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Let's talk about heroes

I'm a writer of fiction — of adventure stories, mainly in the fantasy and science-fiction genres. I tell stories about heroes — people who choose to stand against adversaries or disaster and fight. These are the people who run toward the danger rather than away from it, who stand over the fallen, who defend others.

Our traditional stories, the ones we tell our children around the campfire, are about heroes. We learn about the different ways someone can become a hero. There are many such stories and many paths, and each one showcases a particular virtue.

I say “virtue” advisedly, because our hero tales are tales about morality, about what we value in a person. These are moral guides for our own behavior.

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What do we value, in the traditional tales?

Bravery, of course. Not just the bravery of the big strong warrior facing long odds, but the bravery of the small and timid who are forced by circumstance to rise to the occasion.

Toughness, the willingness to dare pain and even death if that's what it takes.

Sacrifice, the clear-eyed understanding that, in the end, you might not survive — but perhaps others will.

Cleverness, the skill to find the path of least danger.

Compassion, the realization that you have a duty to help others, even if they don't (or can't) ask for it.

Justice, recognizing that you are on the side of order and the good in this chaotic world.

Traditional tales are fiction, not reality. In the end we all die, and perhaps there is nothing else, but mankind can't live as if that were true. Human cultures tell themselves stories about what we ought to do and make us admire the heroes they describe. In that sense, a culture that values its heroes is stronger than one that focuses on the futility of mortal endeavors, and despairs.

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Every week or so, I'll post an article about a hero. Some of these will be about professionals — soldiers, firefighters, and so forth — but many won't be. I'll include real people from antiquity to the present, and characters in fiction and myth.

I invite discussion on the articles, both on this website and on social media. You can follow those discussions here or on Facebook or Twitter.

I also welcome suggestions for heroes to consider for future articles.

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