Where have all the great heroes gone?
Hero stories are out of fashion these days, and there’s a reason.
For centuries, storytellers have spun tails of inspiring heroes who achieve great things. They were men and women of integrity, strength, valor, selflessness, shrewdness, and perseverance. But in the last several decades, heroes have given way to anti-heroes. The protagonists of modern stories are deeply flawed, conflicted, compromisers. The only way we know they are “heroes” is they are slightly better than the villains. Tony Stark is a sarcastic, self-aggrandizing playboy who insults everyone he talks to. Wolverine is an angry, vengeful, brute. The formerly brave, idealist, heroic Luke Skywalker became … well, let’s not even talk about what they did to that character.
Making Heroes Relatable
Why did they do that to poor Luke? Why take one of the iconic heroes of a generation and turn him into a weak, self-obsessed, bitter, angry coward?
It’s all done in the name of relatability. Classic heroes like Superman are just too … good to suit our culture. No one is like that. It’s unrealistic. We want heroes we can relate to. Someone we can imagine being. We don’t want a hero that leaves us in the moral dust. We want to be able to picture ourselves doing the amazing things the main character is doing.
The Christian Market: True Heroes
Marketing expert Thomas Umstattd offers interesting advice to novelists marketing their books to homeschoolers. In a recent episode of his podcast, he points out that Christian homeschoolers prefer stories of classic heroes rather than flawed, more relatable antiheroes.
Why do Christians prefer ideal heroes? It is because we believe in and aspire to the ideal. Bravery, selflessness, integrity, and self-sacrifice devoid of selfish motives are not farfetched, fairytale concepts. They are the way God created humanity to be. It’s the way the one perfect human, Jesus Christ, lived (and still lives). It is the image to which all believers aspire because God has promised to conform us to that image (Romans 8:29).
Why do Christian parents want their children to read stories with classic heroes? Because they believe in high, biblical ideals. Christlike morality. And they want their children to aspire to that kind of greatness.
The Secular Market: Heroes Like Me
The unbelieving world, on the other hand, rebels against that ideal. The impact of postmodernism over the past several decades has dulled society’s ability to even think in terms of right and wrong, good and evil. The notion that there is no ideal and there are no absolutes—no true “good guys” or “bad guys,” and that all morality is in the eye of the beholder has corrupted classic storytelling. If everyone determines his own morality, then who is to say the bad guy is bad for doing what, for him, seems best?
Better than Feeling Good About Yourself
All people want to feel good about themselves. If the best character in a story is a whole lot like me, with the same mixed motives, weaknesses, and moral flaws I have, I can imagine myself like him—good, because I’m slightly better than the bad guys around me.
But there is a better way to feel good about oneself. When a skilled storyteller crafts an imagine of ideal humanity that inspires noble desires, and God assures us that he has predestined us to become conformed to that glorious image, we can feel good about what we are becoming, rather than about what we are.
Better yet, we can become lost in wonder in our enjoyment of the ideal Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ. And instead of working so hard to feel good about ourselves, we can feel good about him, because feeling good about God feels better than feeling good about oneself.
The Heroes in Walk with the Wind
It was after this model that the characters in the Walk with the Wind novel series were designed. Each character is strong in one or more key Christian virtues. It is my prayer that in reading these books, children and adults alike will be inspired to rise to new heights in their pursuit of the glorious image of Christ for which they were created.