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Achetypes: Willing and Unwilling Hero

Willing Hero: Hercules, a Willing Hero

Hercules source:

Hercules source:

Archetype: The Willing Hero

The archetype exists for a "Willing Hero" as a model for what features and characteristics belong to a great hero. This is not to say that a hero is perfect and without flaws (that's actually another different archetype), but that a hero fits the criteria for being a hero persona.

The Willing Hero:

* Usually knows his role and that he is, indeed, the hero personality in situations

* Is willing to take risks on behalf of others to perform heroic tasks

* Is willing to put his needs aside for others when the duties of a hero are called for

* Usually self-motivated (may respond to requests for action but will also respond instinctively to situations where a hero is needed)

* Usually very energetic, active, enthusiastic - and also athletic

* Is addicted to adventure, quickly becomes committed to any adventure

* Is confident and without doubt - rarely shows self-doubt and if he does show self-doubt, this is shown only for a fleeting moment

* Courageous and brave - but not in a 'fearless way' (bravery and action despite fear). Fearless is more the quality of the Unwilling Hero. Courage and bravery of the Willing Hero, combined with "no self-doubt" give us Willing Heroes who simply don't often become afraid in the first place

* Is all about self-sacrifice

* Some Willing Hero characters do have some depth of character but in narratives or artistic creations which show or tell little about the Willing Hero, save for his acts, the audience still understands and appreciates the character.

* The Willing Hero archetype isn't typically a gender-sensitive or gender-responsive role overall in the general list of important archetypes. Better explained, this means political correctness doesn't often enter the picture concerning this archetype. Almost always, the Willing Hero archetype will be a male character

* The Willing Hero may, in fact, be a confusing character for readers/viewers because his role is so defined and rigid that he often seems to be without depth. Depth of character is not a necessary requirement for a Willing Hero, thus, is of no consideration. The best Willing Hero characters are often shallow and flawed in other aspects of character.

For instance - Hercules is a definite Willing Hero but as a persona, his character lacks empathy in many situations. He acts "The Hero" by doing violent acts, if his role calls for him to do so. Hercules is not self-sacrificing or sensitive to the needs of others when a situation calls for a different sort of character instead of a hero. He rarely springs into action if, say, a sensitive person is needed in a self-sacrificing way for the purpose of looking after a child - even if nurturing the child is ultimately an important thing the child desperately needs. Nurturing is considered a self-sacrificing thing but being a nurturing personality has nothing to do with being a hero in many situations. If a child were in danger and Hercules was asked, instead, to rescue the child from danger - THEN he would become self-sacrificing and face untold dangers in order to perform the tasks of a hero - THEN he would put his life in danger, if need be, in order to act the hero and rescue the child.

Naturally, there are other archetypes that WOULD be self-sacrificing AND nurturing at the same time, but this archetype and the qualities of such an archetype wouldn't be closely related to Hercules or the Willing Hero archetype.

Hero Archetypes

The Function of The Willing Hero

Archetype roles are rigid because they must be understood and recognized by a large audience. If archetypes were wishy-washy and the details of each archetype changed slightly with each character or story, the symbolic nature and meaning of the archetype would fall apart. If archetypes weren't very structured, pronounced and unchanging, any old character could be mistaken for an archetype and readers/viewers would have a lot more guesswork to do when reading literature, watching plays and theatre, viewing art, listening to music, etc.

The Willing Hero's function is usually to provide viewers/readers with a view into a story. Some finer, more psychological aspects of The Willing Hero character are designed to allow the viewer/reader to identify with this archetype. For a few brief moments here and there, writers and other artistic creators of narrative make sure to build something into the Willing Hero character that causes the audience to feel they are like the Willing Hero or at least WISH TO BE LIKE the Willing Hero.

Sacrifice: The Willing Hero invariably sacrifices something of great value (which can include his own life) on behalf of an ideal, a person or group.

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Action: The Willing Hero provides action in a narrative or work of art, and is usually the most active character in the script/artistic presentation. The action a Willing Hero provides and performs is usually a decisive one and is often an 'all or nothing,' act with a very final end.

Growth: The Willing Hero usually functions to provide a learning experience or growth in a narrative/artistic piece. Heroes work toward goals and overcome obstacles to achieve wisdom, experience or knowledge. If this wisdom, experience or knowledge doesn't add to the overall value of the Hero, then the Hero and his actions still do provide or reveal something to do with wisdom, experience or knowledge for members of the audience. Basically, knowledge gained may not actually get incorporated within the Hero to make a more rounded (less shallow) Hero but the Hero's growth will show the audience something and, hopefully, add to audence wisdom, experience and knowledge.

Archetypes in Brief - what are they?

The Un-Willing Hero

The UNWilling Hero may, in fact, provide the same results as a different kind of Hero, but may have many different motives and reasons for being a hero than The Willing Hero does.

The Unwilling Hero is typically pushed into adventure by outside forces. He may be very deliberately manipulated into a hero role, and may even grumble LOUDLY about it all throughout his adventure. Remember Bilbo Baggins through much of Lord of the Rings? A grumbly, cranky little fellow from time to time, wasn't he? Bilbo is definitely a hero of the UNwilling variety!

Full of self-doubt, the Unwilling Hero might even try to run away from being a hero, which makes him look very unlike a hero of any sort. Still, once he embarks upon his forced duty of being a hero, the Unwilling Hero can be remarkably steadfast in his goals, overcoming obstacles with as much determination as the Willing Hero.

Often, the Unwilling Hero is a passive - even a meek character, and sometimes, even the audience will view this type of hero with doubts as to his ability to perform heroic deeds. Usually, the audience will root for this character, and this is a good thing, for an Unwilling Hero often stops along the adventuresome way - to engage in bouts of self-doubt, further hindering his own progress toward a goal.

The Unwilling Hero is rarely self-motivated and may need to move toward goals with a side-kick partner or group - who will push him forward and motivate him to keep on progressing toward a goal.

When overcoming obstacles, our Unwilling Hero may surprise us with hidden reserves of strength and bravery even the audience was sure the Unwilling Adventurer could not have possessed in a thousand years.

At the height of the Unwilling Hero's obstacles, when the goal is in reach and danger is greatest, the Unwilling Hero usually becomes quite fearless. That is - he is full of fear - yet will proceed regardless - and will perservere with amazing agility, intelligence, and timing. Usually he's not as physically athletic or capable as the Willing Hero archetype, so he must rely on many other qualities to see him through to achieve his goal. Brute strength is rarely an attribute of an Unwilling Hero, but he will make up for it some other way - usually with 2 or 3 combined and appropriate qualities.

Function Of The Unwilling Hero:

The Unwilling Hero's function can end up being the same as the Willing Hero's function, and he can be just as self-sacrificing as the Willing Hero.

Growth, Action and Sacrifice are components of the Unwilling Hero's function and journey just the same as our Willing Hero, but often, the Unwilling Hero's growth, action, and self-sacrifice appears more severe than the apparently capable Willing Hero. The hero of the unwilling sort may simply have had father to go, further to reach than a more capable, often more athletic hero.

Often, the Unwilling Hero is used in narrative or art to provide more emotion in the piece and elicit emotional response from the audience. Perhaps a narrative/art presentation is arranged in just such a way that an additional aspect of emotion is beneficial in the narrative/art.

Usually, we see a lot of character development in the Unwilling Hero that we won't see or that is not necessary in the narrative/art for a Willing Hero, and almost always, once the Unwilling Hero achieves his end-goals, we are aligned with the character. The audience may not feel very close to the Unwilling Hero when we first meet him. We will usually dislike many of his character qualities and may even consider most of his qualities of character to be character flaws. By the end of the Unwilling Hero narratives/art presentations, we have usually come around to really liking this type of Hero.

By contrast, with the Willing Hero, we may not like him more at the point of his successes, once he has succeeded in his heroic efforts. Our feelings or appreciation for the Unwilling Hero, however, are usually dramatic, by the time he achieves his goals.

Hub Challenge Hub #5

This lens is part of a March 2010 Hub Challenge I'm doing. I started March 1 and have a personal goal to publish at least 60 hubs over the month of March.

To check out how I'm doing, see my challenge hub, link below:

Mythbuster Hub Challenges

This hub is part of a series on "Archetypes" and the series will contain no less than 5 "Archetype" topic hubs once my Hub Challenge goal is realized.


William Thomas from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things! on June 13, 2011:

You haven't taken the magic out of anything, I assure you. What I've been saying is that Hollywood is one of the guilty parties that have done this, taken the magic out of heroes and others. But sometimes their use of archetypes are revealing and satisfying. I regard fairy tales, myths, Bible stories, and other religious stories as, sort of, keys to ourselves. This literature is a great resource and your hub is like a decoding key.

Again, good hub. Thanks for the schooling.

mythbuster (author) from Utopia, Oz, You Decide on June 12, 2011:

wingedcentaur - it might be that by explaining the archetype I have taken the magic out of much-loved heroes?

When you get down to the reality of, say, Romeo - minus the romanticism and starry-eyed glitter, Romeo is sort of a dork lol Probably many people don't appreciate seeing their heroes under the magnifying glass?

William Thomas from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things! on June 01, 2011:

Good Day mythbuster!

I am surprised that mine is only the second comment you have received on this hub, which, apparently, has been up for at least six weeks?!

I voted your essay up for useful. I may have said this once before, but there is something of the professor in you, the way you carefully and methodically unravel your theses for us, hold our (the readers's) hand, and walk us through your very interesting and very clear thought processes.

I know that archetypes serve/have served various purposes. For example, before stories were written down, they were told orally by traveling storytellers. Archetypal formulations seemed to have served as something as a stalling tactic for storytellers to distract their audience while they thought of the next thing they wanted to say. Do you know what I mean? It was just some formulaic couplets (is that the word?) expressing the hero's characteristics (every time his name was mentioned) -- it was "filler," in other words.

You know, I suppose the use of archetypes, especially of the Willing Hero variety, provide the backbone of the Hollywood filmmaking industry today, particularly as it involves international distribution.

You know, why stress it? Its better to make an action flick with plenty of muscles, broad shoulders, square jaws, and flying roundhouse kicks, with minimal dialogue, the merest pretense of a plot -- that way nothing very much at all is "lost in translation" for overseas markets! Basically, I'm thinking of what you, mythbuster, wrote in the first paragraph under the subheading "The Function of the Willing Hero."

The Willing Hero has to be very structured and rigid so as to be universally recognizable, in short.

Good Hub.

Take it easy.

psychonaut from Eastern Europe on April 19, 2011:

Nice hub! If you want more on this topic, you should read "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" by Joseph Campbell. It's essential reading for anyone interested in mythological archetypes.

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