Category Archives: Legendary Heroes

The Fame and Heroism of Sherlock Holmes

By George R. Goethals and Scott T. Allison

Can a nerdy detective become a hero? The answer is yes. There are many examples – Columbo, Ellery Queen, and Jessica Fletcher come to mind. But perhaps the greatest of these nerdy heroes was Sherlock Holmes.

Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the world to Sherlock Holmes in the 1887 novel A Study in Scarlet.  That mystery, and most of the subsequent ones, are told through the eyes of Holmes’ roommate and companion, Dr. John Watson.  The second novel, The Sign of Four, followed three years later.  Then in 1892 the first set of twelve short stories appeared, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. 

But shortly after those were published Conan Doyle had had enough of his consulting detective and tried to kill him off in the last story of an 1894 collection The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.  That episode was called “The Final Problem.”

However, Conan Doyle couldn’t keep Holmes down.  There was too much popular demand.  His hero returned in “The Empty House,” the first adventure in the 1905 volume The Return of Sherlock Holmes. 

Many of Holmes sayings from those early works are still famous today.  From The Sign of Four, “when you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”  From the story “Silver Blaze” in The Memoirs comes Holmes’s unforgettable exchange with Inspector Gregory:

Gregory:  “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Holmes:  “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Gregory:  “The dog did nothing in the night-time”

Holmes:  “That was the curious incident.” 

The back and forth with Gregory was the basis for the prize-winning mystery novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Haddon 2003) and the play by the same name that opened at the National Theatre in London in 2012.

Tracing the evolution of presentations of the fictional detective reveals much about changes in how heroes have been constructed over the past one hundred years.  As we shall see, there is much more attention to their inner lives.  In the last decade of the nineteenth century Holmes was depicted in drawings in The Strand magazine by Sidney Paget.  A tall, aquiline Holmes image took hold, one largely consistent with Conan Doyle’s words.

Then the American actor William Gillette portrayed Holmes on the stage, in the famous deer-stalker hat first introduced by Paget, and his distinctive pipe.  Gillette even presented Holmes in a 1916 silent film that was only rediscovered in 2014.  Gillette continued the tall, lean and obviously cerebral presentation of Holmes.

Various other actors, notably Basil Rathbone, were cast as Holmes in film and on television during the mid-twentieth century.  Each actor shaped an evolving image, largely consistent with the original.  If the detective faded somewhat in mid-century he was brought back to life by Jeremy Brett in the Granada television series running from 1984-1984, and then by Stephen Spielberg’s 1985 film Young Sherlock Holmes. 

The most recent renditions have been two television series, Sherlock on BBC with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (2010-2017) and the CBS series Elementary (2012-2019) with Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu.  They reveal through the character of Sherlock Holmes and his companion John Watson the general evolution of recent treatments of famous fictional heroes, particularly with respect to issues of gender and sexuality.

In the Conan Doyle canon, Holmes left the “fairer sex” to Watson.  He never wanted emotion to disturb his detached rationality.  There is one fascinating exception however.  The first Holmes short story, “A Scandal in Bohemia” begins with the famous sentence “To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.”  Clearly Holmes is smitten with her, one Irene Adler, and admires the fact that in the end she actually thwarts his plans.  Otherwise Holmes eschews attraction, eroticism, or any other emotion.

In contrast, issues of sexuality come up quickly in the BBC Sherlock series.  The character Mrs. Hudson, the housekeeper straight out of Conan Doyle, explicitly raises the possibility, even likelihood, that Holmes and Watson are a gay couple.  The Watson character, acted by Martin Freeman, laughs at such insinuations, but the issue never dies.

At least LBGTQ issues are acknowledged in the series.  Gender and sexuality play a larger role in Elementary.  First, Dr. Watson is a woman, Dr. Joan Watson, played to critical acclaim by Lucy Liu.  As a result, one feature of the whole series is tension as to whether the male Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) and the female Watson will ever make a romantic, sexual connection (they don’t).

Furthermore, Miller’s Holmes has frequent trysts with one or more prostitutes.  His sexuality is highlighted.  For Conan Doyle, Holmes views sex and other emotions “as abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind.”  His work depends on avoiding or repressing feelings.  For Elementary, discharging libidinal drives serves to clear Holmes’ mind for the operation of his “cold, precise but admirably balanced” logic.

The many variations on the presentation and representation of Holmes all work as long as at the heart of the portrayal is the cool, precise logic, with a distinct dose of narcissism and even obliviousness bordering on the autistic.  The latter actually lends him an unconventional but clearly “good” morality.  He is good as well as strong and active.  Clearly the most recent adaptations reflect today’s current cultural concerns and conversations.  But the enduring elements have to fit as well.

In sum, audiences over the past century have found Holmes to be a convincing hero.  His acute mental abilities, his irreverent but dashing style, and his independence in judging the perpetrators of crime make him a compelling figure.  He doesn’t always follow the letter of the law, but he does act justly and humanely.  Our admiration for Holmes’ morality and talents, along with his unique and appealing personality quirks, ensure his long-term fame and heroism.

Bob Marley: A Spiritual and Revolutionary Hero through Music

Bob Marley, who still casts a large shadow on the reggae world 39 years after his death, would have turned 75 this week.

By Corinne Devaney

Celebrities are most looked up to as heroes because of their talent, but for Robert Nesta Marley, being one of the first music artists from a third world country to achieve international stardom was the least of his worries.

While other singers may worry about hitting the top charts, Marley introduced the world to the concept of Reggae and Rastafarianism from his own culture while fighting to free other countries that have lost their values due to British colonialism.

Marley was brought up in a crime ridden neighborhood of St. Anne, Jamaica from a Black mother and white father, who had abandoned him when he was young. His heroic transformation began when he was given the help of piano lessons at age ten and began following the Rastafarian religion, which includes elements of Christianity, Pan-Africanism, and anti-imperialism. These spiritual teachings gave him a sense of sociocentricity for his African heritage and Jamaica, which had been fighting for its independence his entire childhood.

Singing about love, peace, and Jamaican social justice, Marley became the “preacher of positivity” with powerful lyrics like, “One love, one heart . . . Let’s get together and feel all right.” When his popularity grew and he knew people were listening, he additionally made it his priority to fight for the rights of other colonized countries in Africa.

By extracting his lyrics from the speeches of political freedom fighters in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Ethiopia, he brought African civil rights in the world’s center of attention. Marley’s message is revolutionary and motivational, but executed with an amiableness that I’d compare to Mahatma Gandhi.

By staying true to his spirituality, he developed self-awareness about the power of money and its ability to alter the freedom of his mind. Acting upon his thoughts, he dedicated the majority of his time and money to giving back to the country that raised him. Marley organized Jamaican community projects, investing in the schooling systems, and paying to support housing and food to over 6,000 people.

He strived to make his followers mindful of the dangers of fame in his lyrics, “Don’t gain the world and lose your soul, wisdom is better than silver or gold.”

Even having acquired great power and influence in his life, he was a consistently altruistic man that valued his spirituality and love over material possessions. Marley’s biggest setback of his later life was being shot in the breastbone and biceps after an assassination attempt in his hometown. Less than two weeks later he performed in the “Smile Jamaica” concert just a few towns over from where the attack on him had occurred.

The courageous act shows his unstoppable compassion for his country. The near-death experience actually gave him less fear in the face of death and brought him closer to his religion. Looking through his impactful lyrics, I came across a connection between his urge to perform his music and the shooting in one of my favorite songs, “Trenchtown Rock”.

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” Unlike the pain of the bullet, music was a strong and peaceful influence over Marley that he believed he had to give to influence others. In fact, he loved giving his music to people so much that he refused medical help for his wounds and his condition worsened when he was diagnosed with melanoma on his world tour visiting the US. He believed the Rastafarian religion was the way for God to heal him and didn’t fear the risk of dying due to his unwavering faith.

When he was advised to have his toe amputated to stop the spread of the disease, he refused because in his religion it is considered a sin to remove part of one’s body, also called the “temple.” Although his life was short, ending at 36, he sure made it worth it. Growing up being the underdog of his small society, his humbling words have stretched across the globe.

I would consider Marley to be a martyr because he died creating music for others and refused to care for his own well-being. His inspiring acts of selflessness and resilience through every milestone of his life makes him my personal hero.

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Corinne Devaney is an  undergraduate student at the University of Richmond. She wrote this essay as part of her course requirement while enrolled in Dr. Scott Allison’s Heroes & Villains class.

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.

 

 

Three Reasons Why Neil Armstrong Captivated Our Heroic Imagination

By Scott T. Allison

Fifty years ago, on July 20, 1969, nearly a billion people around the world dropped what they were doing to watch, in awe, as a human being stepped on the moon’s surface for the first time.

What was it about Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind” that captivated our heroic imagination? Here are three reasons why Armstrong remains an iconic hero.

1. Armstrong Lived the Hero’s journey

First, to understand the psychology of adventurer heroes, we must turn to the insights of mythologist Joseph Campbell. It was Campbell who reminded us that the hero’s journey is the universal human journey into the unknown, into the darkness where danger lurks yet treasure lies.

All of us are thrown into harm’s way many times during our lives. Whether it is disease, divorce, unemployment or an accident, we are all like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, sent on a journey against our will, encountering painful obstacles that require us to develop courage, resilience, and resourcefulness.

Astronauts and other adventure-heroes differ from us in that they deliberately choose to embark on their hazardous journeys. They put themselves in harm’s way to move themselves forward personally — and to advance humanity as well. Adventure heroes make great sacrifices and take great personal risks willingly. Doing so puts them on a heroic pedestal and empowers us all to solider through whatever difficulties we currently face in our own mundane lives.

The vast darkness of space has always mesmerized the human race. Joseph Campbell observed that heroic myths from around the world focused on the hero entering the biggest, darkest forest, or the deepest, darkest cave or ocean. Areas of vast unknown darkness symbolize our worst unconscious fears.

Our best hope for personal growth is to face these primal fears and trust that help is available. Let’s remember that Neil Armstrong didn’t go to the moon alone – he had help from scientists, technicians, mentors, and colleagues. The hero’s journey is always a social journey. And no one did it better than Neil Armstrong.

2. Armstrong Possessed Heroic Traits

Neil Armstrong is also a hero because he embodied many of the “Great Eight” traits of heroes: He was smart, strong, caring, reliable, resilient, selfless, and inspiring. Armstrong was described as passionate about space exploration, and he was a brilliant, dedicated aeronautical engineer.

Like many great heroes, Armstrong was humble, always downplaying his accomplishments and eschewing the limelight. “Besides being one of America’s greatest explorers, Neil carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example to us all,” said Charles Bolden, a NASA administrator.

Consistent with all inspiring heroes, Armstrong spent his retirement giving back to society. During the 1970s, he taught aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati, sharing his life experiences with young people and inspiring them to succeed in life. Generosity of spirit is perhaps the greatest of all heroic traits, and Armstrong had this quality in abundance.

3. Armstrong Fulfilled Our Romantic Longing For Space Travel

There is a reason why the world fell in love with Star Wars, and with Star Trek before that. People have always harbored a strong fascination for the vastness of space. Our ancestors were mesmerized by the stars and concocted stories about them to quell the longing for some understanding of the mystery of the cosmos.

Heroic technological innovators conquered the barrier of air flight in 1902, and then space travel in 1961. As William Shatner said in the opening to Star Trek, space is indeed the final frontier – and with the moon landing, Neil Armstrong boldly went where no one had gone before.

Astronauts who make strong sacrifices and take significant risks are pushing the boundaries of survival and discovery – and in doing so, they serve as powerful role models for us mere mortals who struggle to meet the challenges of everyday life.

Every human life is packed with metaphorical lunar expeditions. Heroes give us hope that we can all slay our dragons during the deepest darkest times of our lives. We learn from heroes that we can embrace our heroic journeys with the same courage that Neil Armstrong did back in 1969.

References

Allison, S. T., Goethals, G. R., Marrinan, A. R., Parker, O. M., Spyrou, S. P., Stein, M. (2019). The metamorphosis of the hero: Principles, processes, and purpose. Frontiers in Psychology.

Campbell, J. (1949). The hero with a thousand faces. New York: New World Library.

Goethals, G. R., & Allison, S. T. (2019). The romance of heroism and heroic leadership: Ambiguity, attribution, and apotheosis. West Yorkshire: Emerald.

Worthington, E. L, & Allison, S. T. (2018). Heroic humility: What the science of humility can say to people raised on self-focus. Washington. DC: American Psychological Association.

General George Custer and Why Movies are Important

Custer_PortraitBy J. A. Schultz

Movies aren’t history.

That goes almost without saying. Very different skills are needed between recording something for posterity and bringing a rousing tale to the screen. And as such what is shown to an audience should always be taken with a grain of salt. Facts can be altered for the cause of entertainment. Events can change, sometimes beyond recognition, for the sake of the plot.

However, movies should not be dismissed completely out of hand. For while they are not an accurate recording of history they are in fact preserved moments in time. What film and television record are how people (the writers and the audience they were made for) perceived the world around them. What made the hero? What made the villain?

A good example of the intersection of fact and fiction is the life of General George Armstrong Custer.

The Custer of history, the man of flesh and blood, is best known for the worst day of his life: the Battle of Little Big Horn when the 7th Cavalry met the united tribes of Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne. Custer and his regiment would not survive but odd, at times nearly unrecognizable, doppelgangers would be born from that moment of time. Doppelgangers that continue to exist to this day.

The first of those fictional creations actually occurred within a few short years after the battle, though not yet on film. “Buffalo” Bill Cody incorporated thecusterslaststand event in his wild west show, that for a while even starred Custer’s lifetime nemesis, Chief Sitting Bull. The show portrayed what would become the familiar tale of Custer: the noble warrior valiantly fighting a hopeless battle against impossible odds.

It wasn’t long before the story told before a live audience found its way to the burgeoning medium of film. Custer the hero would make his way into films like The Santa Fe Trail (1940), They Died With Their Boots On (1941), 7th Cavalry (1956), and much later in TV series like Cheyenne (Season 4 episodes “Gold, Glory, and Custer”). The man standing on the hill, surrounded by enemies and betrayed by allies, making his last stand. It would become the version of Custer that most people would become familiar with, whether they agreed with it or not.

Yet oddly this wouldn’t be the only doppelganger to come to life in the realm of the screen.

The first embryonic version of a less noble Custer came in the form of Lieutenant Colonel Owen Thursday in the 1948 film Fort Apache. While not actually playing Custer, actor Henry Fonda portrays a character whose overconfidence and arrogance eventually leads his command into a massacre very much like that of Little Big Horn. But the full iteration of this new Custer would come in later films like Little Big Man (1970), The French/Italian farce Don’t Touch the White Woman! (1974), the alternately-historical The Court Martial of George Armstrong Custer (1977), and A Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian (2009). Custer was now a bumbling fool at best or a murderously insane madman at worst. The nadir of this version of Custer came in the 1990s TV series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman where Custer was a brutal sadist who was a threat to friend and enemy alike. Custer the Hero still exists but now he has to share space with Custer the Villain and Custer the Buffoon.

Yet these doppelgangers — the noble hero and the bumbling killer — actually say more about us, the writers and the audience, than the real man. In the time since Little Big Horn society has changed. Attitudes towards Native Americans, tastes in entertainment, and the Custer2tendency to deconstruct heroes rather than build them all conspire to change how we view historical figures. It’s no longer popular to portray a General of an aggressive, expanding power — as the United States was in the 1800s — as a heroic figure (and even that sentence alone could likely cause heated debate).

And this is why movies and television are important when it comes to understanding heroes. They are our collective unconscious where our dreams and fears are given form. Our concepts of morality and nobility are played out. Frozen moments, like insects trapped in amber, that tell us what the world was like when they were made. They tell us what was important to those making them whether we agree with them or not. Modern sensibilities cannot alter them. Films and television may be suppressed, “re-imagined”, or edited but something of the tales will remain. We may not always like what we see in these shadows on screen but it is important that we see them for what they are and learn from them.

And maybe be aware of what we’re leaving behind, for today’s on-screen heroes can become tomorrow’s villains.

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The author, Jesse Schultz, is looking forward to seeing the fictionalized versions of his life.

Muhammad Ali: The Odyssey of a Heroic Champion

dont-count-aliBy Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

Declaring oneself a hero doesn’t ordinarily do the trick. But former Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali was an international hero in the eyes of sports fans and ordinary citizens around the world. Ali began calling himself “The Greatest” early in his career, and clearly alienated many. Now people generally realize that his braggadocio was always part of the act, something that enabled him to perform at his best in the ring, and entertain and inspire millions.

His odyssey to heroism was complicated, but by the time of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, there was no question as to which American medal winner would light the torch at that year’s Games. Two years later, it was only a bit of a surprise when corporate America fully endorsed Ali by putting him on a box of Wheaties cereal, The Breakfast of Champions. The citation on the box credited Ali’s impact in sports and beyond: “he was a courageous man who fought for his beliefs” and “became an even larger force outside the ring with his humanitarian efforts.”

When Ali, then Cassius Clay, won the heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston in 1964, large portions of white America were uneasy. Although Liston was widely associated with organized crime, and seemed like something of a thug, rumors also circulated about Clay being associated with “Black Muslims.” Many people found this truly frightening. And although Ali’s wit and boxing skills were extremely entertaining, almost as many were turned off by the talking and bragging of “The Louisville Lip” or “Gaseous Cassius.”

In short order, some of people’s worst fears were confirmed. Clay turned to Islam and took the name Muhammad Ali. He became a vocal critic of the Vietnam War and was arrested for refusing to be inducted into the armed services. Ali’s resistance o-MUHAMMAD-ALI-facebookto the draft on the grounds that he was a Muslim minister struck many as ludicrous. But he fought in court for his deferment from the army and eventually won in a unanimous Supreme Court decision. However, his legal struggles kept him from boxing for three and a half years, costing him precious time at the peak of his career. But he had proved the depth and sincerity of his beliefs. At the same time, more and more people believed that he was correct to defend African American’s rights to their own values and self-respect, and in his opposition to the Vietnamese war.

Eventually Ali got the chance to win back the boxing title he had lost while he was banned from fighting, and that he failed to regain when he met Joe Frazier in 1971. The year was 1974, ten years after he first won the title from Sonny Liston. He fought a classic battle against George Foreman in the African nation of Zaire, now called Congo. That year he was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated and it was clear that most Americans had come to embrace a talented and dedicated athlete who had both overcome racial and cultural barriers and had the courage to define himself and to help and encourage other black Americans to do the same.

After regaining the title from Foreman, Ali fought for several more years. But the numerous punches he had absorbed during his long career made him the victim of Parkinson’s syndrome, a neurological disorder which makes motor activity, including walking and talking, extremely difficult. During his lifetime, Ali fought outside the ring for those he regards as his people, and he is a hero to most of America. His skill, his struggle, his commitment, his charm and his charisma were inspirational. He was one of the most recognized and admired people in the world. Both he and the nation have come a long way since he burst on the scene as a sassy young fighter who perplexed or repelled much of the country.  For many, he will always remain an important hero.

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