Friday, November 3, 2023

We Can Be Heroes


by Abir


Whom do you consider the greatest hero you’ve read, and why?


This is an interesting question. Are we talking fiction or non-fiction? And how do we define hero? The great thing about a blog like this is that I’m free to interpret the question in any way I want. So let’s go with fiction.


Heroes. Meh. I can take ‘em or leave ‘em, at least in the sense of the guy who swoops in and saves the day or the damsel or the whatever else it might be. Anti-heroes, now they’re much more my cup of tea. Give me a flawed protagonist, or even better, a failing protagonist, and now you’ve got my attention.


We like character because of their flaws. We relate to them because of their failings. It’s what makes them human. And for me, generally the more flawed the better.


That doesn’t necessarily mean a cop with a drinking problem or a drug problem or a loner or a corrupt officer (though it can be any of these). For me, the ideal hero is an everyman or everywoman, just trying to get by, who’s thrown into an extraordinary situation, and sometime failing.


Other than flaws, what do I want in a hero? 

·      A sense of humour would be nice. The darker the better. 


·      Intelligence – I want a hero who uses brains over brawn.


·      A love interest – ideally the love is unrequited, but it has to be complicated, otherwise what’s the point?


·      A person whose conscience is compromised, but who, despite everything will make a stand (if only partial) for the truth – I admit, I’m a sucker for a morally compromised or uncertain hero, mainly because I fear anyone who is too sure of anything, be it religion or ideology. I’m always on the side of the doubters, the ones who don’t believe they have all the answers or a monopoly on truth.


·      I don’t know what else. I guess it depends on the character and the situation.



So where does that leave me? Who is my favourite hero in fiction? There are a couple of runners-up: Bernie Gunther, the hero of Philip Kerr’s series set in Nazi era and then post-war Germany; and Arkady Renko, Martin Cruz-Smith’s detective working in first Communist, then post-Communist Russia. They are similar characters, and they tick off so many of the requirements on my list. Bernie is probably too well built to be my perfect hero – he’s too good with his fists. Arkady though, I picture as borderline consumptive, which is much more up my street. 


But what about my favourite character?


That would have to be, the one and only Winston Smith from George Orwell’s 1984. He ticks pretty much all of the boxes, save maybe the sense of humour, but the world he’s living in does not much allow for humour. But there are flashes of it, and what little there is tends to be as black as pitch.

So why do I like him?  He is an everyman. There is absolutely nothing special about him, other than he is a non-conformist. He has a brain, and he questions things where others accept them. Physically he’s just a middle-aged man in poor shape, the very antithesis of the model of masculinity the society he lives in venerates. As for love interest – his relationship with Julia is, in my opinion, tragic on even a Shakespearian level. Any finally, there is failure. Total and utter failure. Winston rebels against the Party. Right from the start he knows it’s futile, but he does it anyway, because his conscience compels him, and the result is tragic. 


I’m not sure what it says about me, that I should place such a character as my favourite hero in all of fiction. Nothing good, I’m sure, but there you go. 


Heroes, the best heroes, I think are those who could be us. Who embody our values and who can fail just as we fail. But they can also succeed, sometimes against the odds, and that too, because it is unexpected, is wonderful.


So here’s to the ordinary heroes, the flawed human beings who sometimes triumph and sometimes fail, but who always try. Because they are the best of us.









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