Over the last few months I have come to realize that my story, Gods Among Men, has a subtext I did not originally intend. Implicit in the characters and their interactions is the question of what it means to be a hero or a villain. Given the parts of the story I have focused upon so far, I have written mostly about the characters I think of as heroes in one way or another.
I have always thought that some of my characters where “more pure” in their heroism than others. I am familiar with various mythic traditions and did weave ideas that appealed to me into various characters. Before now, however, I never tried to formally define the various types of heroism and how they applied to specific characters.
The formal concept of the hero can be traced to Greek mythology. The word hero originally meant the person was a demigod; the offspring of a mortal and a deity. At this point the word does not imply any moral virtue, merely parentage.
An important step in Damon’s true quest is to become the God Among Men. To achieve this goal, Damon must form a bond with Demiurge, a god-like being. The relationship Damon seeks with Demiurge is not dissimilar to that of a grown child with an aged, ailing, parent. Symbolically, Damon becomes Demiurge’s child and in so doing become a demigod and hence a hero; at least by the criteria of classic Greek mythology. By becoming a hero, Damon steps closer to his true goal: redemption for his past sins and the salvation of his soul.
In later mythology, the concept of the hero became associated with other characteristics. Courage, self-sacrifice for the greater good, the willingness the face danger and almost certain death, and various moral qualities. The moral qualities become especially important. A hero in later works is often defined by the lines they will not cross, the acts they will not commit, even when everyone else says the acts are necessary or even required. A hero in later mythology is the person who risks all, including the safety of those closest to them, because their moral center demands it of them.
By this standard for heroism, Damon fails to become a modern hero. Yes, he has courage and will face danger and certain death. But he is also the ultimate pragmatist. If the surest way for him to achieve a goal is a dark deed, then he will cross that line with little hesitation. And, while he will ultimately sacrifice himself, it is not so much for the greater good but to complete his redemption. Mankind as a whole will benefit, but Damon’s reason is a selfish one designed to benefit himself. To be a modern hero the end result is not sufficient; the means you use and the reasons behind your actions matter.
Damon wants to be a hero, but never can be. He can become a demigod, he can be a protagonist that provides the story with a direction and a plot, but his own moral failings keep him from being more.
In Gods Among Men the role of classical hero falls upon Morel Rihtwis, a man willing to sacrifice the world rather than let innocents suffer. A man of destiny who wants power solely so he can help others. He actively pursues greatness and seizes his destiny. He regrets the personal sacrifices he must make, but never seriously considers not making those sacrifices.
A more modern version of the hero is embodied by his daughter, Tara. She wants to follow in her father’s footsteps, until she sees the cost she must bear to do so. At this point she would turn aside, except she comes to realize how many would suffer if she did so. She accepts her personal sacrifices for the betterment of all. Greatness is thrust upon her, her destiny is set by forces out of her control.
I will revisit this exploration of the concepts surrounding heroes and heroism in later posts. I plan on focusing more upon Morel and Tara and delving deeper into my motivations for how I have developed their characters. After that I will look also at other variants of heroes including Byronic heroes and antiheroes. After that I will turn my attention to the villains and antivillains in Gods Among Men and the mythic roots behind their characters.