The heroic archetype is a literary or movie character that is all-round good. He or she will save people, do the right thing, protect that which is good and will fight any monster that comes his or her way. They are one of the basic paradigms in tales and mythology from across the world, but particularly in European culture. Such examples of the hero archetype range from Achilles to Beowulf via superheroes like Superman and 1980s action heroes.
The roots of the hero archetype go back to ancient Greece and the beginnings of many polytheist and animist religions. They are based, like many other archetypes, on folktales linked to Gods and ancestors. Over time, the attributes and deeds of these ancestors have changed as the stories are repeated down the generations. These social developments are linked to Carl Jung’s ideas on archetypes and collective dreams.
There are a number of basic characteristics for the hero archetype. Traditionally, the hero is strong of both physique and moral character. They may have special fighting or intellectual skills that allow them to function as a hero. This runs from martial arts skills to weapon knowledge. They are moral and do good. They do not have to be intellectual giants, but they are skilled and resourceful while doing the right thing.
Types of heroes include action heroes and superheroes. The action hero does not have to be special, but fights his or her way to defeating the main villain. Action heroes were common in the 1980s and early 1990s with action stars such as Bruce Willis, Dolf Lundgren and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Superheroes such as Superman and Spiderman link back to more mythical heroes such as Hercules, who have special abilities to aid their good works.
There are also types of the hero archetype that deviate away from the traditional mold. J.K. Rowling created Harry Potter in a different way than many other heroes. Harry Potter is small and weedy compared to the traditional hero. He has many of the tropes of a hero, such as the tragic back story and birth, but he remains small and weedy. He does, however, retain the strength of character to be a hero.
Other variations on the hero archetype include the wannabe hero and the anti-hero. The wannabe hero is a wide-eyed idealist who, due to a lack of skills or the wrong circumstances, fails to become a hero. He or she often looks up to the main hero. The wannabe hero often dies heroically trying to emulate the hero. Examples include Don Quixote and Boone in “Lost.”
The anti-hero is a character lacking many of the good qualities of the hero. They often do the right thing eventually, but their lives and personal back stories are more dubious and less wholesome than that of Superman or Spiderman. The anti-hero is often morally compromised. Examples include Ender Wiggins from “Ender’s Game” and Sam Spade.