A Question of Heroes?

A Question of Heroes?

Perhaps it is as a result of inheriting a wealth of hero tales from our forebears or a subconscious inheritance of  their values that the tendency to associate heroes in narrative with warriors is embedded firmly somewhere within our psyche.  Almost every hero has some attributes strongly connected with those of an ideal warrior, be they by the use of weapons or just brute strength. We see this throughout the literatures, with Robin Hood and his bow, Arthur and Excalibur; similarly Beowulf is portrayed with both weapons, the named swords Hrunting and Naegling,  and incredible strength. The trend also extends to our modern heroes, with Aragorn as the  Strider who embodies all the characteristics of a noble warrior king. Great emphasis is placed on Superman’s strength, the Jedi have their Lightsabers, Wolverine has his totemic claws to name a few. As a further point of contemplation, has there ever been a hero who does not fight? Even the fact that is important for a hero to protect those around him echoes the days of camaraderie amongst warriors.
But what is it exactly that defines someone as a hero? It is clearly not simply one factor which makes a hero, but a number of combined characteristics and attributes which together form the concept of a hero.  A hero is usually the main character in a story, someone remarkably brave, sometimes they have supernatural powers, they are admired by others around them, they help the innocent or those who cannot protect themselves, and I will argue that most importantly they embody the values and morals of the society around them.  This last point is central to a deeper understanding of the hero beyond that defined in terms of masculinity solely. From a study of texts such as Empress, in which the central character Hekat is undoubtedly a heroine within her own society, but to the modern reader her actions are most certainly those of a villain, it can be seen that it is the culture and ideals of a society that create the hero rather than the actions or deeds of the hero themselves. It is not uncommon for heroes to be reinvented by each generation, with their more primal warrior aspects toned down, while their more suitable attributes are highlighted to better reflect more current morals and values. This can be seen the tales of Robin Hood. In the early tales his character kills an innocent, an act later versions of the hero would never commit. In the past mercy was seen as a sign of weakness within warrior societies, this view has changed dramatically over time.

The dilemma of the female hero.

 

In the male dominated world of heroes where do women fit in if historically their socially accepted role is that of peace weavers? The position of women is most certainly changing along with society’s views. Even the traditional role of characters such as Guinevere and Marion as the damsels in distress has been radically altered in the latest film versions with both Guinevere and Marion taking part in the battles scenes. In Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood Marion takes on a very male role of managing her land and holdings. She also saves herself from an attacker by killing him with a dagger and even rides into battle with Robin, however we then see the familiar pattern of Marion needing to be rescued towards the end of the film. By examining what elements of older hero tales modern film makers choose to focus on and those which they leave out, we can gain an insight into current social views. In  Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur Guinevere’s character has two distinct aspects, appearing as both a savage tribal warrior and yet also playing a more elegant role. This sense of playing a dual role seems to be a common trend among heroines,reflecting a stage of transition in their portrayal and  forming a  recognisable trait in  female heroic narative.  The character of Luuna from a graphic novel by Crisse Keramidas, is a most vivid example of this, as her soul is literately divided between darkness and light. Her constant companions, two wolves, one black and one white serve as constant visual reminders of this. Luunas dark side takes over when she is in situations where she needs to fight and kill to survive, while her good side is otherwise in control.
There is clearly a tension within the role played by heroines in trying to fulfil two conflicting parts. That of a more conventional view of how women should behave by being kind, gentle, understanding even motherly while also playing out the part of a warrior, and needing to convey strength and unflinching resolve. As the shift in how women are thought of in society is express though the medium of films books comic etc we can follow its progress by reading into aspects which lie behind the basic plot line. Tentative steps are being taken towards equality with the emergence of a new class of female heroes, however in some cases the heroine seems bound by past ideals and expectations. By not fitting into a more socially accepted somewhat stereotypical role are they seen as less heroic? This seems to depend of individual opinion, as the by breaking away from conventions can also gives the heroine a new sort of freedom, within a social sphere which is still evolving along with our culture and our perception of what makes a Hero.

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