Monday, January 25, 2010

Our beloved hero(ine), and (s)he had better be beloved (by the reader, at least)…

I saw Avatar this weekend. Third time so far (second time in 3D). Yes, it’s that awesome. Kudos, James Cameron. I’m happy to see your Titanic records broken. (Honestly, I didn’t think Titanic was all that. Avatar, though? All that, a bag o’ chips, salsa, guac, queso, and whatever other metaphoric awesome sauce you can conjure.)

Now, I’m usually not one to analyze or criticize movies (I’m actually pretty easy to please as a moviegoer). But as I was watching Avatar this weekend, my mind kept dissecting the main character Jake Sully. His personality, his actions, his motivations. I came to the conclusion that Cameron had very successfully created a “beloved” hero. Not beloved necessarily by the other characters in the movie. In fact, there are times during the movie where perhaps the only one cheering for Jake in the stands is the viewer.

But isn’t that what is most important? That we as viewers/readers are rooting for the hero? (Or heroine. I’m going to refrain from being PC from here on out, and just refer to the main character in the masculine. Sorry, ladies.)

The hero of our story has to be carefully crafted to appeal to our inner cheerleader, and Jake Sully is a great example. He is good-natured and has good intentions at his core. He is flawed, but in a way that makes you hope that he overcomes his weaknesses and succeeds despite his shortcomings. He has deep motivations that fuel his actions and keep us engrossed in the story, eager to see whether his goals are realized. And he grows and changes as the plot progresses, eliciting our approval and pride like a parent seeing the development of a child.

It might be a bit formulaic or derivative to break down the anatomy of a good hero like this, but I think if you look at your favorite heroes from books, movies, even video games, you’ll find that they share many (perhaps all) of Jake’s "heroic" qualities. Certainly, the circumstances and details are different for each story and each character. But at its most basic, there seem to be some very general, universal themes of heroism that entice us to join the fan club.

What are some of your favorite heroes (or heroines) from your reading (or movies! or video games!), and what was it about them that made you love them so much?


  1. First, I have yet to see Avatar (and Titanic, but I agree with you about that). I am have been trying to go for three weeks, but it never pans out.

    Second, I definitely agree with your viewpoint on heroism. I think the most famous hero in literature had only one fan at times, the reader, which is really like 40 mill, Harry Potter. Remember when the school hated him and Ron and Hermione found a reason to be mad at him, even though he was constantly trying to stay alive? I love the books and Rowling's writing is truly magical, but at times, I couldn't believe I was the only one rooting for Harry.

    the same thing happens to Percy Jackson, Superman, even Batman, because part of their appeal is that even after everyone has turned their backs on the hero, they still press on and come out on top.

    I am going to Avatar today, I just am.

  2. Very true. The underdog aspect of great heroism is also a theme we often encounter in stories. We relate to the underdog because we have been the underdog at various points (or all) of our lives.

    And Jon, Avatar will change your life. Well, maybe not. But it’s pretty dang epic.

  3. I haven't seen Avatar--I want to, but my kids aren't quite old enough, and a night out without them isn't going to happen anytime soon.

    But, a favorite hero (I'm just going to drop the gender stuff--not because I'm offended, just because I'm tired today) is Sigourney's character in the Alien serious--Ripley. And I love Linda Hamilton in the second Terminator, and Harrison Ford could be my hero anytime. I have way too many heroes from books to even begin to name, so I'll just leave it at that for today.

    Thanks for the nice post!

  4. So jealous that you saw Avatar again, I still need to go see it a second time! I'm totally going to in the next couple of weeks now. :)

    As for heroes, I've got a long list...Percy Jackson, Peeta Mellark, Harry Potter, Liesel Meminger, Sarah Agnes Prine, Lady Fire, Katsa, Po, just to name a few. Here's why I love them all so much:

    1) I related to each of them in some way
    2) I grew with them as their story unfolded
    3) I appreciated their struggles which made their "happy endings" even more well deserved

    How's that for a long response? :)

  5. I am not sure Katsa could be considered a hero...a protagonist, yes...but not quite a hero.

    Heather, I'll go to Avatar with you.

  6. Jonathon, interesting response. I still consider Katsa a hero, you have your opinion and I have mine. :)

  7. I still haven't seen Avatar. But for me, I think the best thing about a hero is his flaw. Every hero has to have one, otherwise how would we flawed humans relate? That's what makes them real to me.