As a human race, we demand images of greatness. Heroes satisfy that demand. But heroes do not simply reflect our values and beliefs; they also reconcile us to human failings and limitations.—Leland Ryken
A literary hero is an exemplary character who embodies the experiences and values of the culture that produces it. Real life provides the materials for the creation of a hero, but by the time we encounter a hero in literature, the shaping hand of the storyteller has selected and distilled certain features of the real-life character and omitted other features. Heroes embody the cherished values of the people who creat them.
This is not to say that heroes are perfect. Although they possess exemplary qualities, most heroes have failings, too. However, to rank as a hero or heroine, a character must be mainly idealized—a figure we look up to as a model to follow. The Bible abounds in heroes. Here are a few famous hero stories in the Bible:
- the story of Abraham: Genesis 12-24
- the story of Daniel: Daniel 1-6
- the story of Gideon: Judges 3-6
- the story of Ruth
- the story of Esther
- the story of David and Goliath: 1 Samuel 17
- the story of Jesus (a selection): Mark 8-11
Each of these heroes is unique, yet collectively they share something in common. Each hero embodies qualities that biblical storytellers want us to emulate.
One of the defining traits of heroes is that they possess qualities and perform feats that capture the popular imagination. The first thing to do when reading a hero story, therefore, is to allow your imagination to be fired and elevated by the character and feats of the hero. The function of a hero story is to celebrate human character and achievement. In the Bible, in turn, this celebration of the human spirit is credited to God.
Starting with simply giving yourself to the spirit of a hero story, you need to ask certain analytic questions, including the following:
- What values does this hero or heroine embody?
- What conflicts does this hero or heroine face?
- According to this character’s experience, what is the goal of life?
Before reading the following material on how this works itself out with the story of Esther, you may wish to take time to read the story and see how you would answer the material presented above.
Here is a brief analysis of the genre of hero story as manifested in the story of Esther:
- What values does this heroine embody? Esther possesses beauty, bravery, and selfless devotion to her nation and religion. The story is a classic rags-to-riches tale of an orphan girl who becomes a queen. Esther owes her ascent to her beauty. What distinguishes this heroine from a beauty queen, however, is her courage in saving her nation. Esther risks her life on behalf of her people.
- What conflicts does this hero face? Esther’s story portrays the difficulty of Jewish religious culture existing within a larger pagan culture. This conflict becomes deadly when the Jews are threatened with extinction.
- According to this heroine’s story, what is the goal of life? When she resists Haman’s unjust plan for genocide, Esther lays her life on the line for the principle of justice. The story shows that devotion to justice, when pursued with devotion to God, leads to success.