11 August 2009

Men: Writing the Historical Hero

By Anna C. Bowling

What is it that makes the historical hero special? Yes, you in the front. He lives in another time? Well, yes, that is important to the definition. Let's get some other opinions on that. Over there in the frock coat? A sense of honor? Very good. Someone else? Yes, there in the ah, what sort of fur is that loincloth? That is a loincloth, isn't it? Survival instinct and a pioneering spirit? Yes, those are very useful. Third row, in the cravat? No, no, the one with the emerald stickpin. Manners and breeding? Yes, sometimes, or a self-made man with rougher edges. Hush, hush, please, or we could be here all day listing heroic qualities.

Why ask this sort of question at all, some might wonder? Isn't a historical hero merely a hero who lived in a previous time? Couldn't any of the above qualities reflect in contemporary gentlemen as well? Of course they do, and apart from time travels, all historical heroes do their derring-do in previous eras, but strip them down and put them beside their contemporary counterparts and there's still something different.

The German word for it is "zeitgeist" In short, the spirit of the age and society. The time in which a hero lives will shape him and what he views as heroic. True, the inspirations for our fictional heroes can come from sources as diverse as the latest blockbuster film, a favorite soap opera, the new trainer at the gym, a dusty history tome or a random thought that meandered through the daily chores, but heroes, whatever their era, are not interchangeable. Knowing what a potential hero looks like is only the beginning.

Imagine taking a Victorian nobleman and swapping him with a Viking jarl or a Spanish grandee from the seventeenth century. For that matter, an Iroquois warrior or Moorish scholar. Not only would each gentleman find the costume and social climate strange compared to what he's lived with all his life, but imagine the gents filling out the same questionnaire regarding heroic attributes. Education, tastes in food and leisure activities, even what they would find attractive in a potential mate, all vary vastly across the years and the globe.

For those wondering why the gentlemen in the opening paragraph are gathered together in the first place, other than to beautify the scenery, take a good look at the heroes depicted by Unusual Historicals authors. They come from places as diverse as Africa and Germany, France and the New World. Hm, yes, even England in various eras. They stretch from the ancient world to the modern day, and perhaps a tad beyond. We have alphas, betas, and the elusive gamma (who may or may not exist, depending on whom one asks, but if he does, he combines the qualities of the other two) and a few who refuse to be categorized at all.

Were we to collect the above-mentioned questionnaires, the variety of responses on most questions would astound us, but the answers to the most important questions would be the same. What would they give for their beloved? Everything. Certainly, there would be disagreements on exactly how one might best accomplish that, and I can't guarantee there wouldn't be a few fisticuffs, but when it absolutely, positively has to be happily ever after, there are no odds over which a historical hero can't triumph with his beloved by his side.