What Makes a Hero?

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The debate is at least as old as Plato and Aristotle.

Are heroes born or made?

Do heroes have some special stuff — coming from a unique hero origin — that makes them different than ordinary folk?

Or are heroes made by the press of circumstances and important choices made along the way?

Plato advocated the first. Aristotle the second.

It is interesting to survey some recent young adult books on this point.

Tolkien, who normally sides with Aristotle on most things (bet you didn’t know that, did you?) cheated a little bit with Bilbo Baggins. We’re told that the Baggins in him hated adventures — “make you late for supper!” But the Tookish part woke up one day and off Bilbo went — There and Back Again.

C.S. Lewis, who normally sided with Plato on most matters (maybe you knew that — he as much as says so in the Narnia books) seems to have favored Aristotle’s view with the various very ordinary boys and girls who find themselves in extraordinary situations but make heroic choices in his books.

J. K. Rowling is an extreme case of Plato’s view. Harry Potter is a wizard, after all. (Regular ordinary folks are just Muggles.) But he’s special even by wizard standards! I think part of the appeal of the Harry Potter stories is the growing self-awareness by Harry of his utterly special specialness.

That plays well with people who like thinking of themselves as special (don’t we all?) and who identify with him as he saves all the dunderheads who clutter up the world — both wizard and muggle. (At the end of each book they reluctantly recognize his specialness — which is even more satisfying.)

That’s also a major problem with the Harry Potter stories. (Eeek!! Morty has criticised Harry Potter!)

(By the way, I enjoy the Harry Potter stories. They’re very entertaining.)

Another recent series with almost an identical story line are the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books. I like those stories too. I’m reading Sea of Monsters — book two. Very good. But simply substitute Greek god for wizard and Camp Half-Blood for Hogwarts and you’ve got basically the same story-line.

But where is Trevor Upjohn in this? What sort of hero is he?

To be continued . . . !

Morty

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