Why I like Old Fashioned Heroes
by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
I remember my favorite stories as a youth involved heroes I could strive to be one day. Most of them were larger than life, possessing strength of character and physical strength I wished I had. A few of them had flaws, no one’s perfect, and certainly having obstacles to overcome is far more relatable. But what stands out in my memory is that they were admirable people. And I really miss that.
The anti-hero has become the hero du jour. I’m not quite sure when this transition occurred. The why seems easier to answer. As society rebelled against PC police or morality police, as people became more and more independent, as people learned more and more that questioning absolutes and authority is acceptable in our society, heroes who were too perfect became frustrating for some. People started to want people more like them in stories. And they started to reject the possibility that anyone could be truly such white knights as they saw in stories. Captain America was discontinued by Marvel for being too perfect. And so began the digression of heroes to their present state.
Societal trends paralleled this. As the press changed its attitude of respect toward privacy of public figures, we began to see more and more scandals reported and more and more former heroes knocked off their pedestals. After years of this, it suddenly became acceptable to allow these moral flaws in Presidents and athletes and others on a level which never would have been acceptable twenty years ago. Our standards lowered, and our demand increased for lower standards for heroes. Is this really a good thing?
The world around us has grown increasingly dark. When I talk with friends who are raising kids, there’s a distinct concern I hear expressed about how hopeless life can seem at times. What bright future do their kids have to look forward to? And with that, where are the stories to inspire them to dream big and hope for something better? Without traditional heroes to model themselves after or look up to, can kids today really aspire to a better way?
There was definitely something about the classic hero, the Golden Age hero even, which is missing from most books today. There are exceptions, of course. I’m hoping The Worker Prince is one of them. I just don’t believe that all stories have to be depressing reflections of the dark world in which we live. It’s not that I think it’s wrong to have such parallels, but I do dislike that they dominate. I take seriously my responsibility for the influence on others of what I write, and part of that, to me, it the influence on younger generations. I have always been an idealist—hoping in the future and possibilities and firmly convinced I can make a difference. Wouldn’t our society be worse for it if we didn’t have idealists raised up amongst the younger sect? Don’t worry, there’d still be plenty of room for skeptics. But idealists have their place, too. And I think society would lose a lot without both voices to listen to.
So that’s why I miss old fashioned heroes. They represent a hopeful idealism which is all too often lacking today. I found it encouraging as a child. I found it inspiring. I’d like to think kids and adults today deserve the same inspiration and encouragement. Flawed characters are fine. Characters have nothing to overcome if they’re too perfect and become totally unrelatable. But why must today’s heroes be so dark and ambiguous? Are we truly convinced there are no genuinely good, selfless people? Are we truly convinced no one answers a higher calling? No one has a moral compass? No one would choose good over bad? If the answer to these questions are yes, we’re in big trouble!
Listening to people around me, I think there’s a call for a return to the hopeful in literature. Not that the dark fiction need disappear. It wouldn’t even if we wanted it. But perhaps writers can aspire to inspire more hope and belief in making a better world. We certainly need a better world. We certainly need encouragement and inspiration. Old fashioned heroes used to provide that. So maybe we need a bit more old fashioned heroics today.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.
The Worker Prince is the story of a prince who discovers he was born a slave. When he raises objections about the abusive treatment of slaves, he finds himself in conflict with both friends and families. After a tragic accident, involving the death of a fellow soldier, Davi Rhii winds up on the run. He then joins the worker’s fight for freedom and finds a new identity and new love. Capturing the feel of the original Star Wars, packed with action, intrigue and interweaving storylines, The Worker Prince is a space opera with a Golden Aged Feel. 326 pp · ISBN 978‐0‐9840209‐0‐4 ·Trade Paperback/Epub/Mobi · $14.95 tpb $3.99 Ebook · Publication: October 4, 2011