Remembrance Day seems like a good day to talk about heroes. While Canada is quietly reflecting on its real heroes, we’ll start with fictional ones.
Heroism in fiction, like strength in characters, can so often be confused with violence. It's easy to see why. When the show Firefly says “time for some thrilling heroics,” it means a shoot out. Final showdowns in most blockbuster movies mean daring deeds coupled with explosions. Even fairy tales – or maybe especially fairy tales – tend to feature a hero that vanquishes great evil with a sword, and saves the day with blood.
Yet even in all these works of fiction, what makes a hero is not how they fight, but how they fall. In his sensation novel The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins opens the novels by telling the reader that “this is a story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and of what a Man’s resolution can achieve.” (Yes, I know, the quote is full of all kinds of problems of the roles of men and women, and yes, we could open up a discussion of how The Woman in White actually has one particularly strong female character. But now not.) What strikes me as most important in this quote is the word “endure.” As readers have responded to my writing, they have often commented that the moments where they most love the characters are the moments when the characters are in the most pain.
Heroes are heroes because of what they endure. A story that is compelling is so because of how a character rises when they fall. This is the case whether the character has a sword and shield, whether they wear a cape, or whether they simply stay standing in the face of terrible circumstances. Those we remember on Remembrance Day are heroes as much for their endurance of the pain as for their participation in the fight. It is a heroism that never really ends, as they continue to endure the memories and pain that claim so many, even after the fighting stops.
Does it seem childish to still want fictional heroes? Maybe. Maybe one of our flaws is that instead of looking for ordinary people doing decent things, we search for heroes, figures who are larger than life, who make us feel safe even as they make us feel small. I like to think of it in a different way – that heroes in their purest form are hope, in the face of so much darkness. In the words of C. S. Lewis, “since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”
Jane Perrella. Teacher, writer. Expert knitter. Enthusiast of medieval swordplay, tea, Shakespeare, and Batman.