The Character Archetype “Hero”

The Hero’s Journey refers to a structure of story.  According to Christopher Vogler (see The Writers Journey), the Hero’s Journey is peopled with a small set of character archetypes. One of these character archetypes is that of the Hero.

The word “hero” comes to us from the Greek via Latin.  The Greek word literally means “protector” or “defender”.  The Latin term also includes the meanings “to preserve whole, save, deliver, protect” and possibly from an older word meaning “to keep vigil over.”

In Greek mythology, the “hero” referred to a type of being: someone semi-divine or a demi-god.  A hero was often the offspring of the joining of a deity (such as Zeus) with a mortal.  These demi-gods had super human powers and often were significant to combat scenes (e.g. Achilles in the movie Troy or the book The Iliad).

In dramatic writing, the term “hero” is often used synonymously with “protagonist.” A protagonist is the primary character. She or he is the lynch pin of the story. The protagonist is the doorway through which the audience typically enters the story, around whom the action is centered, and through whom the goal of the story must be accomplished.

One of the most well known of the Greek heroes was Herakles (Hercules in Latin).  We often think of him as the epitomy of the heroic because of the superhuman feats he accomplishment through the famous Twelve Labours of Herakles.  We tend to forget that these assignments were to redeem his heinous crime of murdering his own children.

Dara Marks (Inside Story) reminds us that “If hero were to be defined the old-fashioned way, by characters who earned it through the service of redeeming their self-worth, then not just astronauts and superheroes would get the accoleades.  Little old ladies who struggle to raise themselves from the ashes of a failed marriage could be considered heroic as well.  If fact, any human being–young or old, weak or strong, timid or brave–would be a contender for this honor because the potential to be heroic lies within everyone.”

The archetype of the Hero is not necessarily equivalent to the hero of dramatic writing. Frequently in modern stories the protagonist is not even heroic in the mythological sense.

Today’s writer has myriad heroes from which to choose: from the Savior Hero of Neo in the Matrix

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to the antihero of Wyatt (“Captain America”) in Easy Rider who went in search of America and couldn’t find it . . . anywhere.

If you familiarize yourself with mythology, you will be rewarded with an deeper understanding of the character archetype, Hero, and you will be able to differentiate between the dramatic function of a protagonist and an archetype.

Replenish the Well

Imagination is mediated by, arises out of, and/or is informed by the psyche.  It is difficult to separate imagination, creativity, and the psyche.  C. G. Jung stated that psyche is image.

In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron reminds the creative person (who is all of us) to nurture the imagination; tend it; give it space to play; take it on a date.  When you have need to dip into the well of your imagination, ensure that it has not become dust.

I am currently reading Philosophies of India by Heinrich Zimmer.  The Indian mythologies are teeming with images: literary, visual, poetic. It occurs to me as I am reading it that the expanse of the images of Indian mythology is as broad as the subcontinent of India itself which supports these rich mythologies.

By delving into mythology you may hit the mother lode of images.

I do not want to “should” on you (see Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, “The Three Metamorphoses”, i.e. kill the dragon “thou shalt.”).  What I do is offer is a pearl of wisdom.  You choose to accept, reject, or revisit it at a later date.

Replenish your well.

Henri Studio - Rafaella Fountain

Henri Studio-Rafaella Fountain

And, mythology is not a bad place to start.