Well, what does? Is it a bronzed body and blond hair? A lithe frame that houses a mouth that has withering comebacks? Maybe it’s a small boy that can barely lift fifteen pounds. Or even a talking dolphin tinged blue? Or maybe, what really makes a Hero is not what they are but what they do.
“It is not what you claim to do or will do that makes you a hero but what you do.” I can see the aged Gandalf speaking these words easily, or for that matter, pretty much any mentor in any book with a hero. The phrase seems to personify a part of the fantasy genre. Little people doing big things against even bigger odds. It’s not what the hero looks like that makes us want Nathan Shepherd to survive against the flood of those who would kill him in Nightmares Edge. It’s the fact that he is the underdog doing amazing things, or at least trying to while not giving up even in the face failure. He’s on a search for his mother and father after finding them murdered in a back room, fighting to prevent interdimensional collisions and to take care of his new friends and family. All the while wooing the hearts of his readers.
Nathan isn’t particularly good looking, nor is he a genius in slacks, but he is a pleasant and chivalrous young man on a mission, a mission to find his parents free them, and save the world. Fighting the forces that be, to protect what has been given to him. It’s not what he is that makes us like him as a hero, even want to pattern ourselves after, it is what he does.
Can we love a hero that messes everything up? That always says the wrong thing at the wrong time? I submit yes, because the hero is more than what he is as a person, it is what he is in combination with what he does that makes a good hero, a loveable hero, a hero we cheer for. Now, I am not saying that for readers to love your hero they must have a speech impediment and a mobility handicap while rescuing a princess in distress, but I am saying, don’t be afraid to give your hero some serious setbacks! He doesn’t have to be Mr. Right for him/her to make a good hero.
I stated above about how it is what the hero does is what really matters not who he is, but for the hero to be doing things, there have to be things to do!
As the old saying goes, “If there are no dragons to slay, don’t hire a dragon slaying knight they eat too much.” It may seem obvious but I think well worth stating. If there is nothing for the hero to do, no gigantic odds to beat, nothing to make us go, “Oh no! He is doomed, do something!!” Then the story’s hero will be lacking luster and the reader will be drawn away by some other entertainment they can relate to. Something I have noticed reading fantasy is that if the evil in the story is not something I can identify with on some level, I have a hard time connecting with the hero. I need to see that, “Wow! This is really a mountain for him to try to scale.” Not, “Oh, Ok…so why did he attack the castle again?” Make the opposition make sense, and it make appose.
So in conclusion, what makes a good hero?
1) Some serious effort on his part to do whatever the hero does ;)
2) Some serious opposition against what the hero is trying to do.
3) If you can make the first two believable then you already have a good hero regardless of his purpose. And a reader who will buy a copy!(Me)