June 8th, 2005

Froud - bad faeries

Double heroes

Can a story successfully sustain two heroes of equal status? By "hero" I mean both the one who takes the hero journey (as described by Joseph Campbell et al), and the one supported by the narrative structure as the focus. Ordinarily there is one hero (male, female, comic, tragic, or other), and their singularity reflects the deeper meaning of the hero journey: i.e., every person's individual growth into a wise adult, which ultimately can only be accomplished alone. However, I am wondering whether is it possible to tell a story that tracks two people's hero journeys, such that when asked, "Who is the hero?," the reader/listener/viewer has no choice but to say, "Well, they both are."

It's tempting to say Lord of the Rings is such a story. There are lots of "Sam is the real hero!" voices out there; plenty more who contend that Sam and Frodo accomplish it together on equal footing; and probably plenty who would say that you have Frodo on the one hand and Aragorn on the other, doing parallel hero journeys. They do get equal time in the books (and films). However, when asked the basic question, "Who is the thematic, central hero of Lord of the Rings?," basically everyone will say, "Frodo." Why? Because he has to carry the Ring, important task Numero Uno. Period. The story abounds with heroic characters other than Frodo, no question--which is why we love it--but he's at the very center.

The other night I saw Cold Mountain, and it gave me pause in wondering who the hero really was. Could be Ada, could be Inman. They both go through hell, certainly, and get equal time doing so; and their goal is to converge, so they share that equally in a way too. However, I'm tempted to lean toward Inman as the truer "hero," since he actually leaves home and journeys back again, rather than staying and suffering the way Ada must. (Good movie, by the way. It's been years since I read the book, but it seemed a good adaptation. Also, for some reason it pleased me that they gave Jack White an actual part. Does his own singing!) :)

So, anyway: can two heroes share a spotlight? Will it work? Or must one concede to the other?

Not that you care, but I ask because I'm trying to plot my next novel, and am getting the suspicion that I chose the wrong character as hero. Wondering if I should switch the label to the other guy, or see if I can work them both into the flip-sides of the same hero coin.