Faulks on Fiction: The Hero

Recently on BBC2 author Sebastian Faulks presented a four part series on the British novel, a passion long associated with this nation for many centuries. Faulks claims it's not the novel itself though that is important, it's the novel's characters that matter because "it is in the power of their experiences we see our own lives in a new light" - a very valid point.

In the series he explored four different types of characters, using well-known characters from books we've all heard of, even if we've not read ourselves. Here's what he said about The Hero (The Lover, The Snob and The Villain to follow). I share these not as a critique of the programme but because I found the development of characterisation in novels interesting, especially against the times that they are written in, and thought it might be useful for any writer-types who may not have seen the programme to read what Faulks says about these character types.

The Hero

  • Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe (1719): Before Crusoe, the hero of the past was always noble, but not Crusoe. He's like us, an everyday person - a Yorkshireman, practical and resourceful, but still human despite all his bravery. The hero became "an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances" and he is "heroic because he overcomes himself".

  • Tom Jones - Henry Fielding (1749): Tom is a rogue, comic and epic hero - he is the one who realises he is in charge of his own destiny. He is both real and heroic, which makes him timeless.

  • Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray (1847): Becky Sharp shows a hero who is out for herself, perhaps because of her standing as a female at the time. She shows that vitality is more important than virtue and that there can be unlikely heroes.

  • Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle (1887): The "superhero" was introduced with Sherlock Holmes, but is it insightfulness that he has or madness? Holmes was killed off by Conan Doyle, but the public reaction was so great that he was brought back, making him truly a superhero.

  • Nineteen Eight-Four - George Orwell (1949): The hero seemed out of date after World War I, but re-emerged after World War II in a different light, as a prisoner in the case of Winston Smith. He is patriotic but passe, a hero who does not triumph in the end over Big Brother.

  • Lucky Jim - Kingsley Amis (1954): Jim has the desire to subvert the environment he's in and by doing so he masters his own neurotic inhibitions - he conquers himself.

  • Money - Martin Amis (1984): John Self shows us that the hero is now dead in modern literature; it's only in crime novels and children's books that the hero can now flourish.
Do you think "The Hero" still exists in fiction today or has the everyday took over the novel? What makes a hero anyway? Is it a heroic person by nature, or their actions?

1 comment

  1. Interesting :) I read 1984 and it made me really paranoid for about a week or two lol. My manager even made reference to it yesterday which was really kinda funny as he doesn't seem the type to have read it lol.