Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Building a hero

Is there a recipe for a hero? Academics would say yes. I recently came across Lord Raglan's theory of the hero, which dates from 1936. It certainly interested me. According to Lord Raglan's analysis the traditional model of a hero follows a 22 point plan.

The hero’s mother is royal.
His father is a king.
His parents are often related
The circumstances of his conception are unusual
He is reputed to be the son of a god
An attempt is made to kill him at birth, possibly by his father or maternal grandfather.
He is spirited away to safety
He is reared by foster parents, in a far country
His childhood is anonymous
On reaching manhood, he travels/returns to his future kingdom
He defeats a king/giant/dragon/wild beast
He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor
He becomes king
He rules uneventfully for a time
He makes laws
He loses favor with the gods/his people
He is driven from the throne and the city
He meets a mysterious death
Often on the top of a hill
His children, if any, do not succeed him
His body is not buried
He has one or more holy sepulchres.

I'm not sure about how far the plan holds up in the case of the modern spy/policeman hero, but it's remarkably applicable to traditional literature and mythology - Hercules, Beowulf, King Arthur - they all score on 16 or 17 points. You can try it out too with Superheros like Superman and Batman - even Harry Potter. There are elements in Shakespeare and Greek drama. For a writer creating a fantasy world it might be a useful tool. I can certainly envisage a wizard, vampire or shapeshifter meeting a lot of those criteria. If you're a writer, why not give it a go next time you're world building and tailor your protagonist a pedigree from the heroic tradition? If you're a reader, check out how far your latest must-have hero meets the Raglan pattern.
I warn you though - it can get addictive.

With thanks to Dimitra Fimi and Ian Spring for the insights and a fun day.


Lexie O'Neill said...

Fascinating. And, of course, the list meets perfectly with Oedipus, on whom I based my Eddy Complex (which so far has been deemed pretty weird in contests:)

Evonne Wareham said...

Oedipus was one of the ones I was thinking of Lex - but I couldn't spell it! Knew you'd come up with it. I found it interesting that the 'supernatural' stuff, which is so hot at present, has really been around a long, long time.

Savanna Kougar said...

Evonne, fascinating. I think I'd opt out of being 'heroic' by that standard!

However, like you say, it certainly holds up as to how heroes are created in stories.

Lexie, have you submitted to publishers who have those kind of stories? Mine aren't considered normal either.

Evonne, given every known culture has a system of magic which includes what we now label paranormal, it makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Luke Skywalker, who gets extra points for being the son of the "dragon" he defeats.


Lexie O'Neill said...

I think a number of the heroes defeated their fathers, somewhat lions eating the cubs and vice versa:)

Mel Hiers said...

Hey Evonne!

That fits in pretty nicely with Joseph Campbell's hero's journey. It wouldn't surprise me if Raglan's one of his sources. I haven't read enough to know for sure.

Evonne Wareham said...

Pat - I bow to your superior knowledge of Luke Skywalker!

Mel - Joseph Campbell's theories were also discussed at the study day that was the source and inspiration for this post - but I found his concepts more difficult to get my head around!