Category Archives: Fictional Heroes

Harry Potter: The Perfect Fictional Hero

20160210_nerdistnews_harrypottercursedchild_1x1By Annie Ryan

It may seem obvious that Harry Potter is a hero. After all, he does save the world from the evil that is Lord Voldemort. But what kind of hero is he? According to Goethals and Allison’s (2012) taxonomy of heroism, Harry fits best in the traditional hero category, in which the hero completes the the class hero’s journey as described by famed mythologist Joseph Campbell.

Throughout the series’ cumulative 4100 pages, Harry follows the major stages of the hero’s journey: departure, initiation, and return. When we first meet Harry, he is an obedient, insecure, and lonely boy who lives in a closet. He has no friends and no one who cares about him, and he accepts that this is his life. Fortuitously, Harry is plucked out of this mundane life, never to return again. In this new world, he is famous, adored, and is expected to do great things.

In his initiation stage, a second taxonomic system can be included in defining Harry Potter as a hero. Harry belongs in the category of underdog, an important hero-type in Franco, Blau, & Zimbardo’s (2011) taxonomy of heroism. He is in a world where everyone exceeds him in knowledge and experience. At Hogwarts, almost all the students grew up with wizards, and have had exposure to magic. Harry is an underdog on the traditional hero’s journey.

This underdog theme persists throughout the various books: he is the only first-year Quidditch player, is more sensitive to the dementors that are brought into Hogwarts than the other students, and is the only under-age 635890934224265787884431994_new-harry-potter-story-halloweenstudent in the Triwizard Tournament. Most importantly, his archenemy, Lord Voldemort, is a brilliant wizard with powerful wizards as his allies. Harry is an amateur wizard, and his allies are amateur wizards for the majority of obstacles he faces.

Inspiring underdogs often emerge as leaders. Harry has had various labels assigned to him, including “The Boy Who Lived”, “The Chosen One”, “Undesirable Number One”, and “a lying show-off”. There’s no denying that Harry embraces his role in the war against Voldemort, and he begins to become a leader. He heads the rebel organization Dumbledore’s Army, is Quidditch Captain, and is ultimately commander-in-chief of the Battle of Hogwarts, which results in the defeat of Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters. His influence is so strong that people continued to fight and die for him even after they thought he was dead.

His death suggests that Harry fits into a second category in Franco et al.’s taxonomic structure of heroes, the martyr. In one of the final chapters of the books, Harry sacrifices his own life in order to defeat Lord Voldemort and save the world. But even before his ultimate sacrifice, Harry risks his life to help others. Harry completes dangerous tasks to stop Lord Voldermort from reaching the Sorcerer’s Stone, enters the Chamber of Secrets to save Ginny Weasley’s life, and almost drowns saving Gabrielle Delacour. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry breaks into the Ministry of Magic, Gringotts, and Hogwarts under the risk of capture and subsequent death in order to destroy the Horcruxes and thus Lord Voldemort.

One could say that Harry’s return stage begins after he dies. After Lord Voldemort “kills” him, he talks to his mentor, Albus Dumbledore, and finally learns all the information to defeat Lord Voldemort. As with all great heroes, Harry returns to Earth, his transformation complete. He can finally complete his journey, and although he never physically returns to the Muggle world where he started, he is rejoined with everything he loves. After coming back from the dead, Harry is the true heroic leader everyone expected him to be.

References

Allison, S. T., Goethals, G. R., & Kramer, R. M. (2017). Setting the scene: The rise and coalescence of heroism science. In S. T. Allison, G. R. Goethals, & R. M. Kramer (Eds.), Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.

Goethals, G. R., & Allison, S. T. (2012). Making heroes: The construction of courage, competence, and virtue. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 183-235.

Franco, Z. E., Blau, K., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2011). Heroism: A conceptual analysis and differentiation between heroic action and altruism. Review of General Psychology, 15(2), 99-113.

Atticus Finch and the Life Lessons of Moral Courage

UntitledBy Sophia Grillo

One of the most admirable actions that a human being can perform is an act of moral courage. Moral courage is aimed at stopping the unfair treatment or degradation of individuals by reinforcing moral standards and values. The key to a morally courageous act is having the ability and willingness to overcome barriers and to withstand pushback from others.

One fictional character who demonstrates a great act of moral courage is Atticus Finch. Not only did he defy the majority and put his family in danger, he stood by his beliefs in honor of racial equality.

To Kill A Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee, takes place in a racist white community of Maycomb, Alabama. Atticus Finch, the father of Jem and Scout Finch, is a prominent lawyer and financially prosperous compared to the rest of his community. Putting the community’s racist beliefs aside, Atticus agrees to defend a black man named Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell.

When the trial begins, Tom Robinson is placed in the local jail and an angry mob of white men tries to lynch him.  Atticus confronts the mob the night before the trial. Jem and Scout, who have sneaked out of the house, soon join him. Jem and Scout are exposed to the horrors of the racist community that they live in and face verbal abuse from other Maycomb citizens.

At the trial itself, the children sit in the “colored balcony” with the town’s black citizens. Atticus provides clear evidence that the accusers, Mayella Ewell and her father, Bob, are lying. Despite overwhelming evidence pointing toUntitled Tom’s innocence, the all-white jury convicts him. Tom later tries to escape from prison and is shot to death.

Atticus’ decision to defend Tom Robinson is an act of moral courage for multiple reasons. Atticus was one of the few people of Maycomb who believed in racial equality. It took great courage to challenge the racist climate of that time. It would have been much easier for him to align with the majority than to fight for the rights of one black man.

Another reason Atticus’ actions can be seen as morally courageous is because his decision to defend Tom put his family in danger. The exposure of the Finch family during the trial caused Scout and Jem to face constant harassment from other children and adults in Maycomb. Although Atticus knew that his family would face this horrific kind of treatment, he decided that the life lessons of this experience far outweighed any negatives.

Atticus showed his children firsthand a hard lesson about right and wrong, and that sometimes the unpopular road is the right road. Witnessing their father’s actions, Jem and Scout are able to learn for themselves to stand up for truth and justice no matter what the consequences. Atticus spreads moral courage without even realizing it.

Atticus also stuck to his beliefs. One of the most important characteristics of morally courageous people is that they remain committed to their ideas despite all consequences. In this case, Atticus knew what he was getting into when he decided to defend a black man. Instead of letting the ignorance of others discourage him, he continued to put on a fair trail and taught his children valuable lessons along the way.

Psychologist Anna Halmburger has recently proposed an Integrative Model of Moral Courage and Relevant Determinants. She outlines five steps leading to morally courageous behavior. First, one must notice the situation; second, they have to interpret the situation as a “norm violation”; third, they must accept responsibility to act; fourth, they must possess intervention skills; finally, they must decide to take the intervening action.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Courtroom drama film in which Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge. Stars: Gregory Peck. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Courtroom drama film in which Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge. Stars: Gregory Peck. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images)

Atticus Finch goes through each of these decision stages leading up to the trial. He acknowledges the accusation of Tom Robinson and the fact that racism is a huge problem in Maycomb. He then accepts responsibility as a lawyer that everyone deserves a fair chance no matter what his or her skin color. He ignores personal constraints like what consequences he and his family would face. And finally, he intervenes with strong evidence that Tom Robinson is innocent.

The difference between moral courage and heroism is that moral courage is much more personal than heroism. For example, Atticus personally believes that racial inequality is wrong. Halmburger writes, “moral courage is aimed to protect moral values and standards.” In other words, the main purpose of morally courageous acts is to spread and enforce positive and personal morals. Atticus not only spread his morals but he also protected the rights of another citizen even if the town did not agree.

At the end of her article, Halmburger writes, “The more everyone contributes to the protection of moral values in their daily lives, the fewer heroes will be needed to show morally courageous behavior.” The world needs more people like Atticus Finch. The more people who try to spread and protect positive morals, the fewer societal problems there will be. The whole purpose of Atticus defending Tom Robinson was his hope that his moral stand would become contagious and lead to the defeat of racial inequality.

Personally, I believe that moral courage is more admirable than heroism because anyone can be a hero. It takes real strength to stick to your beliefs in the face of tremendous adversity and discomfort while ignoring all possible consequences. Atticus states “if I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again. […] Scout, simply by the nature of the work, every lawyer gets at least one case in his lifetime that affects him personally. This one’s mine, I guess.” (9.16-21) This quote shows that this trial was more than just defending an innocent victim. It was about doing the most good and letting nothing stand in the way of personal values and beliefs.

Overall, Atticus Finch was definitely not viewed as a hero to anyone in Maycomb. However, his bold actions of moral courage showed that it didn’t matter if people viewed him as a hero. What mattered was the lesson and example he set for his own children and his bravery in going against an entire town for the sake of one man’s rights. His action reflects the qualities of a truly moral lawyer and remarkable human being. It makes Atticus Finch as admirable, if not more so, than any hero.

References

Allison, S. T., Goethals, G. R., & Kramer, R. M. (Eds.) (2017). Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.

Halmburger, A., Baumert, A., & Schmitt, M. (2017). Everyday heroes: Determinants of moral courage. In S. T. Allison, G. R. Goethals, & R. M. Kramer (Eds.), Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.

 

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Why We Love “Star Wars”

star-wars-which-classic-film-have-you-not-seen-ftrBy Bennett L. Schwartz, Ph.D.

Heroes in the real world are in short supply and usually ambiguous.  Consider the three brave men who took down the terrorist on a train in Belgium.  I certainly think of them as heroes, and they did likely save many lives, but, in reality, they waited until it was apparent that the terrorist’s gun had jammed before they rushed him.  In the movies, such heroes would bring down the villain amidst a hail of bullets.

In the original “Star Wars,” a lone orphaned “farm boy” with only some folk wisdom to guide him single-handedly attacks and eliminates the Death Star, the most lethal weapon ever invented.   For forty years now, many of us have waited with much anticipation for the next installment of “Star Wars,” expecting to escape from our own ambiguous and complex world to “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away” in which good and evil are easily distinguished.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Green, a social psychologist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, contemplating acts of heroism inspires us to find meaning and virtue in our own lives.  Green invokes the concept of “terror-management,” which refers to the manner in which we deal with the dread of our own mortality.  We know we are going to die –but what of our lives will survive our death?  Heroes – from real ones like Martin Luther King, Jr. to fictional ones like Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter – achieve an immortality through their heroism.

In Green’s view, by identifying with the hero, we perhaps find a bit of immortality for ourselves.    For this reason, we identify more with heroes who SausageServlet-4-379489are like us in some fundamental way. Luke Skywalker, from his humble beginnings, must find the courage to do the right thing.  In this way, Luke is an American hero, self-taught, self-made, accomplishing great things because of his will, his inner belief in himself, and just a bit of manifest destiny.   Thus, his triumphs are also ours.

But “Stars Wars” provides other archetypes – so, if Luke is not the hero we identify with, there are other we can.  Hans Solo acts not to right the wrongs of the world, but embodies heroism through loyalty – he won’t leave behind a friend in trouble.  Princess Leia, is already a hero at movie’s start – we admire and aspire to her intelligence, courage, and determination. Obi-Wan Kenobi is a hero past who sacrifices himself so Luke can do what’s right.   Regardless of who we identify with, through that identification, it brings meaning and comfort to our own struggle to make sense of the world.

According to Green, the true hero sees his or his archenemy as redeemable.  This is a fundamentally Christian notion, that even the worst of us can repent and find salvation.  The true hero recognizes this and offers this change to the enemy. In “Star Wars,” this Christian notion of forgiveness emerges many times over, including in the final scene of Episode 6, in which Luke’s faith in the goodness of Darth Vader allows Darth Vader himself to conquer both the evil in himself and the evil that controls him.  At first, this ending may make us uncomfortable – for years, “Darth Vader” was a synonym for evil.  But we also see the complexity of our own lives reflected in the epic struggle of hero and villain, leaving us uplifted by this concept of redemption, so central to our belief system

Thus, deliberately, George Lucas has created an enduring epic myth that appeals to some of our most fundamental beliefs, which spares us – at least for two hours at a time – of the buzzing confusion and ambiguity that is our normal lives.

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The Grinch: A Villain Makes a Hero’s Journey

tumblr_lwoa32M1pW1qcyr71By Suzanne Lucero

Around this time of year a person might find his or her thoughts turning to a well-known literary character whose ultimate redemption holds hope for even the most hard-hearted of individuals.

I am speaking, of course, of the Grinch.

In the first sentence of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (by Dr. Seuss), we are introduced to the villain of the piece.

Every Who

Down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot …

But the Grinch,

Who lived just north of Who-ville,

Did NOT.

That’s terrible, we think. Who doesn’t like Christmas? A few sentences later, though, we are given the probable reason for the Grinch’s dislike. His heart, you see, is two sizes too small. Suddenly, the Grinch is a tiny bit sympathetic, and we sort-of understand when he declares,

“Why, for fifty-three years I’ve put up with it now!

“I MUST stop this Christmas from coming!

… But, HOW?”’

This is the inciting incident. The Grinch thinks Christmas means noisy toys and feasting and singing, so how does he stop all this from happening? The Grinch comes up with a plan, a “great, grinchy trick,” and puts it into action. In other words, his journey begins.

He begins by making a Santa Clause hat and coat. (He foregoes the snowy-white beard, though. Maybe it itches.) Then he decides grinch+with+doghe needs a reindeer to complete his St. Nick impersonation. For this he enlists his tiny dog, Max. The Grinch ties a horn on top of Max’s head, thereby changing the dog from a mere pet to a minion: Max will be aiding the Grinch by pulling his sled.

The plan starts well. The Grinch has Max pull the sled into Who-ville and proceeds to steal everything from the first house he sees. The only obstacle that presents itself to the Grinch comes in the shape of a child who has woken up to get a glass of water. When she asks why he is taking the Christmas tree, he placates her with a lie and sends her back to bed. The Grinch continues to ransack the village until all the presents, all the decorations, and all the food for the feast is packed into bags, loaded precariously on the sled, and pulled:

Three thousand feet up! Up the side of Mt. Crumpet,

He rode with his load to the tiptop to dump it.

(You’ve really got to be feeling sorry for Max at this point.)

The Grinch gloats. He’s won! Christmas can’t come, now. Everything is gone and the Whos will all be crying. He pauses to savor his victory and puts his hand to his ear to listen.

And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.

It started in low. Then it started to grow…

But the sound wasn’t sad!

Why, this sound sounded merry!

It couldn’t be so!

But it WAS merry! VERY!

In the hero’s journey, there comes a point where he or she must “enter the cave.” This is the ultimate low point in the story. The hero is alone, either physically or emotionally. Everything he or she has been working for is crumbling and the antagonist has triumphed; the hero is, actually or metaphorically, dead.

This is the Grinch’s cave. This is where he realizes he’s failed.

 He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming.

IT CAME!

Somehow or other, it came just the same.

But How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a hero’s journey, not a morality tale. For all villains, unless they are true psychopaths (which is a medical condition), the cave offers a final chance to redeem themselves. When their defenses have been beaten and they are no longer fighting but only trying to understand why they failed, their hearts can be touched with a little thing called grace.

Then the Grinch though of something he hadn’t before!

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.

“Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”

That was the elixir the Grinch found in his cave, the piece of him that was missing. He realized that material things don’t bring happiness. Simply being together with those we love is reason enough to sing.

the_grinch_cut_the_first_roast_beast_by_rhetoric_of_sushi-d4jyzdfAnd what happened then …?

Well … in Who-ville they say

That the Grinch’s small heart

Grew three sizes that day.

With this new understanding and (we hope) love in his heart, the Grinch completes his hero’s journey by returning everything he has taken from the Whos and sharing in their celebratory feast.

Merry Christmas everyone.

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Suzanne Lucero is a wife, mother, and pre-published author who knows a little about a lot of things and is constantly learning more. She is passionate about writing and is determined to publish her novel-in-progress within 5 years.

 

 

Carl Fredricksen: Old Man on a Mission

By Robby Schranze and Brian Guay

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, though not usually in the form of a short old man with a cane.

In Disney Pixar’s 2009 animated film, Up, Carl Fredricksen becomes a hero after he begrudgingly discovers an unwanted passenger aboard his escape to paradise, and gradually sacrifices his life’s goal for this young boy’s happiness.  

After the loss of his wife, Carl lives his life as a recluse.  He sits beside his late wife’s empty chair in their house surrounded by objects and memories as a city grows around him.  Rather than move to a retirement home or give up his house, Carl releases thousands of balloons that lift the house away into the sky.  Though Carl escapes a changing outside world, he brings his inner world (i.e., his house and belongings) with him, not willing to part with this connection to his wife.

Carl crosses a threshold from a journey to his unexpected journey when, floating at 10 thousand feet, a terrified boy knocks on his door and asks to come inside to safety.  In an instant, Carl’s solitude is disrupted and his life is flipped upside down. Yes, grumpy old Carl initially refuses to let Russell inside!

With the 8-year old now at his side, Carl encounters a long dirt road of trials and tribulations that weaves through the deep South American wilderness.  The pair get caught between a rare exotic bird named Kevin, who is trying to find her children, and an evil explorer seeking to capture the bird.  Carl’s selfish nature surfaces one last time when he abandons the bird, alienates Russell, and returns to his beloved house.

However, Carl undergoes a transformation and is called to action once more, though this time not by the selfish, reclusive motives that originally sent he and his house into the sky.  In order to lift the house back into the air to save Russell and Kevin, Carl destroys his precious belongings.  This pure sacrifice of his inner-life for others is a significant turning point in his life and establishes him as a hero.  He later risks his life and nearly falls to his death to save Russell, cementing his new role as Russell’s and the audience’s hero.

After Carl and Russell save Kevin, they return home on a magical flight, crossing the threshold back from their adventure and bringing with them new identities.  Carl fills in as Russell’s father figure at his boy scout ceremony and gives Russell a gift that once belonged to his wife.  This gift marks Carl’s immense transformation from a grumpy, secluded old man to a caregiver, friend, and father figure.  With this change, Carl is able to prove that he is a master of two worlds; he followed his childhood dream to explore the world, and he is able to love and care for someone after the loss of his wife.

Just as not all heroes carry a cane, not all heroes are without challenges and faults.  Faced with immense grief and a selfish attitude, Carl demonstrates the timeless act of transformation, self-sacrifice, and renewal that inspires us all.

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Robby Schranze and Brian Guay are undergraduate students at the University of Richmond. They wrote this essay as part of their course requirement while enrolled in Dr. Scott Allison’s Social Psychology class.

Will Kane: The Unconventional Hero of High Noon

By Jesse Schultz

In many ways the hero of the western genre has it easy. They’re often tough as nails, a sure and expert shot with a six-shooter or two, and can meet any threat with a steely-eyed resolve. While their opponents can be formidable, in the end these adversaries will be not quite as brave, tough, or good with a gun.

That was what made the portrayal of the character of Will Kane so jarring in the 1952 film High Noon. America was familiar with the western, ranging from well-made dramas to B-grade outings with comedy and song. The plot is a familiar enough one: the lawman of a small frontier town receives word that a bad man and sworn enemy has been released from jail and is en route to meet up with his gang. Revenge is promised and a showdown inevitable.

But already Kane is reluctant to face his old nemesis. Newly married to a Quaker wife (played by Grace Kelly), Kane only wants to retire from his position as Marshal and ride off with his bride — which he actually does at first at the behest of his friends. But he can’t.

Instinctively, Kane knows that he will have to face his enemy, Frank Miller, eventually and he decides that he’d rather do it at his home with a badge and a gun. Here the plot deviates from formula as Kane receives no help from his old friends and even his new wife is urging him to flee. His attempts to recruit deputies is an abject failure and his current deputy will only help if he’s promised the job of Marshal — a position Kane does not believe he’s fit for.

The town is unanimous: despite the crimes Frank Miller has committed or the fact that collectively they outnumber his gang several times over they want Will Kane to take the fight elsewhere. They want no part of it.

Alone and betrayed, Kane is understandably terrified. He has lost his long-time friends, his wife, and soon he is likely to loose his life as Miller is due to arrive by train at high noon. Gary Cooper does an excellent job of portraying Kane’s fear without seeming cowardly. But despite having lost everything he refuses to run. He will face Frank Miller no matter how terrified he is.

In movies we’re accustomed to seeing the hero face down and defeat armies of opponents as if it were merely a day at the office. That is what made High Noon special for its time. Will Kane is understandably fearful in facing a gang single-handedly and knows he would likely face defeat, but he stays anyway.

Still not all appreciated the film and it is said that the later film western, 1959’s Rio Bravo starring John Wayne, is a counter-point to High Noon. Both films have their merits and both have their own depiction of heroism. But High Noon has, I think, the most telling portrayal of a hero. The story of a man, who while completely terrified, opts to stay and do the right thing regardless of the cost.

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The author, Jesse Schultz, really does live in the West and frequently becomes nervous when the clock strikes twelve.  Two of his previous blog posts on Merlin and The Makers of Fire will appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals.