At a party a little while ago, somebody came up to me to say how much she and her husband liked the Wilderness novels. Nathaniel, she assured me, was the perfect hero. Which is meant as a great compliment, but actually got me thinking, because I don’t think I ever consciously set out to make him a hero, and certainly I don’t think of him as perfect. So I started reading in various places, looking for definitions of heroes and essays that addressed the characterization of main characters. This subject is an old one. Aristotle wrote about it and so has just about everybody else.

The first thing I do when I’m trying to take apart a problem like this is look at the data. I came up with a list of fictional male characters I like tremendously, enough to re-read the novels in which they live. This list is not in any particular order, and of course this is my list; no doubt your list will look different. I’ve put Nathaniel at the end, for comparison.

Fitzwilliam DarcyPride and PrejudiceJane Austen
Phin TuckerWelcome to TemptationJennifer Crusie
Philippe de Saint-ChristopheThe Bride of the WildernessCharles McCarry
Niccolo van der PoeleNiccolo RisingDorothy Dunnett
John CrichtonFarscapedid you really think I could leave him out?
Daniel JosselynHearts and BonesMargaret Lawrence
Nathaniel BonnerInto the WildernessS.D.

Many psychologists make their careers evaluating and categorizing personality types. I could take that approach here in trying to figure out what appeals to me in a hero, and how I ended up with Nathaniel. There are many possible models to use: Myers- Briggs (or the Keirsey temperament sorter, which is pretty much the same thing); the Enneagram approach is also quite popular. But I’m not going to take the quantitative route, not just now. Nor am I going to try to work with the clasic eight-way split you often see discussed in the literature: the Chief, the Bad Boy, the Best Friend, the Charmer, the Lost Soul, the Professor, the Swashbuckler, the Warrior (but there’s a good break down of each by Tami Cowden, here.)Having set up my list, I’m going to go away and think about commonalities and differences, and I’ll be back tomorrow with more on this.

4 Replies to “heroes”

  1. Nathaniel, she assured me, was the perfect hero.

    Possibly she meant something other than found in the 8 Archetypes, Myers-Briggs, etc.

    The sub-text that sometimes whispers to me from “the perfect hero” remarks is: “Would have sex with him, in a heartbeat.”

    And that Myers-Brigss hoo-haw makes no sense to me.

  2. But what goes into a characterization so the reader ends up thinking “would have sex with him, in a heartbeat” ? Can a fictional hero be perfect, but not sexually attractive? Can a fictional character be sexually attractive, but not any kind of hero? The answer to the second question, I think, is yes; but I’m not sure about the first question.

  3. For the record, I don’t think a fictional hero can be perfect AND sexually attractive. I think the thing that’s attractive about Nathaniel (despite the more-than-passing-resemblance to Daniel Day-Lewis, at least in my head) is that he’s Not Perfect, but a)he’s pretty close and b)he Tries. Oh, and he has good taste in women (or at least, he saw something worth pursuing in Elizabeth, who we [the readers] like, so he can’t be All That Bad).

    That pretty much goes for most ‘heroes,’ I think, but I’m drawn to somewhat-flawed people (though I have my limits), and I’m sure that says Something about me, but…

  4. christina, of course, you’re right. That third possibility also has to be folded into the equation. And all it says about you, I think, is that you’re a realist.

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