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Heroic characters


Disciplines > Storytelling > Characters > Heroic characters

The generic hero | Hero sub-types | See also


This is a collection of heroic types, by no means complete or definitive, but which illustrate the richness of heroes that may be found in various stories.

Heroic subtypes discussed here are:


The Generic Hero

The generic Hero is the protagonist or main character of most stories, although stories may also have multiple heroes in them (for example Lord of the Rings).

The Hero is important in that we identify with him or her more strongly than with other character. We thus vicariously experience  what the hero goes through, empathizing with their fears and exaltations. To identify with them means that they must be sympathetic in some way, and that the less attractive heroes have some redeeming feature with which we can connect.

A common theme is that the hero demonstrates courage in overcoming external obstacles to their goal. This may also parallel an internal transformation where they also overcome internal obstacles, thus growing and learning.

Hero sub-types

The Classic Hero

The Classic Hero is the person who goes on a quest to achieve some good end that benefits other people in some way. Perhaps they are rescuing a maiden in distress or preventing a dastardly villain from ruling the world.

We look up to the Classic Hero but may not fully believe their perfection. Nevertheless they are a clear ideal to which we can aspire.

The Tragic Hero

The Tragic Hero reflects more of the real world in that the slings, arrows and bullets that are thrown at them do not always miss.

The classic Tragic Hero is doomed from the outset, yet the continue in their quest, perhaps achieving it just before they (tragically) die.

The Tragic Hero may also fail in their quest, perhaps having bitten off more than they can chew.

For the audience, the tragic hero may represent their fears for themselves, that despite their best efforts that they will fail.

The Accidental Hero

The Accidental Hero just happens to get in the way of excitement and adventure and is swept up, often protesting, in the action. Perhaps their car is hi-jacked by gunmen or they are in a plane that crashes on a desert island. Which ever way, they are thrust into the main storyline and somehow manage to succeed, either stepping up to the plate and taking unavoidable responsibility or bumbling through and succeeding despite their own protests and inappropriate actions.

We associate more easily with the Accidental Hero as they generally represent the common person more than other heroes. Their plight is often a recipe for comedy as they stumble through the plot and we laugh at their naivety and slapstick.

The Super-hero

The Super-hero is an exaggeration of the classic hero in their abilities to succeed. In the modern genre they have super-human powers, such as Superman and the characters of the X-Men. In older stories, such heroes were mighty warriors or magicians.

These powers could make them human, so they often are portrayed with very human weaknesses and go through life-threatening experiences just as other heroes. Thus Superman is weakened by green kryptonite.

The Super-hero story often paints black-and-white caricatured characters in the same way that hero's powers are exaggerated. Thus thus bad guy is truly evil and the henchmen are pretty stupid.

The Super-hero represents our dreams in which we can fly and have super-human strength.

The Anti-hero

The Anti-hero is a hero that we do not particularly like. Their indifference or distraction irritate us and they seem determined not to be heroic, but when the chips are down they pull out the stops and deliver.

Anti-heros can be frustrating for the audience, but they do increase anticipation and excitement as we wonder what they will do next.

The Knight

The Knight is driven by the knightly code of honor that demands bold acts and confrontation of evil wherever it may be found. The Knight thus rescues maidens but does not woo them, preferring instead to preserve a distant purity.

We tend not to associate directly with the Knight but they do represent the rescue that we often crave.

The Crusader

The Crusader is characterized by being driven by a powerful mission to which all other activities are subservient. The crusade often targets many others and may, for example, be to convert many people to a way of thinking.

We admire the Crusader's fortitude in standing up to almost overwhelming odds. Through them we may realize that we can persuade others and change the world. 

The Genius

The Genius is a highly intelligent person who uses their substantial brain-power to solve the problems with which they are confronted and decide what to do next. No problem is too big for them and they relish in conundrums and puzzles.

Geniuses may play in supporting roles, but can also take on the leading role. They are often nerdy, lacking social skills, but making up for this with their towering intellect. Sherlock Holmes is a classic example.

We may well envy their mental powers but are grateful that they are on the side of good.

The Leader

The Leader directs the troops, often from the front, who may contain other heroes, in achieving a critical goal. Their main skill is in inspiring and motivating others, although they also need to be able to determine which direction to lead their party.

The Leader can represent a parent or teacher who tells you what to do. By ceding decision to them, you place your trust in their ability to chose and achieve the final treasure.

The Bold Adventurer

The Bold Adventurer is close to the classic hero although with the primary goal of excitement and stimulation more than achieving some end (which they may also need to achieve -- it is just that their personal satisfaction comes from the thrills of getting there).

The Adventurer thus steps into the unknown with a smile on their face and, whilst we might not follow them as we would the leader, we are drawn along with the story which promises non-stop excitement.

The courageous Child

When children are cast into leading roles, we expect them to behave as children, seeking adults who will protect them from harm. Thus when a child steps forward and takes on the bad guys we are amazed and impressed.

The Courageous Child perhaps represents something from our own childhood, where we played imaginary games of adventure, thus letting us recapture our youth for a little while.

The Whizz kid

The Whizz-kid is first a genius who usually knows everything there is to know about some subject -- often technology -- and usually more than the bumbling adults who are thrown into confusion by the amazing genius before them.

The Whizz-kid invents prodigiously and comes up with amazing contraptions or other solutions to whatever problems they face.

This prodigy perhaps represents some secret desires we have for super powers of the intellect. If we were to be like them (or at least have their brains) we could solve most of the problems before us at a single stroke.

The Silent Man

The Silent hero says little and does what is necessary with the minimum of fuss. They express little emotion, just getting on with what needs doing.

They are often mysterious characters and we wonder why they do what they do. Nevertheless we admire their abilities and also their lack of demands on the people around them. Other heroes may be a bit full of themselves by comparison.

The Founder

The Founder begins things, often institutions or societies that become great, perhaps through taking on some of the greatness of the founder.

In real life, company founders are often mythologized into heroic characters by the stories told of their vision and compassion.

Founders are also associated with birth and creation, which reaches deep into our psyches.

The Martyr

The Martyr first offers self-sacrifice in the name of a greater cause or the safety of significant others. This putting of others before oneself is a characteristic of most other heroes and martyrdom is a potential and defining route for any heroic action.

We may have great admiration for those who lay down their lives for their countries or their faiths, particularly in their ability to transcend our deep fear of dying and death.

The Savior

The Savior's noble goal is to rescue others from discomfort and distress. Whether it is a lost child or captured maiden, the savior's promise is of succor and salvation.

The Savior plays directly to our need for rescue that echoes down from early childhood, where parents would save us from real or imagined ills.

The Noble Savage

The Noble Savage is a primitive being who, from their appearance, would seem to be little more than an animal and hence could be expected to be fierce and uncaring (and perhaps too primitive to understand care).

Yet they also have a deep spark of humanity that perhaps exceeds our own, as they act with dignity and concern that is thrown into contrast against our expectations of them. Thus there may be a confusing juxtaposition, as we become the savage and they become the civilized being.

Thus the Noble Savage surprises and teaches us.

The Gentle Giant

Something like the Noble Savage, the huge person would seem to be able harm us without difficulty, yet they act in contrast to their appearance (and perhaps deliberately so) in the way that they gently and delicately interface with the world around them.

The Gentle Giant may not always be gentle as they mete out punishment to the villains, perhaps as they barge their way through on a rescue mission.

We are grateful to them for not harming the good guys and thus place them on a heroic plinth.

The Rough Diamond

The Rough Diamond is someone who may appear as a villain and maybe does have villainous tendencies. However, they also have a heart of gold and may unexpectedly perform heroic acts, perhaps even surprising themselves in the process.

The Rough Diamond, as with the noble savage and the gentle giant, reminds us that the world is not always as it seems and that goodness can be reassuringly found in even the most unexpected places.

See also

Pearson's heroic archetypes, Villainous characters


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