How to Pick a Hero

Are you sitting comfortably? Here’s an epic tale about storytelling.

British journalist Christopher Booker squeezed almost every story — from the Greek gods to the Ugly Duckling — into seven universal plots. Global stories defeat monsters with magic weapons or tell tales of renewal and rebirth. Shared plots chart heroic quests or revealing rags-to-riches transformations. Comedies and tragedies follow fortune around Aristotle’s wheel. The voyage and return plot traces our hero’s travels to a brave new world and back home again, forever changed. All seven plots share a protagonist summoned to adventure. Our hero follows a path peppered with existential challenges and thrilling near-death escapes. But triumphs!

We all need a hero.

A third of us crown a family member as hero, a third name fictional characters in tight spandex suits, a third pick a public figure who excels in sports, entertainment, politics or business. Our heroes’ characteristics mirror what we seek in leaders; someone who is charismatic and courageous, accomplished and wise. Our choice fulfills a basic psychosocial function. The hero we pick is shorthand for our identity and our affiliations. Defining what we admire, defines our potential. But while fictional heroes always get the girl, heroic mortals reveal real treasure. So pick carefully because the path towards your hero shapes life’s purpose.

Choose Clark.

Embrace your hero’s humanity. Go for Clark Kent’s geeky glasses over Superman’s glossy quiff (that’s dating advice too). Pick a hero that doesn’t always get it right. A true hero must be a bit like us: incomplete, flawed, hungry. Their inspiring qualities must be a stretch, just beyond our fingertips, but without a sniff of superiority.

Try and try again.

If your hero fails, they must persist. Hercules didn’t stop after meeting the multi-headed Hydra of Lerna. Instead he persevered through ten new trials to glorious release. Greek myth teaches us to admire the struggle, share the failure.

Curate qualities.

Pick more than one hero to curate the qualities you need. Classic heroes build a squad for support and encouragement. Pick a team that completes you: mine includes humour from Celeste, soul from Florence, words from Malcolm. Who makes yours?

Remember: heroes evolve. Sometimes we catch them up. We look them in the eye and, in a moment thick with nostalgia, we know it’s over. If it doesn’t work out, make your half-time substitution. Don’t look back. Boldly play on.

Louise Nicolson