How To Be a Hero

Quests and Fairy Tales revolve around the idea of a person stepping up to volunteer to undertake a task others find impossible or do not want to do. First responders are a good example of such volunteers. They run towards the disaster instead of away from it. In fairy tales, the king puts out a challenge: Who will step up to slay the dragon? In more modern stories, a hero is needed to defeat more practical evil: dictators, kidnappers, murderers.

Anyone can grow into being a hero. Here’s how.

Heroes in stories

A disaster strikes: this can be anything from general unhappiness to war.

A hero is needed: someone who can solve the problem, get things back on track, turn things around.

The hero shows up. S/he may seem like an unlikely candidate for the task, the opposite of what most people think a hero should be.

The hero goes because he or she feels prompted to do so. The prompting is often internal, intuitive, from a Divine or spiritual calling.

The hero almost always needs to go alone. Anything the hero takes with him/her will be of little use and will most likely be lost or destroyed along the journey.

In working to solve the general problem, the hero finds a personal answer, something new: a talent or quality the hero did not know he/she possessed.

Along the way, the hero will find helpers: animals, strangers, parts of the natural world, maybe even parts of the constructed world. The hero will also face obstacles and hardships: villains, natural phenomena such as storms and wide rivers, and magical elements.

After much struggle, the hero finds the answer. Struggle is always necessary. If solving the problem was easy, the answer wouldn’t be worth much, and a hero would not be needed.

The hero takes the answer back so everyone may benefit.

Example of heroes in stories and movies:

Harry Potter
Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games
Atreyu and Bastien, The Neverending Story
Luke in Star Wars
Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth

Heroes in fairy tales

Fairy tales almost always have a need and a hero. They show us how our better selves can overcome our baser instincts: how selflessness overcomes greed, how courage overcomes fear. Fairy tales tend to go for simplicity but are still highly symbolic.

The story usually starts with something that is wrong: wickedness in the form of a person (Snow White, Hansel and Gretel), a bad witch (Sleeping Beauty), an evil presence (The Tinderbox, The Hobbit). Sometimes, no one or only one or two people are aware that anything is amiss. A hero is still needed to prevent further harm: for example, if the prince married one of the stepsisters instead of Cinderella, the kingdom would suffer.

The hero is often unaware he/she is solving a greater problem. Some heroes, like the soldier in The Tinderbox, stumble into a situation or act out of desperation like the princess in The Wild Swans. Sometimes, the hero volunteers out of selfish motives—fame, power—or simply because he/she has nothing better to do. A modern fairy tale of this sort is A.S. Byatt’s, The Story of the Eldest Princess.

At the start, the hero takes something s/he thinks is important but loses it on the journey. Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumb markers are eaten; Harry Potter loses Hedwig. Sometimes, the hero gets to keep what he/she takes such as a wayfarer’s rucksack (backpack) or the prince’s sword. At the same time, s/he must leave something or someone behind. What is lost is something or even someone no longer needed in the hero’s life no matter how much the hero wants to hold onto the thing or person.

At the end of the journey–when the problem is solved, the dragon slain, evil banished–the hero gets his/her reward. The benefits for everyone and everything are immense.

So, how does a person become a hero? You step up with the talents you have, when and where you feel you can do the most good.