In the age of the anti-hero archetype, ideal heroes have been swept aside for the edgier, grittier hero, but as the world around us gets bleaker day by day, reading about the pure of heart can help fortify against the constant barrage of disheartening news.
Each day as I scroll through social media, I can feel myself becoming numb towards the news. Hope seems lost, in a sense, with each headline read. Reading fiction for escapism in times of turmoil isn’t new, but it is important for our mental health to be able to step away from the news headlines and disconnect so that we don’t become accustomed to acts of terror.
As a fan of the anti-hero and stories of thieves and assassins, the ideal hero seems a distant, far off character archetype that is rarely seen in modern fantasy. When it comes to anti-heroes they tend to lean towards being chaotic neutral, begrudgingly on the side of good with a chip on their shoulder.
Think of Stephen King’s Roland Deschain from the Dark Tower series, Jaime Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire, and Severus Snape in Harry Potter. These characters, though leaning towards the side of good (which is debatable), tend to be morally grey or started out on the dark side of the plot progression.
With strong moral compasses, undying loyalty, courage, and a seemingly incorruptible sense of pureness ideal heroes are exactly what is needed to escape real life to recharge.
As the real world weighs down heavier and heavier on our shoulders each day, seeking out the goodness in heroes may seem small, but sometimes all it takes is one tiny thread of hope to keep us going. The ideal hero is mostly seen in children’s media, while in adult media they tend to be subverted or shown in a bad light.
Steadfastness is an admirable trait, one that gives hope in a time of darkness. Reaching out towards that small light in fantasy is difficult when in truth most fantasy is as bleak as the real world, if not moreseo. Characters must have something to overcome, a great evil to vanquish.
When thinking of the word incorruptible, Lord of the Rings’ Samwise Gamgee comes to mind first and foremost. With his undying loyalty to Frodo and the fact that he turned away the powers of the ring because it didn’t have anything he wanted remains to be the bar set for goodness and all things pure. His love for Frodo and the lengths he would go to to help his friend shows us that while the road may be treacherous, we can endure.
Elend Venture of the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson is pure of heart in every sense of the word. A scholar and nobleman in a world full of corrupt men, Elend withstood temptation to become another Lord Ruler and instead took the high road to become a just emperor. All he wanted was to do what was right, no matter the cost.
Elend shows us that to be on the side of good doesn’t come without sacrifice, that it is a difficult path to be on. For him, there was no other pathway than the one he was on, his loyalty to the cause paramount. His sense of the greater good was pure and not twisted like most uses of the trope turn out to be.
Honor above all else is what matters most to Brienne of Tarth from A Song of Ice and Fire. She is a breath of fresh air in a world full of backstabbers and dishonorable people with no loyalty. She has pledged herself to the Starks, and with the Starks she will remain.
The Starks as well, with their good intentions and genuine belief that Westeros is salvageable from the corruption within, are one of the few houses in A Song of Ice and Fire who aren’t all malevolently ambitious, who have strong moral compasses and want to do what is right in Westeros.
Undying Loyalty, the ultimate Hufflepuff trait, is underrated but one of my personal favorite tropes. When a character would follow their friend or companion anywhere or do anything for them, those characters stand out to me.
Hagrid, ever loyal to Dumbledore and Harry until the end, Peeta Mellark from The Hunger Games who was willing to give up his life so that Katniss could win, along with Samwise Gamgee and Brienne, are only a few of the characters who embody the undying loyalty trope.
Richard Rahl, of the Sword of Truth series, has a strong sense of what is right and just, prevailing when there was no hope. It’s cliche and stereotypical but maybe that’s what we need right now.
The feeling of hope that Richard exudes is what I seek out. The build up from despair and isolation into the gathering of forces and believing that good will win in the end gives one strength to face the day.
Forthright and sincere, Costis from The Queen’s Thief by Megan Whalen Turner has a strong sense of righteousness that bursts through the pages. Though Costis is reluctant at first, he cannot help but do the right thing, even at the expense of losing his standing in the royal guard.
Percy Jackson, though mischievous and a jokester, emanates all of the above traits sometimes to a fault, especially the fact that his loyalty to his friends is his Achilles Heel. He would do anything for them, which is rare, admirable, and endearing.
The Dresden Files’ Michael Carpenter and Tamora Pierce’s Kel both also fall into this hero category as well, the two of them willing to jump first and damn the consequences when it comes to saving people.
Though the outlook is bleak, one can’t help but root for these characters to prevail over their various foes and troubles within the realm of fantasy. Mirroring the world outside of escapism, we seek out hope when surrounded with despair, reaching out to grasp at some sense of promise of a light at the end of the tunnel.
Fortifying ourselves for the long haul by reading and stepping away from social media and the news means that now, more than ever, we should support the authors. This week I’m planning on writing reviews and leaving them on both Amazon and Goodreads. More reviews means more books which leads to new characters and adventures to explore.