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Posted on June 14th, 2012, by

The problem of a hero is one of the central problems in the contemporary literature. However, this problem was always in the focus of attention of literary critics as well as writers since the question what actually makes a main character of a literary work a hero still cannot be answered definitely. At first glance there is nothing difficult in this question and the character that is definitely positive is a priori a hero, while his antagonist is, as a rule, a kind villain, though it is necessarily a character that can be a villain, but some natural or supernatural forces. Anyway, what is really important in the definition of the concept of a hero in a literary work is the presence of a kind villain which could overshadow possible negative traits the positive character, a hero may possess, and, simultaneously, underline the positive traits, which actually make the character a hero. However, the idea of the juxtaposition of a hero and a villain is not absolutely correct since, in actuality, a hero can acquire his heroism not through the opposition or moral superiority in regard to a villain, but just because of the power of his/her spirit and his/her actions.

Basically, the idea of the essential presence of a villain in a literary work as a character or power that actually creates a hero is very attractive since this idea provides quite a simple and logical explanation of heroism of characters in various literary work. Obviously, the contrast between an evil character, a villain and a positive character, a hero is quite favorable for the latter because the contrast of his/her goodness, nobility and all other positive qualities that a writer can imagine for his/her hero and all that evil power of a villain creates a very positive impression in relation to the hero (Porter, 209). There are many works where the main character proves to be a hero, especially when he/she is contrasted to a villain that schemes against the main character.

The traditional medieval hero, which struggles against evil forces, is the main character of Beowulf. In fact, the main character of Beowulf struggles with different monsters that personify evil powers and it is through the brave and bold struggle of the main character with these evil forces his heroism is revealed. Basically, it is a typical image of an medieval hero who is ready to defeat all evil powers for a noble purpose. Such heroes live in accordance with moral principles that ruled the life of people in the Middle Ages. At the same time, such an image of a hero seems to be quite naïve. No wonder that such heroes as the one created by the author of Beowulf are rather mythical heroes that really existing people and they seem to be very remote from the real life.

Basically, it is possible to estimate that the main character of Beowul represents a kind of traditional Medieval hero, who is obligatory a man that starts the battle fearlessly and miraculously defeats his opponent, which, being villains, only emphasize his heroism, that is actually the case of the main character of Beowulf (Damrosch, 231). In such a way, it is possible to estimate that Beowulf is really the hero, whose heroism is, to a significant extent, created by villains. Obviously, the main character of this literary work lives and acts in accordance with rules and norms which are extremely virtuous and the author apparently idealizes the main character. At the same time, it is obvious that his heroism could hardly be so evident if there were no villains.

Through the struggle with evil powers, the main character shows that his convictions, principles and beliefs are not just some abstract notions, but instead they are real and he obeys them in his life. Moreover, he attempts to protect defenseless people who suffer from permanent attacks of evil forces and this is another typical characteristic of a traditional medieval hero. It is through the protection of weak and defenseless people from evil powers the nobility of the main character is revealed. At the same time, in such a way, the author shows the uniqueness of the main character since he is the only man who is able to challenge the evil forces that make the life of ordinary people unbearable. In such a way, the main character’s heroism is emphasized through his uniqueness since the audience perceives him as the only person who is able to cope with the evil forces and without him people will live in the permanent fear and will be terrorized by evil forces.

In addition, it should be said that the main character of Beowulf is also a romantic character, another remarkable feature of a typical medieval hero, who struggles with evil forces not only against some evil powers for the sake of other people, but he is also able to achieve his personal goals, to make his own life happy, though, it is apparently not the ultimate goal of the main character, who rather serves to other people, while his personal happiness is secondary.

In such a context, it is very interesting to analyze The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. In fact, this author creates a kind of an intermediate hero which combines the characteristics of both Shakespearean and Beowulf heroes. At first glance, hobbits are weak, defenseless creatures that are not able to commit any heroic acts at all. However, in actuality, they prove to be very courageous and ready to act bravely without any regard to possible dangers they face in the course of their adventures. At the same time, the author creates a definite and clear line of the opposition of good and evil (Habib, 284). Obviously, it is through such an opposition the heroism of small, weak hobbits is revealed, when they confront the almost undefeatable evil powers. In such a way, the author shows that a real hero, being actually shaped in the process of struggle with villains, is not obligatory a typical medieval hero, possessing some super power or extraordinary physical forces. Instead, a hero may be a weak and even a bit cowardly but in the opposition with villain he can become a hero and change his own personality and character and even save the world. Obviously, this image of a hero is quite different from the image created in Beowulf but, at the same time, The Hobbit image of a hero shows that a real literary hero possesses a strong internal power, which actually makes him a hero, while villains play, to a certain extent, secondary role.

Basically, Hobbits are deprived of many characteristic of traditional medieval hero. Their characteristics do not fully meet the traditional definition of a hero, since cowardice, vanity, individualism and many other features are typical for characters of Tolkien’s character. In such a way, they can hardly be perceived as truly heroes. In this regard, even the struggle with evil forces cannot make them more heroic. It should be pointed out that unlike the main character of Beowulf, heroes of The Hobbit, do not put interests of other people above all, instead, some of them are mainly concerned on their own interests. In fact, it is even possible to estimate that Tolkien’s heroism is highly individualistic since the protection of people or good against evil forces occurs in the context of the protection of personal interests of heroes.

Moreover, it is hardly possible to estimate that Hobbits always obey to some strict moral rules and norms which may be characterized as virtuous and which were the main characteristics of Beowulf. On the contrary, Tolkien’s heroes are far from perfect and it even seems that they are likely to escape from the struggle with evil forces, but under the pressure of circumstances and their environment they are forced to take the challenge. In this respect, it is important to underline that in such a way a profound transformation occurs to the main characters and they really become heroes, though the role of villains is not really significant in the transformation of heroes of The Hobbits. It is necessary to underline that the main enemy the heroes have to defeat is their inner world, the entity, their fears and low self-esteem, as they change their own character and overcome all their fears and fulfill their heroic mission.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the idea of a literary hero as a product of the opposition of a hero and a villain is not always correct. To put it more precisely, a character of a literary works does not necessarily because a hero due to the presence of a villain in the work. Instead, it is actions, ideas, morality and philosophy of the character that make him/her a hero.

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