Bethany Hamilton: A Hero Who Defies Odds and Provides Hope

By Evelyn Barringer

Bethany Hamilton was on the path to be a hero from a young age. With her two parents and brothers being competitive surfers, she was destined to be great, yet no one could have predicted the traumatic event that would take her local heroism to a world wide scale.

Being a young surfer with as many trophies and wins is impressive in itself. But the fact that she is a young female surfer in a sport dominated by men caused Bethany to be seen as a role model and mentor to children, and especially girls, in Hawaii. To locals, Bethany was on her way to becoming, if not already, a hero. Then, disaster struck.

When Bethany was only 13 years old, she lost her arm from a tiger shark bite while surfing. Her entire left arm was bit clean off. It seemed this tragedy signified the end of her surfing career, given the fact that two arms are crucial for paddling and balance and the assumption that she would be terrified to ever enter the water again after such a horrific accident.

Yet this assumption could not be farther from what happened. Not only did Bethany get back on her board and into the water, she continued to compete in able body tournaments and grew into a pro surfer and hero. Her heroic status started locally as surfers and residents in Hawaii heard of her overcoming such odds. Then, with the help of movies, books and TV, her heroism spread nationally.

She follows the traditional hero journey. She is living a normal life like everyone else her age, aside from her gift of surfing. Yet she faces a significant hardship she has to overcome. Bethany, at first, is lacking the determination to continue her fight to surf after it appears harder than she expected.

Like most heroes are at some point, she is distraught and on the verge of giving up when she finds a mentor. She has support from family, friends and coaches, but her most impactful mentor was Sarah Hill, her youth director at church. Through their relationship Bethany grew to be able to motivate herself and find the confidence she was missing.

Finally, to finish the traditional heroic journey, Bethany overcomes the hardship and uses what she learned to inspire and connect with others. Today, she is still a surfer but spends a lot of her time working with injured and disabled patients and being a motivational speaker.

Bethany was able to reach a heroic status due to her relatability. She was a totally normal girl prior to the accident and continued to live a life of normalcy. Getting back into surfing was more of a way for her to continue with her life than an attempt to draw attention and fame. This sense of normalcy made those who admired her feel like they knew her and she developed a following of people who saw her as an ordinary girl who overcame extraordinary odds which elevated her to a position of heroism and made her someone people could look up to.

Her most heroic act and largest impact is her ability to provide people with hope. From young girls hoping to become surfers to handicapped adults, she was able to inspire and provide hope to countless individuals. Her ability to overcome such odds provides hope to anyone with the odds stacked against them, especially those with disabilities that were also once considered detrimental. Her ability to provide hope to able body and handicapped people of all ages demonstrates her resounding heroism.

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Evelyn Barringer 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.

Psychological Phenomena Discovered by Scott T. Allison’s Research Lab, 1985 – Present

Below is a partial listing of phenomena discovered by Dr. Scott T. Allison’s research lab from 1985 to the present day.

1. The Group Attribution Error – 1985

The tendency to overlook the power of group decision rules in producing group outcomes, leading to the inference that group outcomes reflect group members’ attitudes.

Allison, S. T., & Messick, D. M. (1985). The group attribution error. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 21, 563-579.

2. The Illusion of Attitude Change – 1987

People’s tendency to use two decision outcomes to assume that attitude change has occurred, overlooking the role of two difference decision rules.

Mackie, D. M., & Allison, S. T. (1987). Group attribution errors and the illusion of group attitude change. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 23, 460-480.

3. The Feature-Positive Effect on Attitude and Consensus Judgments – 1988

The tendency of actions to exert a stronger effect on attitudes and consensus judgements compared inactions.

Allison, S. T., & Messick, D. M. (1988). The feature-positive effect, attitude strength, and degree of perceived consensus. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 14, 231-241.

4. Muhammad Ali Effect – 1989

The tendency of people to rate themselves as more moral than others but not necessarily as more intelligent than others. (based on a quip from Ali who said after failing the Army entrance exam, ‘I never said I was the smartest, only the greatest’)

Allison, S. T., Messick, D. M., & Goethals, G. R. (1989). On being better but not smarter than others: The Muhammad Ali effect. Social Cognition, 7, 275-296.

5. Constructive Social Comparison – 1991

The phenomenon of people’s needs and motivations biasing their social comparisons in a self-serving manner.

Goethals, G. R., Messick, D. M., & Allison, S. T. (1991). The uniqueness bias: Studies of constructive social comparison. In J. Suls & B. Wills (Eds.), Social comparison: Contemporary theory and research (pp. 149-176). New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.

6. Nonpartitioned Resource Overconsumption Effect – 1992

The tendency of people to consume more than their fair share of a common resource when they resource is nonpartitioned in nature compared to when it is partitioned.

Allison, S. T., McQueen, L. R., & Schaerfl, L. M. (1992). Social decision making processes and the equal partitionment of shared resources. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 28, 23-42.

7. Group Correspondence Biases in Public Goods Tasks – 1994

The bias in assuming that a successful outcome in public goods tasks is diagnostic of group members’ level of cooperation and competence.

Allison, S. T., & Kerr, N. L. (1994). Group correspondence biases and the provision of public goods. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 688-698.

8. Metaphor-Based Hypotheses in Social Dilemma Research – 1996

The strategy of scientists to employ metaphorical images to inform their research on social dilemma situations.

Allison, S. T., Beggan, J. K., & Midgley, E. H. (1996). The quest for ‘similar instances’ and ‘simultaneous possibilities’: Metaphors in social dilemma research. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 479-497.

9. Unintended Resource Overconsumption Effect – 1997

The tendency of people to accidentally overconsume common resources.

Herlocker, C. E., Allison, S. T., Foubert, J. D., & Beggan, J. K. (1997). Intended and unintended overconsumption of physical, spatial, and temporal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 992-1004.

10. Two-Stage Process Model of Shared Resource Consumption – 2000

A psychological model of resource consumption that consists of an initial application of a “divide equally” rule followed by an adjustment from this rule in a self-serving direction.

Roch,  S., Samuelson, C., Allison, S. T., & Dent, J. (2000). Cognitive load and the equality heuristic: A two stage model of resource overconsumption in small groups. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 83, 185-212.

11. The Paradox of Ambiguous Information – 2002

The tendency of people to judge ambiguous information as less important than nonambiguous information despite preferring to share ambiguous information with their collaborators.

Eylon, D., & Allison, S. T. (2002). The paradox of ambiguity in cooperative and competitive organizational settings. Group and Organization Management, 27, 172-208.

12. The Death Positivity Bias – 2005

The tendency of people to evaluate the dead more favorably than the living.

Allison, S. T., & Eylon, D. (2005). The demise of leadership: Death positivity biases in posthumous impressions of leaders. In D. Messick & R. Kramer (Eds.), The Psychology of Leadership: New Perspectives and Research (pp 295-317). New York: Erlbaum.

13. The Frozen in Time Effect – 2005

People’s tendency to resist changing their impressions of the dead compared to the living.

Eylon, D., & Allison, S. T. (2005). The frozen in time effect in evaluations of the dead. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 1708-1717.

14. The Underdog Abandonment Effect – 2008

The tendency of people to no longer root for the underdog when both self‐relevance and consequences are low.

Kim, J., Allison, S. T., Eylon, D., Goethals, G., Markus, M., McGuire, H., & Hindle, S. (2008). Rooting for (and then Abandoning) the Underdog. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38, 2550-2573.

15. The Great Eight Traits of Heroes – 2011

The discovery that people believe that heroes possess the traits of wise, strong, charismatic, caring, resilient, reliable, selfless, and inspiring.

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2011). Heroes: What they do and why we need them. New York: Oxford University Press.

16. Social Influence Based Taxonomy of Heroism – 2012

The scientific identification of heroes as Transforming, Transfigured, Traditional, Transparent, Transposed, Tragic, Transitional, Transitory, Trending, and Transcendent.

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2013). Heroic leadership: An influence taxonomy of 100 exceptional individuals. New York: Routledge.

17. The Heroic Leadership Dynamic – 2014

A system of psychological forces that can explain how humans are drawn to heroes, how they benefit from these heroes and their stories, and how heroic tales help people become heroes themselves.

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2014). “Now he belongs to the ages”: The heroic leadership dynamic and deep narratives of greatness. In Goethals, G. R., et al. (Eds.), Conceptions of leadership: Enduring ideas and emerging insights. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

18. Epistemic and Energizing Functions of Heroism – 2014

The conceptualization of the functions of heroism that includes epistemological needs involving the imparting of wisdom and emerging needs involving healing, growing, and inspiration.

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2014). “Now he belongs to the ages”: The heroic leadership dynamic and deep narratives of greatness. In Goethals, G. R., et al. (Eds.), Conceptions of leadership: Enduring ideas and emerging insights. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

19. The Johnny Carson Effect – 2014

The tendency of people’s current need states to determine their choice of heroes, with these need-states changing as a function of people’s developmental stages and their changing life circumstances. (named after Johnny Carson’s quip that after all his divorces, his hero changed from Babe Ruth to King Henry VIII)

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2016). Hero worship: The elevation of the human spirit. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 46, 187-210.

20. Six Benefits of Suffering – 2016

The identification of benefits of suffering as offering (1) redemption, (2) developmental progress, (3) humility, (4) compassion, (5) social union, and (6) meaning and purpose.

Allison, S. T., & Setterberg, G. C. (2016). Suffering and sacrifice: Individual and collective benefits, and implications for leadership. In S. T. Allison, C. T. Kocher, & G. R. Goethals (Eds), Frontiers in spiritual leadership: Discovering the better angels of our nature. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

21. Six Types of Heroic Transformation – 2017

Six commons patterns of transformation in heroes that involve changes in their mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, moral, and motivational state.

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.

22. Three Heroic Transformative Arcs – 2017

The tendency of heroes to transform from a state of egocentricity to sociocentricity; from dependence to autonomy; and from stagnation to growth.

Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2017). The hero’s transformation. In S. T. Allison, G. R. Goethals, & R. M. Kramer (Eds.), Handbook of heroism and heroic leadership. New York: Routledge.

23. The Personal Heroic Imperative – 2018

Each human being’s built-in mandate to fulfill their heroic imperative by imagining and creating their own heroic growth.

Efthimiou, O., Allison, S. T., & Franco, Z. E. (2018). Heroism and wellbeing in the 21st century: Recognizing our personal heroic imperative. In O. Efthimiou, S. T. Allison, & Z. E. Franco (Eds.), Heroism and wellbeing in the 21st Century: Applied and emerging perspectives. New York: Routledge.

24. Transcendent and Trapped Immortality – 2018

The tendency of people to perceive dead heroes and villains differently. Specifically, we believe deceased good-doers achieve transcendent immortality, with their souls persisting beyond space and time; and evil-doers to have trapped immortality, with their souls persisting on Earth, bound to a physical location.

Gray, K., Anderson, S., Doyle, C. M., Hester, N., Schmitt, P., Vonasch, A., Allison, S. T., and Jackson, J. C. (2018). To be immortal, do good or evil. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44, 868-880.

25. Heroic Lag – 2019

The delay between the point in time when a hero first expresses their heroic message and when mainstream society adopts that message.

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

26. Heroic Consciousness – 2019

The tendency of heroes to demonstrate a mental and experiential approach to the world that is nondualistic, transrational, unitive, and empowered.

Allison, S. T. (2019). Heroic consciousness. Heroism Science, 4, 1-43.

27. Seven Barriers to Heroic Transformation – 2019

The tendency of people to avoid heroic transformation because of self-ignorance, impoverished environments, personal trauma, victim identification, absence of mentors, mental/physical illness, and lack of psychological flexibility.

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, 10, 606.

28. Heroic Leadership Imperative – 2020

The mandate of transforming heroic leaders to meet the individual, collective, and transcendent needs of their followers.

Allison, S. T. & Goethals, G. R. (2020). The heroic leadership imperative: How leaders inspire and mobilize change. West Yorkshire: Emerald.

29. Heroic Wholeness Imperative – 2020

The mandate of leaders to promote psychological wholeness and well-being by meeting the higher-level transcendent needs of followers.

Allison, S. T. & Goethals, G. R. (2020). The heroic leadership imperative: How leaders inspire and mobilize change. West Yorkshire: Emerald.

30. The Hero Androgyny Effect — 2020
The tendency of heroes to possess both masculine and feminine traits, i.e., agency plus communality.

Hoyt, C. L., Allison, S. T., Barnowski, A., & Sultan, A. (2020). Lay theories of heroism and leadership: The role of gender, communion, and agency. Social Psychology.

31. Heroic Autonomy  — 2021

The imperative of the hero to perform the last and most crucial heroic act alone and independent from their friends and mentors.

Allison, S. T. (2021). Beth Harmon’s hero’s journey: The psychology of heroism in The Queen’s Gambit. Richmond: Palsgrove.

32. Heroic Balance  — 2021

The ability of the hero to achieve a healthy balance needed to achieve their heroic mission. The balance can be between relying on intuition and reason; between emotion and logic; between self-confidence and humility; between autonomy and dependency; between personal life and professional life; and more.

Allison, S. T. (2021). Beth Harmon’s hero’s journey: The psychology of heroism in The Queen’s Gambit. Richmond: Palsgrove.

33. Heroism Attribution Error – 2022

The tendency of people to confuse fame for heroism, such that they attribute heroism to celebrities who are merely famous.

Goethals, G. R., & Allison, S. T. (2022). The construction and presentation of heroes and heroines. In P. David Marshall (Ed.), A cultural history of fame. Camden, UK: Bloomsbury Press.

34. Motional Intelligence — 2023

The ability of leaders to use their bodily movements effectively in such a way to inspire and mobilize followers.

Allison, S. T. & Goethals, G. R. (2023). Motional intelligence: The ability of leaders to move, and move others. Cambridge University Press.


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Heroes and Villains of 2020’s Two Pandemics: COVID-19 and Racism

Our latest student-authored book focuses on one of the most tumultuous years in world history — the year 2020. This calendar year featured two globally transformative events.

First, there was the March arrival of a murderous virus called COVID-19 that infected roughly 100 million people worldwide, killing 2 million of them. This deadly virus wreaked havoc on world economies and the emotional and physical well-being of billions.

Second, the US was subjected to the graphic killing by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis along with news of the home invasion murder of Breonna Taylor in Louisville. Both deaths set off a firestorm of protest against institutionalized racism.

The purpose of our book, Heroes and Villains of 2020’s Two Pandemics: COVID-19 and Racism, is to showcase how the two pandemics of COVID-19 and racism brought out the best, and the worst, of human nature. The authors of this book, all students at the University of Richmond, review theory and research in heroism science. They then apply the science to an understanding of the heroes and villains who surfaced in response to the two pandemics.

Our book is now available at Here is the reference:

Allison, S. T., Behar, H., Huxtable, V., Kenny, I., Palfreyman, G., Popovich, E., & Saltzman, K. (2021). Heroes and villains of 2020’s two pandemics. Richmond: Palsgrove.

About the Authors

Scott T. Allison is Professor of Psychology at the University of Richmond where he has taught and conducted research for 35 years. He has published over 100 articles on positive social behavior, leadership, and heroism. His books include Heroes, Heroic Leadership, Heroic Humility, Handbook of Heroism, The Romance of Heroism, and The Heroic Leadership Imperative. His work has been featured in media outlets such as National Public Radio, USA Today, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Slate Magazine, MSNBC, CBS, Psychology Today, and the Christian Science Monitor. He received the University of Richmond’s Distinguished Educator Award and the Virginia Council of Higher Education’s Outstanding Faculty Award.

Grace V. Palfreyman is an undergraduate student at the University of Richmond. Born and raised in New Jersey, she will graduate with a B.A. in Psychology. Grace is a division 1 swimmer here at the University, and pretty much spends her free time painting her nails, as well as her friends’ nails, and figuring out her next meal. Her life goal is to travel to every continent, and use the knowledge she has from psychology courses to help people in other countries.

Victoria M. Huxtable is an undergraduate student at the University of Richmond. A Maryland girl, she will graduate with a B.A in Psychology and Health Care Studies. Victoria plays on the Women’s Soccer Team where she constantly learns important values about teamwork and self-discipline. She has a great passion for working with children and also loves volunteering at events for people with disabilities.

Elizabeth M. Popovich is an undergraduate student at the University of Richmond. A New Jersey girl, she will graduate with a major in Psychology and a minor in Sociology. In her free time, Elizabeth enjoys reading, hanging out with her friends, and volunteering at local schools in Richmond. On campus, she is a CAPS intern at the Wellness Center. In the future, Elizabeth hopes to go to graduate school to study further study the field of Psychology.

Kayla R. Saltzman is a Senior at the University of Richmond, and will graduate with degrees in Psychology and Leadership Studies. She plans to continue her studies in order to receive her MSW and work for prevention and rehabilitation for at-risk youth and youth within the juvenile justice system. Kayla loves her family and friends, her dog, the Earth, and music.

Hannah Behar is an undergraduate student at the University of Richmond where she will graduate with a B.S. in Psychology and minor that she is unsure of yet. Hannah loves to sing and is a part of the Off the Cuff Acapella group on campus. Although she is not completely sure yet, she hopes to one day work in a field that focuses on children and/or teenagers mental health.

Isabelle J. Kenny is an undergraduate student at the University of Richmond where she will soon graduate with a B.A. in Rhetoric and Communications Studies and minors in Psychology and Journalism. She is CAPS intern at the Wellness Center on campus and an active member of her sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma. In her free time Isabelle enjoys spending her free time with close friends in Richmond!


Beth Harmon’s Hero’s Journey: The Psychology of Heroism in “The Queen’s Gambit”

This short booklet explores the heroic life of Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit. Why are people so drawn to her story? What is so powerful about her heroic journey?

Beth Harmon is a young woman living in a man’s world. She is dirt poor. She’s lost not one but two mothers. She’s addicted to drugs and alcohol, and because of the severity of her losses, she’s emotionally stunted. She may be a chess genius but she’s an American playing a game that has been dominated by the Russians for decades.

As we watch Beth’s life unfold, it becomes clear to us that Beth’s most formidable opponent in life is not her mother, her addictions, or even the male dominated world in which she lives. Her chief adversary is herself.

The ultimate underdog, Beth Harmon manages to climb to the top of the chess world. Harmon ranks among the finest and most inspiring hero characters in television history.

Beth Harmon’s Hero’s Journey: The Psychology of Heroism in “The Queen’s Gambit” is now on sale at

10 Life Lessons We Can Learn From Donald Trump

By Scott T. Allison

Years ago, my mother taught me that we can learn something important from every person that we encounter. Donald Trump, the 45th US President recently defeated in the 2020 election, was someone from whom we can learn many enduring lessons about how to live a healthy and happy life.

Here are ten such life lessons that Donald Trump taught us:

1. The importance of humility

Known as the mother of all virtues, humility is the antidote to pride and narcissism. While many public figures are narcissists, Donald Trump was an extreme one. He had a grandiose sense of self-importance, sought praise and admiration, bullied and intimidated others, and believed that many basic rules of life didn’t apply to him. His ego would not allow him to accept his loss to Biden in the 2020 election. As a result of his toxic narcissism, Trump was in constant legal trouble, had a long track record of volatile and broken relationships, and almost destroyed America’s democracy. The lesson is clear: humility plays a pivotal role in living a happy, healthy life.

2. The importance of growing throughout the lifespan

Dozens of psychologists over the past century have proposed stages of human growth and development. These stages involve moral, emotional, spiritual, social, and other types of development. People are meant to evolve into caring, sociable, emotionally stable beings. Donald Trump’s volatility, egotism, friendlessness, and penchant for wrongdoing all suggest that he is stuck at very early, immature stages of development. The lesson is clear: we are designed to grow into our best selves, capable of cultivating healthy habits and healthy relationships.

3. The importance of unifying people

Heroic leaders succeed in unifying people. Consider Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. They saw all people as valuable regardless of color, nationality, religion, and more. Heroes build unity, whereas villains foment discord and divide people. Donald Trump spent his four years in the White House disparaging people of Mexican, Arab, and Chinese descent. He also vilified Democrats and any media who disagreed with him, and he was even willing for the US to go to civil war rather than accept his loss in the 2020 election. The lesson is clear: Good people and good leaders brings us together rather than divide us.

4. The importance of role modeling appropriate behavior

Good leaders are role models who set a good example and give cues about appropriate behavior. Psychologists know this from the famous Milgram obedience study. When the experimenter told research participants that it was okay to apply painful electric shocks to another person, they did so. Donald Trump made daily hostile attacks toward others on Twitter and at his rallies. Those attacks encouraged his followers to show intolerance and direct violence toward others. The lesson is clear: it is up to each of us, especially our leaders, to role model kind, loving behavior.

5. The importance of planning for future generations

During his term as president, Donald Trump rolled back nearly 100 environmental protection rules and laws designed to provide future generations of people with clean water and air, and to protect animal life. He did this during a time of mass extinctions and unprecedented climate change. For Trump, it was all about short term gain at the expense of long term well-being. The lesson is clear: It is up to each of us, especially our leaders, to think of the well-being of the next several generations.

6. The importance of science

While he was president, Trump repeatedly disregarded the recommendations of scientists and the medical community. He boasted that his instincts were more reliable than factual data. His disregard of science damaged our planet and caused thousands to die from COVID-19. The lesson is clear: if humanity is to survive, leaders need to listen to science and act on the recommendations of scientists.

7. The importance of truth-telling

Although almost all politicians take liberties with the truth, Trump took outright deception to a new level. His mountain of lies could always be verified by objective fact-checking organizations. Trump’s prevarications got so bad that Twitter would censor him and news organizations would cut away from his news conferences to set the record straight. His Big Lie, the one all authoritarian leaders use to abuse power, was that Joe Biden won the 2020 election fraudulently. The lesson is clear: Good leaders, and good people, tell the truth.

8. The importance of cultivating loving relationships

Like most narcissists, Trump had a long history of mistreating people and sabotaging relationships. He was belligerent and bullying in real life, and especially on Twitter. He routinely abused and bullied women, and was estranged from many of his friends and associates. The lesson is clear: healthy people enjoy stable, loving relationships with others.

9. The importance of good leadership and followership

This article has outlined several criteria for good leadership. But just as important is good followership. Followers should be wary of overly self-confident leaders. Even more importantly, followers need to question leaders who scapegoat others, who diminish others, and who stir up anger. The lesson is clear: good leaders bring out the best in us, and if they don’t, it’s up to followers to replace those leaders.

10. The importance of not being a cautionary tale

The most important reason for being a good human is that it’s the right thing to do. If that weren’t enough, consider the legacy issue: How do we want to be remembered? Trump’s legacy is one of dishonesty, corruption, abuse of power, treason, and disregard for our planetary ecosystem. He got all the fame that he craved for, but at great cost to his name and to all of humanity. The lesson is clear: do not be a cautionary tale.

Donald Trump isn’t the only politician who has these ten lessons to teach. Many disastrous leaders in history have similarly tarnished legacies. No single American politician, however, has ever illustrated these ten life lessons with such clarity and urgency. Let’s all work at becoming our best selves, not our worst. And let’s be sure to elect our best leaders, who are always those who help bring out the best in all people.


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.


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.