Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Who Can Resist A Worthy Hero?

by Angela Guillaume

I firmly believe that in order to create a "perfect" hero in a fictional setting, we must first endeavor to create a "real" hero—one that could appear as comfortable in the pages of a book as he'd be crossing Main Street on a busy April afternoon.

According to Umberto Eco, the famed Italian literary author (among his works: The Name of the Rose, which was adapted into film), we should ask the question, "How can fiction help us to attain a severe and correct definition of the truth?" I heard the man ask this very question a few months ago at an Emory University lecture series in Atlanta, Ga. I think this is a valid question, and it does have some application to this month's RBA theme: Searching for the Perfect Hero.

From what I have garnered speaking to different authors, every hero is perfect—perfect for the book he was written into. Why? Because he is a creation of the mind of the author. Yet, to think of Eco's question, can a hero reflect that which is true? I believe he can—because a hero, for all intents and purposes, is a REAL man. A fictional hero is as real as a flesh and blood person in his own context—that is, in the novel.

Indeed, another of Eco's comments was, "While historians evoke real ghosts, novelists create real characters." Thus, a fictional hero can be as true and real as a historical one. For example, Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle's hero starring in many tales, was real, and he really lived in Baker Street and had a sidekick called Watson… in the novel! His identity is unmistakable, and he is recognized by many, still today. So essentially, the difference between reality and fiction could be seen as a very blurry one, and each is true in its own dimension.

Another hero we have all heard about is Superman—and another thing we also know to be "true" is that Clark Kent IS Superman. But, as Eco continues to say, true assertions such as this may not always be found in history. For example, to say that "Hitler lost his life in a Berlin bunker" may possibly be true, yet, it is not proven beyond the shadow of a doubt.

So, once we have created an "irrefutably real" hero, how do we make sure he's PERFECT? What, indeed, is perfection? I think that the moniker "perfect" is often misused—some say that nothing ever can be perfect. I disagree, and I think that perfection is not necessarily something that is completely great, precise, faultless and wonderful; rather, something that is where and how it should be. Something that is fated, that is truly meant to be in the world that surrounds it.

My view of this is when both the author and the reader can identify and understand the character, as well as the character’s fate and goals—when the reader empathizes and FEELS for this hero—then that same character becomes, essentially, both real and perfect. I have a different take on this—perfection to me does not essentially mean the complete absence of flaws; rather, it means the capacity to be and act "human", therefore, "real". Thus, reality and perfection are a sort of superimposition, one over the other, creating the amazing mélange that constitutes what we define a compelling character.

James Bond is the perfect hero. Why? Not because he is picture perfect, but because despite all his skills and savoir faire, he also gives us glimpses of humanity (See "Casino Royale"). He probably wouldn't make a great "Gandhi" type character and he would probably suck as Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights) but we cannot deny that he is perfect in the very role for which he was conceived. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) is the perfect hero because, despite his pride, he also displays a kind and compassionate heart. Jason Bourne (The Bourne saga—Robert Ludlum) is a perfect hero because he is tortured and wonderfully flawed based on his past experience. He is an extraordinary man, a lethal killer, who refuses to be a machine and strives to find himself.

It may therefore be stated that perfection lies, peculiarly, amidst a universe of failings. The reader is thus allowed to sift through these human failings (therein lies the fun of discovery) and find that which lies beneath—the hidden gem that unveils this hero's innermost core: one that is worthy and honorable.

In essence, to break all of this down and apply it to the realm of the romantic novel, I think that a perfect hero is, above all else, a worthy one.

~ Angela Guillaume ~
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Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) said...

A perfect hero is a worthy one.

How very well said. I think the first aim of the hero, in readers' eyes, is to be liked and loved, as in, the female reader should fall in love with him, and the male reader needs to like and identify with the hero.

What this means? Again, what you said already. He needs to be real. Women don't want a cardboard cutout or a paragon of virtue to love. They want a real man. Even if he doesn't literally exist in flesh and blood in real life, he exists in his context, and it this context that will make people 'recognise' him. Men want a 'real' hero too, because then he's a man who can be a buddy were he to exist in real life.

Very good post, Angela.



Chicki said...

Angela - Above all else the hero must be honorable (or at least end up that way by the end of the book.)

Great post!

Sandy said...


What a wonderful post.

I think our heroes are made up of parts of all the men in our lives and even those we observe.