Sunday, February 22, 2009

What is a Hero Today?

My friend and fellow-writer, Jon Guenther posted a Blog today about “A Resurgence of American Heroes” and within his comments he quoted and linked to an article, “Joseph Campbell's Definition of Heroes: Does Traditional Hero Still Exist?.” I found myself disagreeing with the author of that article on Joseph Campbell, as Jon did. I love Joseph Campbell but I almost felt as if the author missed the point of Campbell’s intense study of mythology and the impact of inspirational myth on cultures down through the ages.

I no longer have Campbell’s classic book, Hero with a Thousand Faces, first published 1949, in my library, but I do have Power of Myth, from the Bill Moyers ' PBS interviews with Campbell. Campbell said, “Even in popular novels, the main character is a hero or heroine who has found or done something beyond the normal range of achievement and experience. A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”

When my late husband, Don Pendleton conceived his fictional character, Mack Bolan, forty years ago, he not only put Bolan into a situation of “giving” his life to something LARGER than himself but also to a courageous battle for justice for others. But the writing of the Executioner: Mack Bolan Series went even beyond that with a spiritual, metaphysical element.

Campbell had this to say about the two types of deeds of a hero. “One is the physical deed, in which the hero performs a courageous act in battle or saves a life. The other kind is the spiritual deed, in which the hero learns to experience the supernormal range of human spiritual life and then comes back with a message.” This can be something as simple as taking a journey inward, inside ourselves, emotionally and spiritually, and discovering a strong connection to the Divine, which may result in a new understanding of life, a new purpose, a passion, such as to serve all of humanity in some way, large or small, or to bring positive change.

Most of us grew up with Superman, a fantasy hero, but I believe what has happened in recent years is a “false hero worship.” And that is as a result of the media and the impact celebrity now has on society. Now, youth too often look up to sports figures, singers, and other popular figures who really lack any qualities that should qualify them for heroes.

So where have all the heroes gone?

The heroes of today are people like many during 9-11 or Katrina, who set their own lives aside to save others—or the guy down the street who pulls someone from a burning car or home—or someone who gives a kidney to save a stranger—or anyone we know who may do some courageous act at a time when needed. Heroes are ordinary people, probably flawed and not perfect in all their personality traits, but people who are able to go beyond to do something that makes a difference in the world.

Even those who inspire with words:

“We should always be at war with injustice. Always.” ~Maya Angelou
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.” ~Mark Twain
“We can’t all be heroes because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.” ~Will Rogers.

I do agree with Jon that with the several years of corruption, war, and now the failing economy, we do have a need to look up to someone with heroic qualities, and even a fictional hero that will entertain us and take us to an imaginary place and restore our hope. But hey, I am optimistic that better times are ahead.

Joseph Campbell also said we need to get in touch with our “real self.” He stated, “The world is full of people who have stopped listening to themselves or have listened only to their neighbors to learn what they ought to do, how they ought to behave, and what the values are that they should be living for.” And his famous words, “Follow your bliss.”

I’m sure Jon Guenther will come up with a great idea for a new series of books, and with a believable hero. I intended to comment directly on his Blog but I wrote too much for that, so here it is.

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)



Rochester Slim said...

Hi Linda - I haven't yet had the chance to thank you for your kind comments about my blog and music. So thanks. That said - I love Joseph Campbell, who's one of my heroes. Another is Pete Seeger. It's a good exercise to try and list one's heroes. I have one at my personal website - my "Hall of Fame" as I call it.

Linda Pendleton said...

You are welcome...I am enjoying your site, photos, and music. I was thinking about a list of my heroes as I wrote this post. Having a list, as you suggest, is a good idea. I will check out yours.

Ricky Kendall said...

I absolutely love Joseph Campbell. I watched Power of Myth, from the Bill Moyers' PBS series several times. Often I would put it on my VCR in my bedroom, get comfortable and watch it in hyper focus, trying to pick up every detail. What a wonderful man. He was a true visionary with knowledge and spirit that I have not seen matched since. He was and still is my hero.