I get tired of antiheroes, liberal heroes, feminized heroes, kick-ass female heroes, and all the other contemporary permutations of “hero” that have been invented in recent years. I don’t even understand the reason for such a plethora of hero-types. The definition of hero, particularly epic hero, is pretty simple.

A hero is a human or character who risks everything, rising above himself or herself to accomplish a great deed.

Frodo, one of the least kick-ass characters ever, risked not only his life, but his identity. The One Ring could have consumed his soul had his will flagged even a little, and upon leaving the Shire, he was no longer respectable in any way – a different type of identity to lose. (Tolkien is all about losing things – and gaining them. Transformation, in other words.)

Odysseus gave up his happy life as a simple farmer for the sake of honor, and did not return home for twenty years.

Lancelot gave up romantic love for the sake of his best friend, and the resulting internal conflict tore him apart.

Huck Finn is not an epic hero — until he reckons he’d just have to go to hell in order to save his friend Jim, an escaped slave. This is one of the greatest scenes in American literature, in which Huck mulls innocently on everything he’d been taught about slavery and how interfering with slavery meant he’d go straight to hell, ultimately rejecting all of it out of love for his dear friend.

A hero is a Christ figure – giving up literally everything he values for the sake of others. He can be weak or powerful, good or not so good, young or old, so long as he sacrifices that which he most treasures. And in contemporary Western civilization, with our enlightened ideals and belief in human self-ownership, that treasure must not be the sacrifice of anyone else – in other words, it was NOT heroic when, in The Avengers: Infinity Wars, Thanos sacrificed his beloved daughter to gain an Infinity Stone in the same way the Greek king Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to Poseidon so he could invade Troy.

It is also not heroic to sacrifice something in exchange for power, wealth, or other rewards  more valuable than what you have. Rather, the hero’s sacrifice or risk must bring or preserve something of great value to others, with no reward to himself. That is why leaping on a live grenade to save others is essentially an automatic Medal of Honor In the U.S. military – there can be no greater heroic sacrifice than unthinkingly facing certain death in saving the lives of your companions.

Unfortunately, the epic hero is no longer openly honored in contemporary mainstream literature. He is seen as hokey and old-fashioned. The heroes held up for us today are the rather hapless and ordinary Garp, or the corrupt and selfish (yes, I said it) Jedi Knights, or the adulterous heroes of The Bridges of Madison County. They are the damaged and suffering heroes that SJWs wish they could be – Lisbeth the girl with the dragon tattoo, or the unknowable Atticus Finch of To Kill A Mockingbird, or the loveable but retarded Forrest Gump stumbling through modern American history. That’s why liberals honor Che and Marx – the self-sacrificing hero makes no sense to them, but a villain who seems heroic is strong and admirable. The mostly liberal New York publishing elites worship at the altar of a different god.

To fight against this, we conservative and libertarian writers need to be heroic ourselves. We need to unashamedly embrace the epic hero. Maybe it makes our work unpublishable in the mainstream of the industry. So what? We can self-publish more cheaply than ever. So it brings on social media attacks, or the very real risk of SWATting and other dangerous IRL attacks? Be not afraid. Or rather, fear, but fear wisely, and move forward anyway.

Who is the hero you want to write, the guy or gal in your heart, the one whose fiery spirit will require that he lay down his very self to save the world or a group of people or just a single person? This is your epic hero.

To create this hero, you need three elements:

First, determine what he most fears in the world. This is what he will face down. Frodo faced down, first, losing his community (not all that big a deal to him), then being captured by Riders, then becoming a wraith, and then taking on the burden of the Ring and simply walking into Mordor – all within the first half of the first volume of The Fellowship of the Ring. The rest of the trilogy is about how he did it.

Second, determine what he most values at the very core: life, eternal salvation, reputation, honor (or at least the public image of honor), love, etc. This is what he will risk – and may well lose. The beauty (not tragedy – heroism is never tragic in the pure and rather senseless Greek sense) of epic heroism is that there is not necessarily a happily ever after. The risk must be real. Jesus DIED on that cross, though it turned out well in the end.

Third, he must be placed in direct and intense conflict with those two elements. He must face his fear, and he must risk what he values, in order to accomplish the story goal. Ideally, he must face the fear in order to risk what he values. Frodo had to walk to Mordor, where he was in imminent danger of becoming a wraith in thrall to Sauron, in order to destroy the Ring, at that point his most precious possession. This is why the final scene at Mount Doom was so stunningly tense, even more than everything he’d faced up to that point. And — because his greatest fear was failing — he even failed, only to ultimately succeed through sheer grace.

Writing this kind of story is hard – really hard. It took me decades just to understand it. For that reason, I encourage lots of practice with it, not just glibly plucking fears and values and conflicts out of the sky – and your first attempts at it will fail. That is YOUR sacrifice, writer-hero – facing down failure.

Here are the heroic conflicts for two of my favorite heroes from my own works in progress:

Hero 1:

Hat-re the Eternal is a man who, through a fluke, has achieved eternal life through reincarnation into his blood descendants. Many of his descendants. have acquired the same gift. However, by Hat-re’s third incarnation, he loses his beloved first wife to death. Now, four thousand years into his eternal existence, he desires nothing so much as to truly die and be with his wife in the hereafter, or to at least be able to forget her. However, in order to do this, he must kill every blood descendant he has – ending their eternal existence as well. He sacrifices his greatest desire – his wife – and faces down his fear of eternal existence without her for the sake of his progeny. And he does it every single day.

Hero 2:

Bayliss is a foundling, adopted by a family who live in a culture entirely and eternally forbidden from using weapons. He grows into a peaceful and kind-hearted young man. Now, a person who so much as grips a sword with the intent of using it becomes a living ghost, shunned by all. When an existential threat starts killing his village’s children, he takes up a sword and instantly becomes accursed. Then he sheds the blood of innocents in order to protect his people, becoming outcast even in his own soul. Instead of seeking out death, as most shunned people do, he chooses to live as an austere Knight Protector, taking the curse of death-in-life upon himself in order to protect the culture that now rejects him.

You can see, I hope, how the epic hero is a deep, conflicted, and fascinating figure. (And if you don’t, I am doing it wrong!)

Exercise: Create an epic hero in your world, using the three elements listed above. Then dig deeper. Is that REALLY what your character values most – his dog? What about the love and respect of his father? What about his soul? Reputation? Sound mind and/or body?

Did you really choose what he fears most? Or is there something deeper and more visceral? You can fear spiders, or you can fear being buried alive, or you can fear your for-now-overcome weakness for whiskey, a weakness that transforms you from mild-mannered Bruce Banner into a vicious, monstrous, not-so-green beast.

(There is something unashamedly epic about comic book heroes – and that’s why those movies are so successful, despite the over-the-top elements in the genre. Think about that and how you can use that in your own work. Clark Griswold or Clark Kent? Griswold is a hapless loser who often stumbles into success; Kent is, of course, the hapless loser whose epic alter-ego is Superman. Ditto for other genres with very ordinary versus over-the-top heroes. James Rockford or James Bond? Rockford is approachable and believable; Bond is epic.)

Flesh out your hero a bit. Give him a name, a genre, a profession, a family. Now write a scene placing him in direct conflict with his fears and his sacrifice. Keep it short and active – a fight scene, an argument, a tense heist.

Does this hero scare you? Are you nervous about posting this scene? Good. You did it right. Now post it.

Resources, to be taken with a grain of salt: Lord Raglan’s The Hero, and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. The Hero is the first serious and systematic study of what makes an epic hero, and it lays out something of a recipe for creating that hero – without, I think, any real understanding of why that recipe works. Vogler builds on that work, and does it extremely well. When you read them, think about the three elements (fears, values, and the conflict between them), and how the different permutations of those elements color the contemporary Western hero – the one who is the ideal protagonist for a conservative or libertarian fiction story.


Part 1: Point of View: Whose Story Is It?

Part 2: Healing Wordiness and Making Yourself Clear

Part 3: Political Writing 101: Start With Theme

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