Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Choice of Heroes

by Nancy

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?


Joan said...

Snatched the rooster by 1 100th of a second!

flchen1 said...

Woohoo, Joan! You're my hero ;)

Nancy said...

Whaddaya mean, 1/100th of a second? When I logged on, you were the only comment comment. *g* It was just you and the rooster and the witching hour.

Congratulations. :-)

Fedora, better luck next time!

Natalie Hatch said...

wow Joan you're quick
as for heroes, hmmm the first real chapter book I ever read was The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, and I tell you I thought that Wil Stanton was cool. Your average kid has to become the hero and save his family.

Anna Campbell said...

Goodness, that was close. Congratulations, Joanie! He'll be nice and calm and full of Tim Tams, you shouldn't have much trouble with him today.

Nancy, what a fantastic post. And on an eternally fascinating subject. I can see we have similar taste in heroes - I like a bit of complexity and darkness with my heroism which is why people like Francis Crawford and St. Cyr appeal to me. I like that struggle between darkness and light. I read the second St. Cyr book on my way home from San Francisco and it made the trip bearable, which is saying something about how fantastic it is! And Timothy Dalton is a great choice for Devlin - even to the eyes! I recently saw the Jane Eyre where he's Mr. Rochester - he really was great in that part. He does the darkness and light superbly well.

Anna Campbell said...

Speaking of C.S. Harris, I just saw that the third book in the series, WHEN MERMAIDS SING, is on special at Amazon hardback for $4.99. That's a bargain in anyone's language - although I suspect you're better off reading the first two first.

Christine Wells said...

Hey Nancy, what a great post. I loved the Sherlock mysteries too and I really must read the Lymond Chronicles. I tried the first when I still had baby brain and I blush to confess, I turned to much lighter reading instead of pursuing what I'm sure would have been a rewarding experience!

Recent heroes...hmm I haven't read too many novels recently, but I have begun Beth Andrews's Not Without Her Family. Wowza! I'm only up to the first kiss (and what a kiss THAT was, btw) but I've already fallen for Jack!

Oh, and my first hero was probably Gilbert Blythe, followed by Darcy in P&P. Two lovely heroes! I'd count honour as a huge component of my favourite men.

Congrats on the GR, Joanie!

Anna Lucia said...

I'd have to add honour/moral courage (even if absent at the start of the story) and sacrifice to my list of hero traits... but otherwise that's a great list!

I don't know who my first hero was, not really. Maybe Dominic Alastair, Marquis of Vidal from Georgette Heyer's 'Devil's Cub'. Probably Richard Byron from Mary Stewart's 'Madam Will You Talk'.

And a close perusal of those two heroes will tell you all you need to know about my hero preferences...

Before that, I was pretty much reading Famous Five and Narnia. Does Aslan count? ;-)

Helen said...

Well done Joan he may be a bit hipped up from the Tim Tams but I am sure you will keep him in line

Wonderful post Nancy
Superman and Batman were my first heros and yes I love The Lone Ranger and Zorro as well. I loved those TV shows and comics when I was a kid but then reading took over and there have been too many heros that I have loved.
I must try and find these books that keep getting recomended they obviously must be great reads.

Have Fun

Joan said...

Well, the GR is pouting because he's not up on the podium stand with Michael newest hero! (His poster is so going to beat out Mark Spitz's)

First, heroes, first heroes.

First one? My Daddy. :-)

Past that I'd have to say Garrick from "A Fire in Winter". Han Solo from Star Wars.

And more recently? Acheron from Sherrilyn's "Acheron"....been waiting a long time to figure out what made that bad boy tick...

Louisa Cornell said...

Joan is the hero of the day! Great snatch of the GR!

And I have to agree with you - my first hero was and still is my Daddy. Who else would it be for a spoiled rotten Daddy's Girl? As I grew older he became my hero for the way he worked so hard, encouraged us to do our best at everything and most of all - for the way he loved my Mom. He set the bar really high for any man I met and THAT is the best thing he ever did for me. As I result I married my dear Roger, who was so very much like my Dad.

Now my second childhood hero was short, fat and long. His name was Fritz and he was a dachshund. He was our first family pet and when a bully jumped on my little brother my screaming and pummeling didn't help, but Fritz bit the kid in the butt and THAT took care of it quick!

Then I would have to say Heathcliff, Rochester, Darcy and any hero Georgette Heyer wrote became my heroes.

Next came Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach. Not super heroes to be sure, but heroes in my world.

And of course as a young girl horses like Man O' War, Seabiscuit and Black Beauty had to be my heroes as well.

jo robertson said...

Well done, Joan. Congratulations!

And well done to you, Nancy, on the post. What a great topic! Heroes, don't we just love them?

Hmm, when I was a girl, back in the Stone Age, movies were looonnnnggg. There was the preview of coming attractions. There was the newsreel. There was a cartoon. And finally, there was . . . the SERIAL!!! That was my favorite part, the continuing story of some hero.

This is where I fell in love with The Lone Ranger and Zorro, those masked heroes of daring courage who always triumped over EVIL!! I don't read many westerns, but I still love a good western film, sadly another movie genre that's in decline.

Nancy said...

Natalie, I first read The Dark is Rising as an adult, and I agree that Will is way cool. In fact (at the risk of TMI), I was reading in the bathroom late at night, with all the other lights out, and when I got to the end of Chapter 1, the part about the Walker being abroad, and "this night will be bad. And tomorrow will be beyond imagining" (Is that a fabulous line, or what? I wish I'd written it.), a chill went down my spine. I called for the dh to come walk me back to the bedroom.

Did you see the recent movie? If so, what did you think? The trailer looked so alien to the book that I passed.

Nancy said...

Anna C., I think the darkness/light dichotomy is the reason so many more people read Batman than Superman these days. Supes remains DC Comics' flagship character, but Batman is doing way better. Of course, if Superman/Clark had been written better in his most recent film, that might've helped. James Marsden (also fabulous as X-Man Scott "Cyclops" Summers) had a role with much more emotional depth and nuance. When the hero's romantic rival has more complexity than the hero, it's a recipe for trouble, IMHO. In fact, I could do a whole rant about that movie, but I won't.

Getting back to your comment--glad you like the Dalton photo. The first movie I ever saw him in was Wuthering Heights, opposite Anna Calder-Marshall as Cathy. I hated that they changed the book's ending to get HEA, but Dalton was great. The next time I saw him was in the regrettable Flash Gordon remake, and he was way cool. I remember his Rochester--fabulous! And when he replaced Roger Moore as Bond, my reaction was "Finally--we again have a Bond who looks like he really might kill someone and not think twice about it."

I agree that the Harris books should be read in order. But then, we comic book geeks tend to be strict about such things. :-)

Nancy said...

Christine, glad you liked the post! Before I get to your comment, congratulations on the fabulous reviews you're getting for The Dangerous Duke. I agree on Beth's book, too.

I also think honor is really important.

Anna Lucia, thanks for the great additions to the list. I had forgotten Devil's Cub. Heyer wrote some fabulous heroes, didn't she? I agree that Vidal is great. My favorite of hers is either the Earl of Worth from Regency Buck, the first Heyer I ever read, or the Marquis of Alverstoke from Fredericka. Did you know that AC's publisher, Sourcebooks, is reissuing Heyer?

I also loved the Famous Five, though our library didn't have many of them. Five Run Away Together was a favorite. And yes, of course Aslan counts (speaking of sacrifice).

Nancy said...

Helen, we obviously do like the same heroes. The list just keeps getting longer, as you noted. I liked Antonio Banderas in his first Zorro outing but wasn't crazy about the second film (although it featured the ever-hunky Rufus Sewell as the villain). Probably my favorite Zorro is Tyrone Power, though I teach the Fairbanks version, which is full of amazing stunts Fairbanks did himself, in my 1920s films class.

Joan, nobody ever called Spitz (whom I heard on the radio, being very gracious and wishing Phelps all the best) "Aquaman" (The King of the Seven Seas, a blond hero with a wife from another dimension). Did Jon Stewart start that, or did someone in the mainstream media kick that off? Stewart certainly has picked up on it.

Joan and Louisa, my dad was a hero, too, as you may remember from my Memorial Day blog. Sometimes when things get tough, I remind myself he survived 41 months as a POW in brutal conditions. Nothing I face ever comes within the same corner of the universe as that.

Louisa, Fritz sounds wonderful!

Jo, I love westerns, too. The dh got me a box set of The Lone Ranger for my birthday last year. Despite the terrible dialogue Jay Silverheels had, I love those stories. Errol Flynn in Dodge City is wonderful, playing opposite the always terrific Olivia DeHavilland. I also have a video of the Disney Zorro, starring Guy Williams.

When The Lone Ranger went to the big screen, back in the 1980s, the corporation that owned the rights got a restraining order forbidding my childhood hero, Clayton Moore, from appearing in the costume, as he'd been doing for decades. This ticked me off so greatly that I refused to see the film (I did watch it on HBO, since they got no extra money from that and I was curious.). I actually met Moore once, when he came here for the opening of an appliance store. He was a lovely man, gracious to everyone who came through the line.

JMHO, Michael Horse was great as Tonto, but Klinton Spillsbury as the LR, though he looked fabulous, didn't fill the boots. Also, it took them almost the first hour of the film to get him into costume. Geez!

Joan said...

Aquaman? Jon Stewert is calling Michael Phelps Aquaman?

Sorry, but that moniker just doesn't kick it nowadays.

The Golden Streak.


Master of the Sea (No relation to Chicken of the Sea)

C'mon...we've got to come up with a uber cool name for this remarkable and REALLY, REALLY buff young man.

BTW, I read an article about those new Speedo suits all the swimmers wear. It takes up to 30 minutes for them to get into them and compresses their bodies into sleek, seamless lines. They've even been known to get PAPER cuts on the edge!

C'mere Michael...I've got talcum powder


Nancy said...

Now, Joan, you know Demetrius wouldn't like you, er, powdering up some swimmer!

I like "the Golden Streak." That's amazing about the suits--paper cuts? Wow! Guess they can't afford anyexcess body fat, either.

limecello said...

Great post. Hm - first "imaginary" hero? Likely one of the comic book guys. I love Superman and Batman and X-men. Heroes are great - I think my favorite one most recently discovered would be Restell Gardner in "If His Kiss Is Wicked" by Jo Goodman. I'd never read one of her books before, and really enjoyed this one.

Joanne Lockyer said...

Hi all! Has taken me forever to make an appearance on here (Hi Christine! Hi Anna! Hi Donna! and everyone else I met in San Fran), got the blogger account sorted now so all good to go.

I can't recall who my 'first' hero was, I need to think about that one more. However, there are a couple who immediately spring to mind for me, though from the epic fantasy genre. First of all, Janny Wurts 'Wars of Light and Shadows' series, and her hero, Arithon s'Ffalenn. Now here is a juxtaposition of 'light and dark' reverse! The trials Wurts puts this man through, and the choices he has to make are incredible for their very scale and, and his level of personal self-sacrifice. I'm also a big fan of Joscelin Verreuil, of Jacqueline Carey's 'Kushiel' series. Again, unbending loyalty, and formidabble self-sacrifice.

Hmm. I think I'm identifying a common theme for myself here...

Beyond that, I love Sherry Thomas's posting from 2007,

And Nicholas Brisbane in Deanna Raybourn's book (haven't read the second yet!) WAS certainly fabulous too!

Cheers all!

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Joanne! Great to see you here. I hope you'll become a regular visitor. It was wonderful to catch up with you in San Francisco (as much as I caught up with anyone - it was all very frantic!).

Nancy said...

Limecello, now you've added to my TBR pile. :-) I came late to X-Men. On screen, I have to go with Wolverine, but in the book, I much preferred Cyclops. What about you?

Joanne, welcome! I read a lot of fantasy and SF, and I'm not the only one in the lair who does. I haven't read those particular books, but I'll check them out. I'll check out the Sherry Thomas blog, too.

Joanne Lockyer said...

Hey Anna! Thanks! Yes, I'll try to attend the blog regularly from now on! San Fran was great, wasn't it! I am going to miss the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Melbourne this weekend :-( However, I see you'll be at the Brisbane Writers Festival with Christine next month, so will definitely catch you again then!

Virginia said...

Rhett Butles is the hero that first got my heart. I guess he still has it. Although I always loved Little Joe and Adam Cartwrite. More recent heroes would be Kevin Kostner, Sam Elliot, and so on.

Helen said...

There are some wonderful heros being talked about here today so many I am really enjoying hearing about everyone's.
BTW Tawny I have just finished Double Dare one very hawt and great book thanks Tawny

Have Fun

Pat Cochran said...

We've always been so family
oriented that is the only way
for me to go. My first hero was/is
my Dad, who saw that our big family never wanted for anything. Next were my uncles and older cousins who went to war in the service of our country(WWII,) then there was the priest whose counsel saw me through a momentous occasion.
For the past 47 years, my hero has
been my Honey who has been the most
supportive and loving spouse. I
would never have been able to do all I have done without his aid
and assistance.

Pat Cochran

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

What a fun and thoughtful post, Nancy! I love talking about heroes. :>

My first were Tarzan the Ape Man, and other Burroughs men (Thandar, anyone?) as well as several of Andre Norton's spacefarers.

I liked the comic book heroes well enough, but they were more my brothers' domain and I eschewed them on that principle. Snicker. Too bad, since I now adore Bruce Wayne/Batman.

Oh, Natalie, weren't Susan Cooper's books fabulous? I LOVED that series. And Christine, I share an adoration of the dreamy Gilbert Blythe. I also adored the young Lt. Cable in South Pacific (harkening back to yesterday's post) and rewrote the entire story of SP so he didn't have to die. :>

BTW, Anna L, I'd say Aslan counts. Grins.

Oh, and The Scarlet Pimpernel, and the young Harvey Cheyne of Captains Courageous who grows to be a man in a few short months at sea.

Oh, Louisa, the horses, yes! And the Canadian Mounty who saved Silver Chief in Robert O'Brien's Silver Chief dog of the North. I've been in love with RMPs ever since.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

There was a movie of The Dark is Rising? How did I miss that? Of course if you thought the trailer was lacking Nancy, I'm betting I would have too.

Did you ever read Heinlein's The Puppet Masters? They made a horrible movie of it with Donald Sutherland (whom I love)which SO bastardized the story it was unrecognizable. Bleeeh

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Welcome, Joanne! I've been wondering about that Kusheil series, but I have so darn much on my TBR pile now that I haven't added it. Love the cover art though. :>

Nancy said...

Virginia, I remember the Cartwright boys, and I still watch any Clark Gable movie that comes on TV. He really was perfect for Rhett Butler.

Pat, it sounds as if you have a wonderful group of heroes around you.

Jeanne, I remember Johnny Weismuller as Tarzan (on TV on the weekends). I haven't seen The Dark Knight Returns, but I suspect Christian Bale may be the best modern Batman. The Scarlet Pimpernel was cool, too. I love the Leslie Howard version as well as the Anthony Andrews/Jane Seymour remake, with Ian McKellan wonderful as Chauvelin. It's about time for another remake, I think.

I had a picture book of Silver Chief, which I loved. Never read the actual novel. Did you know the RCMP was one of the first relief agencies to reach New Orleans after Katrina? Did you see Paul Gross as the Mountie in Due South? I know that show has come up in comments before.

I've read a fair amount of Heinlein, but never The Puppet Masters. I'm not surprised they wrecked it, though. I've read that Sue Grafton, having worked in Hollywood, has said she will never, ever sign away movie rights to Kinsey Milhone. I think you have to have Rowling's clout or Grisham's and get the contract steel-engraved to ensure that your version makes it to the screen. In fact, I read that A Very Famous Director was rejected by Rowling because he wanted to put his spin on Harry Potter while she felt people would go to the theater expecting hers. Good for her, and more power to her for having the clout to be in that position!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

I did not know the RCMP were first-in after Katrina. How cool is that?

Nancy said...

Jeanne, that bit about the RCMP and Katrina came from Spike Lee's documentary, When the Levees Broke, which broke my heart when I saw it on HBO.