The Five Ingredients of a True Hero
I’m not shy about admitting it: I am enormously fond of a tortured hero. Every hero I’ve written and my favorite heroes from other authors’ fiction — romance and all other types— are tortured or at least massively conflicted in some epic, primal way. There’s something so powerfully moving about a man’s journey from pain to happiness. And the more insurmountable obstacles he must tackle to reach that happiness, the better. I’m thinking of heroes like Aragorn, the lost lord of Gondor in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, challenged both from within his beleaguered soul and by the forces of evil all about him. It’s a violent, tumultuous journey he travels, yet finally, fully he finds his rightful place on the throne and the king’s heart within him.
But just because a man has a complicated, unsavory past doesn’t necessarily make him a good guy in the end. No, ma’am. Quite the contrary in many cases! A troubled fellow can much more easily end up villainous than heroic.
So what makes a real hero? Especially in a romance novel, what makes a man worthy of a wonderful heroine?
I’ll give you a hint: It’s not his bulging muscles.
I offer you now The Five Ingredients of a True Hero.
- A noble heart. I don’t care if he’s a duke or a Navy SEAL or a corporate executive or a pirate; nobility of heart has nothing to do with nobility of bloodline or profession. Here I hearken back eight centuries to the venerable medieval tales of old. The knights of the Round Table, El Cid of the Spanish Reconquista, and all the greatest warriors whose stories were told and retold to peasants and aristocrats alike were each possessed of one remarkable quality: sincere dedication to those in need. Whether those in need were the king, the people of a besieged castle, or a damsel in distress, a great knight never wavered in his duty to protect those unable to protect themselves. Unflagging bravery is part of this equation. A great hero is confident of his warrior prowess and prepared to fight for others no matter what the cost.
- Smarts. No wars were won through foolishness, rashness, stupidity, or lack of forethought, and no villains were ever completely thwarted by a loaded musket or a pretty face. Bravery, big guns and baby blues only go so far. My favorite heroes are those who use their brawn and beauty in service to their brains—the Harry Potters, Odysseuses, Scarlet Pimpernels and Neal Caffreys of fiction. Smart men are a turn-on for my heroines.
- A Sense of Humor. I like my heroes serious and purposeful. But a man who can’t laugh at himself is either far too conceited and self-conscious or just plain dull. If he can make his heroine laugh, I love him all the more. Better yet, if his reaction to her joyful laughter is the pressing urge to throw her on the bed (or floor or table or wherever suits quickest) and have his way with her, then I lose my heart to him entirely.
- Friends. While I’m quite fond of loner-heroes (and tortured heroes are often loners), a man’s closest companions can tell a lot about him. A man who’s won the friendship of men of good character stands high in my estimation. If his friends show him loyalty, affection and love (in their masculine way), he’s a hero I can trust and love too.
- Humility. The least heralded yet perhaps most important quality of a truly great hero is his constant desire to do better, to fight harder to right all wrongs, and his entire lack of arrogance about his accomplishments. Medieval tales are full of warriors whose over-confidence bring them low. Humility — the understanding that true greatness is something yet to be achieved — is the surest mark of a man that is already great indeed.
So there you have it. Combine all ingredients, mix, bake and voila! — the perfect hero. But don’t forget to frost with big, yummy muscles. ;)
Katharine Ashe is an award-winning author of historical romances set in the Regency era. Her newest book from Avon Romance, How a Lady Weds a Rogue, features a hero with a noble heart, remarkable intelligence, a penchant for teasing his heroine, friends that are deeply dedicated to him, and a great deal of humility. Oh, and he has big muscles too.
Visit Katharine at her website.