Monday, February 2, 2015

A Hero's Measure

Not too long ago, I was challenged by Allison Ruvidich to name my ten favorite literary heroes. This, of course, brings up the question: What makes a hero? Allison chose to define it by a character's courage, a fairly good measuring stick, since it'll affect so many of his (or her) choices. I, however, decided to take a different route: picking the first ten characters who come to mind when I think of heroes, and then trying to pinpoint one particular heroic trait that I think each exemplifies.
  1. A hero is humble. Frodo Baggins (The Lord of the Rings) is a humble hobbit of the Shire, and he never makes any claims otherwise. When he agrees to take the Ring to Mordor, it's not out of any desire to be a hero. He simply recognizes the responsibility before him and accepts it. Throughout his quest, he seeks guidance from those wiser than he whenever he can. And at its end, he desires no grand accolades; he simply wishes for peace and home.
  2. A hero is loyal. Of course, as we all know, "Frodo wouldn't have got far without Sam"! Samwise Gamgee (The Lord of the Rings), like Frodo, isn't in this quest for glory. He's in it because he made a promise: to stick by Frodo to the bitter end- and that's exactly what he does, no matter what stands in his way.
  3. A hero is imperfect. Prince Lionheart (Tales of Goldstone Wood) isn't half the hero he might like to be. He tries, true, but ultimately fails . . . and he knows it. It's not until he acknowledges that he can't do it on his own that he becomes the hero he's meant to be- but once he does that (in Moonblood), the change is evident immediately as he charges off to save his friend with no thought for himself. It's also clear in Shadow Hand, when he sets aside his own plans and accepts that his Master has given him a different Path than what he expected.
  4. A hero serves others. Aragorn (The Lord of the Rings) may be the rightful king of Gondor, but the paths he chooses to walk are anything but the marble halls of a royal castle. No, he instead spends his days as a Ranger, protecting the Shire and other northern lands from fearsome foes. It's a cold, hard, lonely life, and he gets little thanks for it- many of the folk he protects, in fact, treat him with suspicion or hostility. Yet he willingly keeps on doing it. And later, during the Fellowship's travels and his encounters with Rohan, he does not force his way to a position of leadership but rather puts himself under others, serving in whatever ways he's needed. Even when he finally reaches Gondor, he does not go marching in to reclaim his throne; instead, he enters the city only to help treat the wounded.
  5. A hero faces the impossible. Most people would think twice before taking on the psuedo-god who's ruled the world for the last thousand years. Not Kelsier (Mistborn). He gladly accepts the challenge- not just of figuring out how to overthrow the Lord Ruler but of figuring out how to kill him. Even when his own team thinks it's too big a task, he convinces them to give their best. And even after calamity strikes and all his plans seem to have fallen apart, he doesn't give up. And in the end, it's because of his willingness to attempt something seemingly impossible that something even bigger is set in motion.   
  6. A hero protects others. From the very first time we meet him, Kaladin (The Stormlight Archive) always seems to be trying to protect someone: his squad, his brother, his bridge crew, the list goes on. If he's not, he's probably dwelling on how he couldn't protect everyone, how people keep dying around him even though he'd willingly take their places. At one point, despair over these failures drives him to almost give up- but he doesn't. He keeps doing his best to protect those who need it- even, in the end, some people who he'd have been glad to see dead.
  7. A hero sets an example. Professor Charles Hamilton (Dragons in Our Midst) is pretty all-around awesome, but he's at his best when guiding and teaching Billy and his friends, sharing both his (extensive) knowledge and his faith. The effect of his influence is clear through all the books; without Professor Hamilton's guidance, Billy and other characters would neither have succeeded in their quests or have grown in their faith as much as they did.
  8. A hero does her duty. Masayi Sairu (Tales of Goldstone Wood) has been raised for a single purpose: to protect her eventual master- or, as it turns out, mistress- but when it comes time for her to fulfill that purpose, it's little like what she expected. Nevertheless, Sairu does her best to carry out her duty, even though she doesn't know who or what she's protecting her mistress from. She stays true to her task no matter what, even when it means giving up her dreams, even when it brings her into conflict with a foe she never prepared to face. 
  9. A hero loves the unlovable. Dame Imraldera (Tales of Goldstone Wood) could qualify as a hero for a number of reasons, but the biggest reason is her willingness to love others. We see this first in Moonblood, as she cares for Lionheart, whose largest claim to fame at the time is making some very major mistakes. It's even better shown in Starflower, in which Imraldera's ability to love others- even monsters, even dragons, even villains- is a deciding factor in the story's outcome.
  10. A hero makes sacrifices. At the beginning of The Door Within, Captain Valithor is already well known throughout the Realm as a hero, perhaps even a legend. He's the best of the Allebian knights, Sentinel to King Eliam himself, and his exploits in battles against the forces of Paragory show why. But what truly makes him a hero is his willingness to sacrifice, to put others before himself- no matter what the cost might be.
I should probably pass this along, but I don't know who to tag. So, I'll open it up to whoever wants to make a post answering the question: Who are your top ten favorite literary heroes? Of course, if you don't want to make a post, that's fine too, but I'd still love to hear your answer in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)  


  1. I LOVE these, Sarah! I'm familiar with all of these except the enigmatic Professor Charles... I confess I've never read the Dragons in our Midst books! I love how you identified the traits; it was very thought-provoking. I think humility especially is one I forget that heroes need. Great post!

    1. Thanks, Allison! I'm glad you liked my take on it. Credit for my thinking of humility actually goes to the devotional I'm reading- I also would've most likely forgotten about it otherwise. Also, you should definitely read Dragons in Our Midst. You'd like them. :D

  2. THIS....this is a great, great post.


I'd love to hear your thoughts! But remember: it pays to be polite to dragons.