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 difficult, maybe even impossible. Often the person is sought by a group. Sometimes the person feels called and simply shows up when and where s/he is needed.

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

Steps in quest stories

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

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

A hero shows up. The hero is often sought or sent for and may be an unlikely candidate for the task.

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

The hero almost always needs to go alone.

Anything the hero takes with him/her (outside of him or herself) 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 necessary.

If the solution were easy, the answer wouldn’t be worth much and a hero would not be needed.

The hero takes the answer back to the people so everyone may receive the benefit.

Example of heroes in quest literature and movies:

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

Quest in fairy tales

Most elements of quest show up in fairy tales. Sometimes, the elements are out of order, or the reader must infer them. Fairy tales show how our higher selves can overcome our baser instincts: our human selves that are stuck in the mundane. Fairy tales tend to go for simplicity but are still highly symbolic.

The story usually starts with something that is wrong: a wickedness in the form of a stepmother (Snow White, Hansel and Gretel), a bad witch (Sleeping Beauty). 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 usually unaware he/she is on a quest. Some heroes, like the soldier in The Tinderbox, stumble into the quest 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.

In quest, the hero takes something he/she 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 or the prince’s sword but 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.

If the hero will take his/her journey, the benefits for all are immense.