This is Faith in Play #57: Heroes, for August 2022.
I have a list of topic suggestions from readers to which I occasionally refer. Among the suggestions are lists of archetypes for that miniseries, many of which I don’t understand myself–but the word “hero” appears on several different lists, including Joseph Campbell’s and Carl Jung’s, and while it has much in common with some of the other archetypes we’ve discussed, there might be something significant in it.
In the movie Legend (the 1985 Ridley Scott fantasy film with Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, and Tim Curry, which I have not seen it far too long), the dwarf(?) Gump explains to the forest boy Jack that they are going to need a hero, and describes some of the necessary traits of such a bold and strong person. Jack asks, “Where can we find such a person?”
Gump replies, curtly, “You’ll do.”
That on some level encapsulates the nature of the hero. Jack is typical, but Luke Skywalker of Star Wars is similar, or Galen of Dragonslayer, or Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings, the unpromisingly ordinary individual who lands in this position, that someone has to do something and it falls to him, or her, to do it.
We are immediately attracted to this positive aspect of the hero, that he is willing to do what must be done without regard for whether he believes himself able to do it. When the angel called Gideon a “mighty warrior”, the young man must have thought the messenger had the wrong address; but when he asked where the deliverance of God from the Midianites was, and the angel told him that God had sent him for this, he rose to the occasion and started taking steps to face the enemy. It is that heroic sense of, “I’m not qualified to do this, but it has to be done, and I seem to be the only one available.”
The problem with heroes, as we saw with warriors and knights, and in a similar way with wizards, is that there is the temptation to believe that you are somehow privileged, that because you have done this great deed you earned a special place in the world, deserve special treatment, should be accorded accolades. It is the rare hero who can respond that he was an ordinary person when this all began, and he is still an ordinary person and doesn’t expect anyone to think otherwise.
In this we see something of God’s grace and our response. The hero is presented with an opportunity to do something so good it might be great, and he does it. After that, the question is whether he recognizes that this was something anyone could have done, that he just happened to be the one to do it, or whether he thinks he has now earned something, become deserving of something. That we are sometimes called on by God to do great things does not make us great people; we may be heroes, but in being heroes we have to remember that we are ordinary people. As someone has said, you are an important and valuable specially gifted individual, just like everyone else. That is an important part of being a hero.
Of course, the word “hero” is used for a lot of other types, such as Conan or Superman; but perhaps that is a different archetype, the superhero. Maybe we’ll come back to that.