31 Days of Post (2) Day 9: Heroes and What I Want from Them
Heroes are unavoidable in what I read. From fantasy to comics and from science fiction to shonen manga, heroes are the protagonists of the vast majority of the literature. And that is not, in itself, a bad thing. The problem, I think, lies in how the hero is characterized and how he or she interacts with the fictional world of the text.
What bugs me the most about heroes is the notion that they cannot have negative emotions (or that those emotions cannot be a driving factor in their heroism). Take Uzumaki Naruto from Naruto (yes, I already did a Naruto post a few days ago, but I want to touch on some things here, too). I was reading the latest chapter and realized something: is Naruto’s answer to Obito (and Pain) actually no answer? Does Naruto really have an answer to Obito’s challenge? Not really. I think Naruto’s declarations of never giving up or that everything will be alright when he becomes hokage ultimately rings hollow. In fact, I think Naruto pointedly doesn’t answer the question because he has no answer!
And there, I believe, lies the inherent problem of Naruto as a hero. The psychological trauma he has suffered at the hands of his village, of Sasuke, of Sakura, etc. has never, to my satisfaction, been addressed. And until that oversight has been rectified, Naruto will always be missing something, at least for me.
In a way, this plays into my concerns about Harry Potter. Besides being self reliant and resilient, has the Dursleys’ abuse really affected him that much? While he may hate the Dursleys, Harry does not seem to be too psychologically damaged. Or at least not enough to warrant mention in the text. (Of course it could be argued that the text has a high tolerance for child abuse- Neville is certainly abused, questions could be raised about Mrs. Weasley, and how the hell is Snape still a teacher?)
So, to sum things up with Naruto and Harry, my issue with them, and heroes like them, is that they come from abusive backgrounds and don’t react to it in ways that are intellectually satisfying (at least for me). Yes, Naruto pranks and acts out to seek attention, to be acknowledged, but his underlying relationship to his community is glossed over. And while Harry may hate his “family,” it seems that being a hero negates the worse effects of abuse. (Which is almost certainly true of Naruto).
If I ever create an abused hero, I will strive to insure that I do my research. What are the effects of child abuse? How can a child develop in those situations. Why would the hero act in this or that way?
Asking and answering those questions (and others) will lead to interesting stories.
There are many other elements of being a modern hero that bug me. Like the notion that the hero must be selfless. Just no. I want to see heroes who have ambitions. I don’t want to see a hero do something heroic because it’s just what they do. What is in it for the hero? Fame, fortune, the boy/ girl, power, revenge, or self accomplishment? And why does the hero seek those ambitions?
Furthermore, I have a huge issue with the prevalence of idiot heroes. Now, I can see the advantage of having the hero handicapped in some way. That would increase the difficulty of whatever the hero must face. But why is it always strength over intelligence? (Or does it have more to do with providing a suitable intro pov for the audience not in the know?) That, however, doesn’t answer the question of why physical strength and power is valued over a cleverly executed plans.
In a way, I think certain children’s literatures have done a disservice to our conception of what being a hero is. Those genres, I think, foist a juvenile concept of heroism that never really goes away. This would, of course, explain the gross misunderstanding of antiheoroes.
Conan the Cimmerian is often described as an antihero, but I disagree. Conan’s actions are always heroic. So what if most of Conan’s actions are also intended to benefit him? Of course, when Harry Potter is described as an antihero, we all should know there is a problem (check out TV Tropes- I was shocked by the argument).
But maybe the problem lies with me and my taste. I mean, I do have a more villainous disposition. Perhaps that colors my interest in having more selfish and intelligent heroes.
Now, that’s what I want. But what about other readers? What’s the attraction of lacking ambition? Of strength over intelligence? What other kinds of heroes are there?