…with the emphasis on the heroic.
This is going to be a strange rant, and in some ways, it’s going to be vague. I’ll explain why below.
But first, I want to address one of the main reasons why heroic fantasy appeals to me. It’s the heroic part. We don’t seem to have enough real heroes today. There are the obvious ones, such as soldiers and emergency personnel. Sometimes, though, I wonder if the media presents them as heroes to the point where we take it for granted they’re modern heroes and go on about our business without much thought as to what it is that makes them heroes.
For the sake of this discussion, I’m not including sports figures in this group. Playing a game, even when you’re one of the best in the world at it, is not heroic despite what the culture tells you. And Hollywood celebrities, Puh-lease! Most of the people our culture seems to obsess and fawn over don’t meet the standard of hero.
The type of hero that appeals most to me is the one who is either an ordinary person who accomplishes extraordinary things in bad circumstances or who goes above and beyond the call of duty with little or no consideration of the sacrifice required to do what needs to be done.
I’m not crazy about heroes who are perfect, or near perfect in my fiction. Everyone has flaws, and it’s how the hero responds to his flaws that makes him both more interesting and more a person I as a reader can relate to and care about. This may be why Conan is a favorite, although he’s probably not the best example given his moral compass is a little shaky. But he lives by a code of honor, even if it’s not one that most of society would accept.
That’s more than I can say about a lot of people.
While I enjoy a well-written antihero, the heroes that appeal to me the most are the men and women who make the hard choices. Who do the right thing even when it costs them. Who protect the weak. Who own their mistakes and try to make them right. Who take their punishment like a man (or woman) when they cross the line and get called out on it. Who put what’s right before the desires of the rich and powerful that they may have to answer to. Who have integrity and honor and value those things, more than life if necessary.
What they don’t do is lie (and lie and lie) and pass blame and whine about the consequences of their choices and actions being unfair. They don’t say whatever it takes avoid the consequences of their actions. They don’t assist others in avoiding penalties and lie about it when caught. They don’t have a total disregard for how their actions hurt others.
Why am I going off like this?
After having exposed several situations involving extreme academic fraud on the part of some students, I was asked to serve on a disciplinary committee. I can’t discuss specifics of the cases I’ve seen. I’ve signed legal documents to that effect, and some of the investigations are still ongoing. But I have observed some trends, and they disturb me. Because I’ve seen a lot of what heroes don’t do. It’s been a disturbingly consistent pattern of behavior. If the young people I’ve encountered are our future, we’re f*****. Granted, I’ve only seen the worst cases, but still.
I’ve seen damn little integrity and honor.
I’ve seen no heroes.
The idea of a person who is heroic is something that is laughed at in some literary circles today. To those who laugh, I say “Up yours!” There are some things that are more important than what pleases the crowd.
We need more heroic role models in our entertainment. A hero is different than a sympathetic protagonist. A villain can be a sympathetic protagonist in the hands of a skilled writer. I’ve been reading a bit about Billy the Kid for a project I’m planning. I’ve found that I’m quite sympathetic towards him. He was not a hero. There’s a difference.
I want to read more heroic fantasy, emphasis on the heroic. And more heroic science fiction. And heroic mysteries. And heroic historical fiction.
And if anyone has any titles they’d like to suggest, please do so.