Today we'll revisit the popular topic of heroes (related to Elvis and Crushes from earlier this week). Do you remember who your first imaginary hero was? I remember mine, and he could be absolutely perfect because he wasn't expected to be remotely real. He lived in four colors and two dimensions, and his adventures cost me 12 cents each (yes, I'm really that old *g*). From him, I moved on, as we all do, to other heroes, real and imaginary. I can't help thinking that the qualities that drew me to him have drawn me to every other hero I've admired. Wander down memory lane with me, if you will, and let's see which traits and/or guys we might have in common.
As you may have guessed, the first hero who grabbed my imagination and my heart was none other than the last son of Krypton, Superman, whose geeky alter-ego, Clark Kent, held a certain sympathy for a book geek with no discernible athletic skill. The Superman pictured at left is, of course, Christopher Reeve. He was cuter than the original comic book Superman, and he used peronal tragedy to demonstrate that you don't need a cape--or even much mobility--to be a hero. However, Reeve lay far in the future when I discovered Superman. The Man of Steel was not only brave and strong and fast and, well, steely, but virtuous, kind and intelligent. And sympathetic, every time Lois looked past Clark to his dashing alter ego.
So I liked heroes with all these traits. They soon led me to Zorro and his caped and masked descendant, Batman. Batman (millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne) was also strong and kind and even braver and smarter than Superman. The bad guys could kill Batman with a mere bullet--and might've, if they hadn't felt compelled to rant and gloat when they captured him, giving him an opportunity to free himself from his bonds. He also had a secret identity problem. His playboy image and the need to keep his secret preluded him from forming a real attachment, except for an unsuitable one to the super-villainess Catwoman (a subject for another day). Over the years, Batman has acquired a darker side as his publishers decided that the tragic murder of his parents must have given him an anger that Superman, orphaned as a baby and sheltered on Earth, doesn't share. So he now has a brooding side that can be attractive, too.
Superman and Batman also righted wrongs and helped justice prevail, like two of my other heroes, the Lone Ranger (mask but no cape) and Sherlock Holmes (caped greatcoat but no mask). A friend who's a serious Holmes buff was appalled to discover that I'd never read any Holmes adventures. She pulled one off the shelf in a bookstore, thrust it into my hands and said, "My treat. You will love this, I promise," and I did. Holmes wasn't exactly romantic--too cold, a very different portrayal for Basil Rathbone, who was otherwise notable as the Sheriff of Nottingham opposite Errol Flynn's Robin Hood and as a pirate opposite Flynn's Captain Blood. But Holmes, too, was dedicated to the pursuit of justice.
Thanks to fellow banditas, I've recently discovered two new heroes between the pages of books, and they remind me a bit of my old caped buddies. Anna Campbell blogged, earlier this summer, about C. S. Harris's Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries (Timothy Dalton as Healthcliff--speaking of tormented heroes--pictured, absent any photo of St. Cyr and with apologies to those who carry a different mental image). I'd picked up the first book earlier, but I fished it out and read it because she recommended it. Oh. My. Golly. St. Cyr, or Viscount Devlin, has Batman's brains and wealth and a small measure of Superman's night vision and hearing. We meet him on a dueling ground, where he displays nerves worthy of the Dark Knight.
Kate Carlisle (at least, I think it was Kate) recommended recent RITA winner Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey mysteries. Again, I'd acquired the first one but had buried it on the TBR pile. I excavated that one, read it, and was so very happy to receive the second book as a freebie at RWA. The hero is Nicholas Brisbane, a "private enquiry agent" during the reign of Victoria. He doesn't come from money but made his own, on the strength of brains and daring, with a couple of Holmesian traits thrown in (Since they're not directly related to his heroism, I won't spoil them by revealing them.). The stand-in at left is the late Tyrone Power (with the same apologies as above), whose Zorro was fabulous. Brisbane shares Batman's and Holmes's skill with disguises and their tenacity. St. Cyr's and Brisbane's adventure have a great deal more to recommend them than their heroes, of course, but heroes are today's focus.
So here's the list of hero traits so far, I think:
unusual physical skill of some sort
virtue, at least more than vice
dedication to justice or "might for right"
tortured heart in some cases
I've saved one of the best for last. My friend Judy turned me on to the late Dame Dorothy Dunnet's tormented hero, Francis Crawford of Lymond. I know Anna C. has blogged about him, too. We share a love of those books. We've probably gone on a bit about them in comments because we both just admire this series so much. There's no photo for this segment because I can't think of anyone who does justice to Lymond, though the internet holds lots of suggestions. His late creator, who was also an artist, supposedly painted a portrait, but it's not in circulation. When we meet Lymond, he's returned from exile due to disgraceful things he did (or maybe didn't), a course of action that cotinues (maybe with reasons, maybe not). Lymond is unusual on my hero list because he's blond, by the way. Most of my heroes are dark, including most of the ones I've written. Lymond displays physical courage, intelligence, ingenuity, a strong moral compass that's not always apparent, a kind heart, and tenacity. And a poor self-image, at times. If you've never visited Francis Crawford of Lymond, go get The Game of Kings. Based on other friends' experience, you'll love it or loathe it, but ti will hit you strongly either way.
So who was the first hero who grabbed your heart? Has he held onto it? Why or why not? Have you recently discovered any other heroes you'd like to share with us?