who are willing to walk away from all their success because to do so would be for the greater benefit of their lover.

Was that just really confusing? Let's take Beauty and the Beast for an analogy. This is my very favorite fairy tale archetype. The Beast loves Beauty and eventually, Beauty comes to love the Beast, even though her heart still breaks with loneliness for her family. When the Beast realizes that he has to make a choice between keeping her in her half loving, half grieving state, or letting her go because it would make her whole, he chooses the heroic role. Even though it means his death, he sacrifices. What a guy.

The best thing about this story, however, is that for once, the heroine has as much chance to sacrifice as he does. Once she realizes that his sacrifice for her also means his death, she makes a choice. She loves her family, but she would willingly part with them forever if it means that she can save her Beast's life. What a gal.

Cinderella? The prince sacrifices nothing. Even if he marries the little commoner, his family loves him so much they'll forgive him. He's going to be king either way. And Cinderella doesn't have the guts to face him on her own, in her rags. True love sees beyond the soot.

Sleeping Beauty? She does diddly. He's pretty heroic, though. He gets sliced to ribbons, not just for the will-o-the-wisp potential of true love, but to rescue someone in need. Good for him. Too bad his girl's a complete dud.

So, what do you think of my definition of a hero? Am I on the money or completely off the mark? What makes someone a hero to you?
8/21/2005 08:54:00 AM : : Sela Carsen : : 8 Comments


Hey nice post on heroes!

By Anonymous Jill, at 11:23 AM  

Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite archetype stories, too. I'd say when both parties sacrifice something, risking their deepest fears for love, then you have an emotionally-gripping read. Sometimes I'll enjoy a half-hearted story like a Cinderella one, but it won't grab me as much as a B&B story.

By Anonymous Michelle, at 1:12 PM  

Sounds like a good defintiion to me! :D

By Anonymous Sasha, at 4:28 PM  

Great analogy!!!!!!!! Cinderella is one of my faves but so is Snow White and Rose Red =)

By Blogger Amie Stuart, at 8:23 PM  

Beauty and the Beast is my all time favorite, favorite story. I love the classic and all the retellings. In fact, I'm working on one myself.

With Snow White, I think she's the hero figure. How can you not call housekeeping for seven men a sacrifice?

Firefighters are heros. Police are heros. The military are heros.

Sports figures? Nope. Where's the sacrifice in getting paid huge sums of money to play a game you love? Sure, your body will take a beating if you're hardcore but unlike service professions, no one will die, get hurt or lose their freedom if you quit.

By Blogger Kristen Painter, at 3:54 PM  

Great post on heroes!

Okay, this will sound pathetic, but the Bay-ster wanted to rent a Barbie movie, the Princess and the Pauper. I've never heard that story, so it was a pretty powerful one for me (save me, getting motivated by BARBIE shows!!). Both of the male heroes were so heroic to me. The teacher dude risked death to save the princess, and the king, he let the common girl go so she could pursue her dreams, even though he wanted her desperately. I love the example that shows little girls: a hero will let you go free to pursue your dreams. Thus freeing her to come back to him, of course. :)

By Anonymous Danica, at 11:47 PM  

Dead on, Sela.

By Blogger Anna Lucia, at 12:03 PM  

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By Blogger Jack Naka, at 7:28 PM  

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