Superman, heroes and heroines (or: how literature lets us make heroes)

I saw Man Of Steel earlier (don’t worry, no massive plot spoilers.) Suffice to say I didn’t really like Russell Crowe as Jor-El but I adored Henry Cavill as Superman. I felt he really got the farmboy wholehearted goodness of Superman and made it big.

Man Of Steel has left me thinking about the nature of heroes and heroines, and how these come across in literature, and why we have them, and what they mean.

And I think that, in the world of children’s literature for this is a children’s literature blog and it would be somewhat eccentric if I suddenly started analysing Fifty Shades of Grey, that heroes are something quite special and that thinking starts with some heroes in particular.

The first is Bastian Balthazar Bux. Bastian is the hero (occasionally anti?) of The Neverending Story. He’s a bullied, withdrawn child who reads a book and is drawn into a fantastical land which can only be saved by a human. (On another note, my God, were we all scarred for eternity by what happened to Artax in the film? Yes? It’s not just me still sobbing is it?). The second is Tom of Tom’s Midnight Garden by the glorious Philippa Pearce. (For an excellent review of this, I’d point your attention here.)

These are different characters from vastly different genres and vastly different mediums but they are, I’d argue, all heroes. And I think their heroic commonality comes from this.  Somebody believes in these individuals, whether it’s Lois Lane, the guy who gives Bastian the book, or whether it’s the friend that comes when you least expect it. So it’s the expression of faith, the supportive sidekick or love interest, or simply the onlooker who says “I believe in you” – that’s a lot of what makes us heroes. Belief. Hope, really. Hope that these people can find the greatness within themselves.

And I think, perhaps, with books, we make heroes everyday through the very act of reading. We input our belief and hopes onto the page, we turn the page in the hope that what we hope will happen, and we map our emotional state onto a story until it is done. We activate the story, we call the hero to arms, and we cheer them on their way simply through being in their story. We activate the text, and we become part of the text, and we share their journey towards and achieving heroism.

The act of reading is a bit amazing, really.

It’s a bit like a superpower when you come to think of it.

(We can be Heroes)


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