Thursday, March 22, 2007

Heroes: A Sword to Protect

What makes the hero? A quick analysis of this question would reveal that in every hero story, there is someone who, sometimes by choice (like Achilles or Bruce Wayne) or by uncontrolled circumstance (like Frodo or Peter Parker), is forced to rise above the ordinary and go beyond the limits of those around him or her. A hero/heroine is someone who has dared to fly, to live for something greater. This is our common idea of the hero/heroine. Joseph Campbell, the guru of mythology studies, talks about the archetype "hero" in terms of a formula: the Challenge, the Journey, and the Return. The hero identity, according to Campbell, fulfills each step in this formula in one way or the other.

However, the question of "What makes a hero?" is, in my opinion, neither formula nor feat. At the core of every true hero is a driving force, a power behind the true Hero, that brings an individual to reach into the stars. It is the motive energy that fuels the feats of greatness that set the Hero apart from everyone else.

Himura Kenshin, fictional swordsman of the Meiji era. Unparalleled prowess in combat, he became known as the legendary "battousai" or man-slayer. But for all of his skill, Kenshin is not a hero simply because of the lightning speed of his sword. Behind that sword is a belief, a philosophy, a motive power.

Peter Parker, free-lance photographer for the Daily Bugle of New York City. Because of a freak accident of radioactive energy, Peter Parker gained the amazing powers of a set of super-spiders: a proportional strength, lightning reflexes, the ability to leap great distances, an almost psychic "spider-sense", and the ability to produce super-strength strands of spiderweb from his wrists (some people say its natural, others say Parker developed them artificially). But for all these fantastic powers, they are not the core of why Peter Parker believes that with great power comes great responsibility.

Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi. At the end of the trilogy, Luke faces his father, now the twisted Sith Lord Darth Vader. The Emperor, Darth Sidious, watches the final battle between Luke and Vader with amusement: it is apparent that the Force is even stronger in Luke than in Anakin, and soon, Darth Vader is begging for mercy. The Emperor bids Luke to kill Vader, and complete his transition to the Dark Side. But Luke finds a strength within himself, a hidden power that overcomes the overwhelming influence of the Dark Side. Instead of cutting Darth Vader down with a final blow, Luke turns to the Emperor and throws away his lightsaber, the symbol of a Jedi's skill in combat and the constant conflict that rages between the Dark and the Light. He tosses it, and proclaims his identity as a Jedi, and becomes a hero.

I could probably go further with illustrations from heroes in pop culture (Cloud from Final Fantasy VII, Leonidas from 300, Al Simmons from Todd McFarlene's Spawn comics), but let's stop with the three I've already discussed.

It wasn't simple power or skill that truly made them heroic; even the bad guys have power and skill. Neither does ideology make a hero either: Kenshin had his philosophy of samurai honor, Peter Parker has the whole "with great power comes great responsibility" mantra, and of course Luke is a Jedi, a Star Wars Knight's Templar. My point is that anyone can develop a skill, and anyone can hold on to a philosophy. Something else is at work here, something deeper.

Kenshin fought, not because of his ideals, but to protect those he loved. Peter Parker, constantly leaping from his window, everyday comes back to Mary Jane. Luke, for the love of his sister and his father, found the strength to resist the Emperor.

It was because of a developed sense of selflessness and love that drove these characters to become great. Not everyone understands the concept of love; take Anakin, whose love was actually based on selfish possessiveness of Padme. It takes trial, it takes persistence and time for love to truly become the power behind the hero.

Love is ultimately the core of what makes the Hero different from any other great individual. The title of Hero is a title of someone who has done something because of love.


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