The Allure of Fictional Non-Human Heroes

By Zack Cerny, Megan McArdle, and Taylyn Hulse

Heroes in fiction are almost always human beings who perform great actions.  Often overlooked are the sizeable number of fictional characters who, despite their non-human status, show many of the most cherished qualities of our very best heroes.  Here are three such heroes:

Yoda from Star Wars

Heroes come in many shapes and sizes.  Sometimes the most unexpected hero becomes the most valiant.  The Star Wars movie franchise is filled with large and powerful heroes and villains.  It is a small, green, elfish character, though, who was the most influential of them all.

Yoda was the highest Jedi Master and was the leader of the Force.  He dedicated himself to the Force and to instructing new Jedi knights for his entire 900-year lifespan.  As he got older, his body weakened but the power of his mind increased.  In teaching new Jedi knights, he could be as comforting as a grandfather but as strict as a drill sergeant.  He adapted his style to be the teacher any Jedi knight needed.

Edward from Twilight

As can be read in Allison and Goethals’s book, Heroes: What They Do and Why We Need Them, there is a very fine line that separates a hero from a villain.  There are eight traits that describe heroes (called The Great Eight) and eight traits that describe villains (called The Evil Eight).  Interestingly, several traits can be found on both these lists — e.g., smart, strong, resilient, and charismatic.  Heroes only have two traits that villains don’t have – selfless and inspiring.  These two traits make all the difference.

It is precisely these traits of selflessness and inspiration that describe Edward, the heroic vampire of Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight series.  Edward thus represents a great departure from the evil reputation of the vampire species. In Twilight, Edward comes from a conscientious clan of vampires who have chosen not to prey on human flesh. This is not normal.  Feeding off humans is a natural instinct and even a pleasure for vampires. They are creatures who are designed to hunt humans.  But Edward chose something different.  His selflessness allowed him to find another way another way to live.  This rare restraint is what makes Edward so inspirational.

Selene from Underworld

What does it take to be a hero?  It takes courage, and above all it takes devotion to a noble cause.  Heroes are diverted from their heroic paths but by the end of their story they accomplish that which they set out to achieve.  Heroes defy the odds and make selfless decisions.  Their journey is never easy and is truly the road less traveled.

Selene from Underworld, the movie series, fits the description of a hero who takes the rarely traveled path.  Selene is dedicated to protecting a race of vampires that shuns her.  In doing so she shows true compassion for the lives of beings who are not of her same race.   Moreover, Selene inspires others with her utter fearlessness.  She remains true to her own race even when they mistreat her.  In Underworld, Selene always finds a way to emerge victorious.  Selene shows wisdom far superior to her elders, but never brags.  Ultimately, Selene inspires hope in the darkest of hours, never fears death, and does the right thing in the face of adversity.

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Zack Cerny, Megan McArdle, and Taylyn Hulse are undergraduate students at the University of Richmond.  They are enrolled in Scott Allison’s Social Psychology course and composed this essay as part of their course requirement.