“I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand.” – Leonardo Da Vinci
The contemporary cultural icon Simba, a fictional character and product of Disney Movie Productions, is essentially the hero of the movie “The Lion King.” Throughout his journey, Simba celebrates an unusual birth, survives an assassination attempt, escapes into the wild, cared for and raised by his mentors, returns to his homeland to reclaim what is rightfully his, restores his royal title and glory through battle, and continues his royal lineage through the celebration of his newborn daughter. According to Lord Raglan’s analysis of the characteristics of the classic hero, Simba is just as much as a hero as the famous adventurer-warriors in Homer’s “The Iliad” and “Odyssey,” Achilles and Odysseus. Furthermore, Simba shares many heroic characteristics that many contemporary cultures idolize such as morality, wisdom, intelligence, and determination. Between Simba’s royal background, classic mythical journey, and his inherently heroic characteristics, Simba exemplifies the classical hero archetype.
Simba's Hero Pattern
According to Raglan’s criteria for heroism, Simba would score 9 out of 22— edging out another well-known classical hero, Odysseus, and a modern-day idolized fictional character, Harry Potter by one point (Sienewicz, 2013). Lord Raglan’s hero pattern also exemplifies the archetypical heroic quest or journey that highlights the major characteristics of a hero.
1. & 2. In the Pride Lands of Africa, King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi celebrate
3. The birth of future king, Simba, and held above the kingdom on top of Pride Rock.
6. Simba's jealous uncle, Scar, attempts to kill both Simba and his father King Mufasa.
7. Scar succeeds in his attempt at King Mufasa's life, but Simba manages to escape.
8. In the wild, Simba runs into Timon and Pumba, a meerkat and warthog that nurse Simba back to health and raise him.
10. On reaching adulthood, Simba returns to the Pride lands to confront Scar and reclaim what is rightfully his.
11. Simba defeats Scar and (13) restored to glory.
12. Simba and his childhood sweet-heart, Nala celebrate the birth of a newborn cub on Pride Rock over their kingdom.
Lord Raglan's Hero Pattern
Lord Raglan’s analysis of the classical hero highlights 22 characteristics that collectively represent the hero pattern in ancient myths. This pattern is as follows:
“1. Hero's mother is a royal virgin;
2. His father is a king, and
3. Often a near relative of his mother, but
4. The circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
5. He is also reputed to be the son of a god.
6. At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grandfather to kill him, but
7. he is spirited away, and
8. Reared by foster -parents in a far country.
9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but
10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future Kingdom.
11. After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast,
12. He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor and
13. And becomes king.
14. For a time he reigns uneventfully and
15. Prescribes laws, but
16. Later he loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and
17. Is driven from the throne and city, after which
18. He meets with a mysterious death,
19. Often at the top of a hill,
20. His children, if any do not succeed him.
21. His body is not buried, but nevertheless
22. He has one or more holy sepulchers” (Sienkewicz, 2013).
The Hero Archetype
The classical hero archetype can be understood through four major characteristics: morality, wisdom, intelligence, and determination or destiny. Cultural heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela thrived off understanding and interpreting morality. They particularly exemplified qualities such as an insatiable curiosity to uncover injustices, passion for revealing universal truths, inspiring and inspired by leadership, and acting selflessly for the greater good (5 Traits of a Hero, 2012). Simba also embodied moral awareness towards social injustices when he returned to the Pride Lands to confront his conniving uncle Scar to restore peace and order once again.
Heroes, Wisdom, and Neuroscience
Many historical heroes such as Jesus Christ and Buddha flourished from their inherent wisdom. Jesus and Buddha embodied the eight pillars of wisdom outlined in Stephen Hall’s book, “Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience,” which are as follows: 1) emotional regulation, 2) establishing values and making judgments, 3) moral reasoning, 4) compassion, 5) humility, 6) altruism, 7) patience, and 8) dealing with uncertainty (Hall, 2010). Simba from “The Lion King,” also expresses these characteristics that collectively represent wisdom. For instance, through Simba’s journey, he learns patience, emotional regulation, and compassion from his struggles. In the beginning, Simba was quite naïve, selfish, and fiery; however, upon reaching adulthood and his return to the Pride Lands, Simba symbolized level-headedness, altruism, and courageousness.
Heroes and Intelligence
High levels of intelligence are also a characteristic of many classical heroes such as Odysseus and Perseus. These classical heroes were known for their ability to devise genius plans, cunning tricks, and witty rebuttals in the midst of adventure. According to Michael Gelb, author of “How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci,” geniuses blossom through intense curiosity, a commitment to learning through experience, a willingness to learn from mistakes, the refinement of the senses, a willingness to embrace ambiguity, balancing logic and the imagination, the cultivation of fitness and physical poise, and a recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things (Gelb, 1998). Throughout Simba’s heroic quest, particularly when he is being raised in the wilderness by Pumbaa and Timon, Simba is taught how to live his life and cultivate his intelligence. While Simba does not exemplify each of these characteristics explicitly in the film, it is nevertheless apparent that Simba’s heroic journey changes him from a naïve and selfish cub into a strong and intelligent lion.
Heroes, Determination, Self-Reliance, and Self-Transcendence
Classical heroes also are characterized by their unwavering determination to fulfill their destinies. Generally, the heroic quest exemplifies a hero’s determination and destiny (Ipcizade, Class Notes). Many heroes journey into the darkest dimensions of humanity in search for new knowledge, skills, challenges, or powers such as Beowulf or Aeneas. Other heroes venture into the unknown in pursuit of self-actualization or self-transcendence, which according to Abraham Maslow is the ultimate end: happiness (Benson et al. 2012). Simba’s destiny becomes known to him during the darkest moments of his journey in the wilderness. He sees a vision of his father that ultimately propels him on a mission to reclaim what was rightfully his: the Pride Lands. His determination helped him overcome adversity and face his deepest fears so he could overthrow his tyrannical uncle Scar and reestablish peace and tranquility. Thus, Simba’s return allowed him to grasp both self-actualization and self-transcendence in Maslow’s theoretical model.
Summary of Simba's Heroic Quest
Simba was thrust from his own kingdom and into the world of the unknown at a very young age. He had little understanding of his destiny or purpose in life. It was during his wandering in the wild and guidance of his mentors when a remembrance of his past kindled a heroic fire within his heart. This was the burning desire to reach self-actualization and self-transcendence was fueled by his undying determination to succeed. Through his acute sense of morality, wisdom, and intelligence, in combination with his blazing vision, Simba overcame the odds and reestablished his personal glory and his kingdom’s prestige.
5 traits of a hero. (2013). Retrieved from http://moralheroes.org/how-to-become-a-hero
Benson et al. (2012). The psychology book: big ideas simply explained. New York, NY: DK Publishing.
Gelb, M. (1998). How to think like leonardo da vinci: seven steps to genius every day. New York, NY: Dell Publishing.
Hall, Stephen (2010). Wisdom: From philosopher to neuroscience. First Vintage Books: Random House Inc., New York, NY.
Sienkewicz, T. (2013). The hero pattern. Retrieved from http://department.monm.edu/classics/courses/clas230/mythdocuments/heropattern/
Alexis on September 04, 2017:
Great and detailed analysis! There is a lot of depth in The Lion King and maybe that's why its considered one of Disney's best. Simba is a great, complex character and remains as one of my personal favorites.
Dianna Mendez on September 12, 2015:
This is a detailed analysis on a wonderful animated movie. I believe this would be quite delightful even as a college writing challenge. The story has so much more depth than one realizes. Thanks for the overview.