Today, we in Australia are celebrating ANZAC Day and it’s the perfect opportunity for me to dwell upon what it means to be a hero. Is it all muscle and bravery? Can a hero be morally questionable? Since I have already had a little rant about this subject, I decided to have a think about purely fictional heroes, ones that have stayed with me after I have closed the book, walked out of the cinema, turned off the telly or switched off my gaming console.
We all have our favourite characters and some people have a list—mental if not written down—of all the fictitious figures who have inspired them in some way. They might not be well known or they might be the most famous characters of all time, but whichever they are, they have had influence, sometimes beyond measure.
I decided to write down a list of characters who have had the most profound influence on my writing, starting with the heroes. The list will probably be dramatically different in a few years’ time, but here is how it stands in 2014! As I cannot abide to rate them, I will list the characters in no particular order.
DISCLAIMER: There will be plot-related spoilers referring to the characters I have chosen.
‘That’s a mighty fine coat you’re wearing.’
Drawn as a seven-foot tall, wide-shouldered and heavily scarred man, usually donning both long jacket and combat boots, Marv has been described by his creator Frank Miller as ‘Conan in a trench coat’, a character living out of his time. Marv is constantly in trouble with the police (who always seem to be corrupt) or standing up to big-time criminals.
He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty carrying out justice and possesses a wicked sense of humour. Marv has taught me that heroes don’t have to be on the same side as the police to be in the right, they don’t have to be pretty and, above all, they don’t always do nice things.
The Dark Knight—Batman
‘It’s not who I am underneath but what I do that defines me.’
The secret identity of billionaire Bruce Wayne, Batman has captured the imagination of every generation. Sometimes referred to as the Caped Crusader, he prowls the streets of Gotham City by night, intent on foiling criminal activities in an entirely non-lethal manner. That’s not to say he doesn’t pack a powerful punch! This DC hero has no supernatural abilities up his sleeve, unlike his sometimes-rival-sometimes-ally Superman. Instead, he relies on his keen eyes, sharp mind and an arsenal of amazing gadgets, weapons and vehicles.
Everyone has their light and dark sides and Batman dramatises both well. Bravery, morals, strength and a fierce intelligence combine to create a complex character simply brimming with reasons to like him. He perfectly demonstrates that heroes don’t have to lap up the limelight, they can often be hated or feared by the general public, who don’t understand how much good he really does for them while they sleep. For him, Bruce Wayne is the real mask he wears.
Durzo Blint—Night Angel Trilogy
‘When we take a life, we take nothing of value.’
This assassin is a mostly dark and brooding character penned by the amazing Brent Weeks. At first glance, Durzo appears much like all the other characters in the sleazy Warrens of Cenaria City—immoral, greedy and driven by wealth and the promise of power. He is the best ‘wetboy’ in the city and works for the powerful criminal organisation the Sa’kagé. He apprentices the main character, Azoth, but their goals and allegiances eventually conflict, leading the two assassins to turn on each other.
But this sounds like he’s all bad! Not at all. Durzo Blint’s first identity was Acaelus Thorne who lived many, many years before the events of The Night Angel Trilogy. As well as being a great warrior, he was admired and trusted by all who knew him and possessed a great sense of justice and honour. During this lifetime, he was charged with the monumental task of safeguarding the Black Kakari, a powerful conductor of magic that makes the owner immortal, for want of a better word. As the years passed, he took on many other identities in his mission to ensure other kakari were not misused and corrupted, a completely selfless act.
He is a very complex character, simultaneously witty and morbid, multitalented, ruthless but secretly merciful and compassionate. Once the veil is lifted from our eyes and his backstory is revealed, the darker identity of Durzo Blint by itself is clearly an unfair representation of his character as a whole. Weeks has given me plenty to think about when crafting characters, thanks to Durzo Blint. The Way of Shadows was also the second book ever to make me cry.
‘I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.’
His life shattered by circumstances beyond his control, the only thing remaining to him is vengeance. From respected and honourable Roman general to expendable slave, Maximus is driven by a sense of revenge along the long and painful road to Rome and the man who betrayed him, his friend and his nation.
Why do I like Maximus so much? The story of Gladiator shows that characters don’t always have to be in control of their journey. Instead of driving the storyline from location to location, their strength of character comes from how they react to the events that occur in their lives. Maximus rises above his grief and decides to become the best fighting slave in Rome in order to come face to face with the Emperor and that’s what makes him a strong character. When he has nothing left and is resigned to die, he decides to do one last thing—for vengeance and for the Roman people.
‘Just because I look like a man doesn’t mean I have to smell like one.’
Set in Mediaeval China, Mulan goes off to war to prevent her father, who is old and carries an old injury, from going off to war and probably getting killed. She steals her father’s armour, cuts her hair and impersonates her fictitious brother in order to become accepted into a recruit army. At first, she is weak and quite hopeless, like many of the other recruits, and a confrontation between herself and her captain, Li Shang, motivates her to try harder, as failure would bring dishonour to her family. Her strength of character, as well as in body, enables her to pass her initial training and she joins the army to go off to war and consequently becomes a champion.
I admire her so much because she is risking her life to save her father and trying her best to bring honour to her family. She’s resourceful, quite pathetically funny with her man-voice, strong of spirit, fiercely loyal and never gives up, not even when she’s discovered to be a woman. Normally, this discovery would mean her death but Li Shang takes mercy on her (sort of) and, in return for her saving his life, leaves her alone to fend for herself on a mountain pass in the snow. Thanks, Shang… Regardless, Mulan battles her way back to her comrades in time for the big finale.
Her true wish is to see herself in the mirror and recognise her reflection. By the end of the movie, she has discovered her true self and is happy with what she sees.
‘Without me, his world will go on turning.’
Eponine is the daughter of criminal parents and is shaped by them beyond her control. She idolises and falls in love with Marius, a relationship that turns out to be completely one-sided. Despite the fact she knows he loves Cosette, she does whatever he asks her without question and carries out the sad task of delivering Marius’ love letters to Cosette during the French Revolution. Instead of bitterly ‘losing’ the letters like some jealous girls would, Eponine faithfully delivers them, hoping to receive a little bit of attention from Marius in return.
What draws me to Eponine the most is the fact that, despite her background, she is capable of great acts of compassion and stands up to her criminal father. In a sad turn of events, Eponine gets shot on the barricades when she returns from an errand with a letter from Cosette. In this one instance, Marius gives her his full attention and love and she dies happy in his arms. How sad is that?
Huh, I’ve just realised how many of my favourite characters die. That’s depressing.
Simba—The Lion King
‘Somebody once told me that the great kings of the past are up there… watching over us.’
I know what you’re thinking. ‘She only likes Simba because he’s a cat and she’s obsessed with cats!’ Okay, that’s partly true… but it’s mostly the case that I have grown up with Disney’s The Lion King since the grand old age of seven and have watched it easily fifty times. That can’t be simply a cat obsession. It’s got great music and fantastic art, really great voice actors and diverse characters, but the thing that draws me so much to The Lion King is Simba.
What is more heart-wrenching than seeing a child (human or otherwise) lose their father in an accident he has been manipulated into thinking is his fault? He had to live with that memory throughout the remaining years of his childhood and his early years of manhood. (Manehood? Ha ha! Sorry…) With the help of an unlikely group of friends, he undertakes a personal journey, learning how to deal with his terrible past and eventually mustering up the courage to face his destiny and his uncle. The moment when he finally realises he has a responsibility to make things right for the good of the Pridelands and all the animals in it is a very dramatic event in Simba’s life.
*’Remember who you are! You are my son and the one true king!’ *
Other notable heroic characters:
- Esther—Bleak House
- Harry—Harry Potter series
- Robin Hood—legend
- Nancy—Oliver Twist
- Samwise Gamgee—The Lord of the Rings
- Commander Shepard—Mass Effect series
To continue reading and discover who my favourite villains are, click here.