When you think about it, we Skiffy Rommers are all in the hero business. Our heroines, and thus our stories, would be lost without them. Not because our gals can’t take care of themselves, but because they can do more, fly higher, be stronger with these men at their backs.
I’ve been into hero worship for as long as I can remember. The first movie I can remember seeing as a child was THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD with Errol Flynn. The movie was old even then (yeah, I’m old, but I ain’t THAT old), but for some reason I was seeing it on the big screen in a real theater, and I was instantly in love. All that energy! All that compassion! That swash! That buckle! That sword!! To this day that movie is one of my favorites, and no one can hold a candle to Flynn’s take on Robin.
In 1966, the second of my lifelong heroes hit the small screen in the person of Captain James T. Kirk, and again, it was the energy that attracted me. It seemed he just attacked every problem with everything he had and never gave up. I was just a kid, but I couldn’t take my eyes off him. And I still find him a fascinating character.
I fell in love with my third hero on the pages of a favorite book, long before I ever got to see him onscreen. I was old enough at 16 to truly appreciate Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and future king of Gondor when I met him in the LORD OF THE RINGS—the hidden passion, the self-doubt, the quiet courage, were SO calculated to make a teenager sigh! But when I saw him onscreen for the first time and he started swinging that SWORD? Well, let’s just say I was glad to be all grown up (and happily married)!
So what do all of my favorite heroes have in common? Besides the fact that two of them are genuine swashbucklers, they don’t seem to fit the same mold. And, strangely, the heroes I’ve written for my heroines don’t seem a lot like these guys either, on the surface. But they do share some qualities I think are absolutely essential in a good hero.
1) Energy—Charisma, animal magnetism, whatever it is, it draws the eye and in your heroine’s case, the whole body. Guys are compelled to follow, women to drool. You just can’t have a good hero without this kind of chemistry and it’s God-given.
2) Compassion—I love the scene in ROBIN HOOD where Robin shows Marion around Sherwood and the peasants are thanking him for helping them. He’s given up his life for this—that begins to make him a hero to her. Kirk is capable of making the tough decisions, but he more often breaks rules and stretches limits to save people. Aragorn is a healer—it’s what proves his right to the throne. An alpha male without compassion is too often a thug.
3) Resourcefulness—Every good hero has a wide range of skills, from weapons to fire-building. But he should also recognize and draw upon the skills his companions (Robin and Aragorn) or his crew (Kirk) bring to the table. Most of all he should be able to recognize and sometimes defer to the skills of his lover, as all three of these men are able to do. Besides, Robin and Aragorn can sing or recite to their loves for entertainment and Kirk can dance. Not too shabby.
4) Intelligence—Your hero need not be the smartest man in the world, but he should not be dumbest, either. Spock, clearly, was more intelligent than Kirk, but Kirk had the ability to synthesize information and opinions, the ability to make quick, decisive judgments, the ability to work with people and that, in effect, made him smarter. That’s the kind of global “smarts” I’m talking about.
5) Humor—This may be a personal preference, but somehow I don’t think anyone loves a glum hero. Lighten up, guys. Growling is only sexy in the bedroom.
6) Courage—This would seem to be a given in a hero, but there are all kinds of things that pass for courage that may be mere foolhardiness instead. Physical courage in the face of battle is something that all of my heroes displayed, but they also had to dig deeper and face grief, homelessness, abandonment, deprivation, despair and losses of all kinds in order to win through. Those challenges demand a different kind of courage, a kind not always recognized in alpha male heroes.
And, of course, the final characteristic that is absolutely necessary in a hero is vulnerability. In the end he must be open to the possibility of love. For without that, he would not end up with the wonderful woman we have all picked out for him, now would he?