The possibility of becoming a dramatic classic hero-- noble, mighty, not completely choosy in whom you slay-- has waned since the age of fable, possibly due to lack of opportunity. In America, at least, there are few damsels to save, few enemies with whom to personally engage in conflict. Are there still heroes? Of course there are. But they are of a new, different, subtler variety. They are harder to see if you don't know where you're looking.
Wikipedia offers a definition:
"A hero or heroine refers to characters who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and/or the will for self-sacrifice-- that is, heroism-- for some greater good of all humanity."
In short, although heroes come in many different forms, they all share one trait: courage. With that in mind, I perused literature and picked my favorite ten heroes, presented in order of publication.
The first hero is Janner Igiby from Andrew Peterson's "The Warden and the Wolf King" (2014). The crux of Janner's heroism comes from his unique occupation, which I won't tell for fear of spoilers. This occupation, the humility it imposes, and how it affects Janner's relationships with his siblings provides much of the tension in this series. I have never before seen in literature what Peterson does to this poor character, and only rarely have I encountered the grace and wisdom with which Janner reacts.
The second hero is Dame Imraldera from Anne Elisabeth Stengl's "Starflower" (2012). Starflower suffers from a singular handicap in a strange new world: she has no voice, both metaphorically and literally. Because of this, her loving nature shines through her powerful actions. When faced with impossibilities, she shows the strength and faith necessary to continue her life, even if it means letting go of everything she knew before. She embodies the ability to love those you should hate.
The third hero is St. Thomas More from Robert Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons" (1960). Admittedly, St. Thomas More isn't a fictional character; he actually was Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII of Great Britain in the 1500s. When Henry VIII failed to gain the Pope's approval for his divorce and subsequent remarriage, he demanded his Lord Chancellor's blessing. And, despite his status, despite his friendship with the king, St. Thomas More remained silent-- and was martyred for his refusal to condone what he believed to be morally wrong.
The fourth hero is Bilbo Baggins from J. R. R. Tokien's "The Hobbit" (1937). Bilbo is not generally considered a hero. At first he appears to be a comic figure, dragged from his comfortable hobbit hole into the deadly throes of an adventure, lamenting the utter lack of pocket handkerchiefs. But as his journey continues, his love of adventure and the unknown grows. He possesses a sense of wonder so often lacking in heroes.
The fifth hero is Eponine Thenardier from Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" (1862)-- NOT the musical. I had a difficult time selecting only one hero from a book crowded with so many-- Jean Valjean, the Bishop, and Fantine, to name a few-- but Eponine stands out the most strongly to me. Fallen from her comfortable lifestyle, prematurely aged by circumstance, and deeply in love, Eponine should be bitter and vengeful when darling Cosette sweeps in to gain her beloved's affection. But she is not. Rather, her love is so pure that she refuses to leave her beloved when revolution grips the streets of Paris, even though she understands he cannot give her more than a friend's love. Her selflessness and bravery elevate her to my single favorite heroine in fiction.
The sixth hero is Sydney Carton from Charles Dickens's "A Tale of Two Cities" (1859). At first glance, Sydney Carton appears to be an utter scoundrel: cynical, alcoholic, sloppy. His brilliant gift for law allows him to save Charles Darnay, a gentleman with whom he bears a striking resemblance, whose fate will be linked with Sydney's through the bloody days of the French Revolution. His final lines in the novel are among my favorite in literature:
"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
The seventh hero is the First Servant from William Shakespeare's "King Lear" (1605). This is not a very well known role. It is, in fact, only an excuse to have someone carry a bench onstage, but evidently Shakespeare loathed this trope as much as I do. The First Servant is present, in fact, for only one scene and speaks a bare eleven lines before his denouement. When the wretched Regan threatens harm to his master, Gloucester, he cries out,
Nay, then, come on, and take the chance of anger! (King Lear, 3.7.79-80)
Then he, the nameless servant, duels his master to the death. But as for whose death... well, you'll have to read or see "King Lear" to find out.
The eighth hero is Sir Gawain from the anonymous poem, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" (1390). He is King Arthur's nephew and a prominent knight of his court. When a sinister stranger threatens the king with decapitation, Sir Gawain agrees to take the blow in place of his king. Through his chivalry and chastity as well as his flaws, he establishes himself as a central figure of the Round Table.
The ninth hero is Janet, sometimes called Margaret, from the anonymous folktale, "The Ballad of Tam Lin" (date unknown). Janet only narrowly made it onto this list when I wished to expand the number of heroines. She is a woman of... questionable morality. In the ballad, she finds herself pregnant and unmarried, although it is unclear if this is from poor decisions or unfortunate circumstance. I believe Janet is qualified as a heroine because of the time in which this ballad was composed and told. Women were considered the weaker sex, and it was truly rare to see a determined, strong-willed woman control her own fate in classical literature.
The final hero is Hector from Homer's "The Illiad" (approximately 800 BC). Although on the losing side of the Trojan War, Hector epitomizes everything a classical hero should be: he is the crown prince of Troy and a mighty warrior (he slayed 31,00 Greeks in battle!), but he possesses a humility and perspective rare in heroes.
"Jove," he cried, "grant that this my child may be even as myself, chief among the Trojans; let him be not less excellent in strength, and let him rule Ilius with his might. Then may one say of him as he comes from battle, 'The son is far better than the father.' May he bring back the blood-stained spoils of him whom he has laid low, and let his mother's heart be glad." ("The Illiad," Book VI)
This may seem a somewhat gruesome blessing, but I assure you it was quite emotional in context.
These ten form the pantheon of heroes for me: two princes, two noblemen and women, two knights, one homebody, one urchin, one lawyer, and one servant. They may come from different backgrounds, means, and purposes, but they all mean the same thing to me: selfless, sacrificial courage.
I tag Hannah from the Writer's Window, Ghosty from Anything, Everything, Sarah from Dreams and Dragons, Grace at Fictionally, Emma at Peppermint and Prose, Gillian at Of Battles, Dragons, and Swords of Adamant, and Candice at O Ye Scribes to name their favorite ten heroes! And as for you, dear readers... who do you consider a hero?