The Struggle of Heroic Fantasy

May 30th, 2013

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Conan the Barbarian. Elric of Melnibone. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Gilgamesh. Hercules. Hector of Troy.

These giants of heroic fantasy (and the mythology from whence it springs) strode across the landscape of my imagination as a young man. They were my idols in many ways, and as I grew into becoming a writer they were my guiding stars. But what were they teaching me?

When I think about these heroes, one thing that comes through is their incredible lust for life. Even when they lapse into melancholy, they never stop striving, never stop fighting, and that struggle is the essence of life. Whether it’s Conan carving out a place for himself in the¬†kingdoms of Hyborea, or Elric fighting to keep his fragile body alive with potions and sorcery, or Hector facing the dread Achilles to protect his home, these heroes confront the challenges of their ages. And their struggles say a lot about humanity.

So when it came time to create the heroes for my own stories, I didn’t set out to emulate these characters, but time and time again I saw parallels. For instance, Caim (the main character of my Shadow Saga) has many of the physical traits of the Gray Mouser, but married to a personality more like Conan. Caim is direct in his sneakiness, deliberate in his dealings, and he possesses a code of honor that, although rather bleak and brutal to most people, elevates him above his peers.

Heroes often fight. They tend to love and mourn with superhuman passion. But first and foremost, they struggle. With their enemies, with their societies, with the gods, and oftentimes even with themelves. But they always struggle, and so must our contemporary heroes who wish to tread in their titan-sized footsteps.

  1. This entry was posted on Thursday, May 30th, 2013 at 5:46 pm and is filed under Fear of the Dark. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

5 Responses to “The Struggle of Heroic Fantasy”

  1. I’m also in agreement on the “intimate focus” issue. No matter how large the problem, it’s the focus on the individual, and that individual’s relationship to the problem that draws and keeps my attention.
    I also applaud your mention of a hero’s code of conduct, which I think you’ve really nailed. It isn’t that they’re perfect, it’s that they have a code, and they stick to it.

  2. Jon Sprunk says:

    Nathan, I completely agree. That “intimate” focus is one of the things I love best about heroic fantasy/s&s.

    Keith, thanks. Glad to hear other people love the “classics,” too.

  3. Keith West says:

    Well said, Jon. That’s what separates the best heroic fantasy and the best heroes from the pale imitations and the also-rans. That struggle, no matter who or what they struggle with. It gives inspiration to people who are worn down in their own daily struggles. I think that’s one of the reasons the characters you listed in your opening have remained popular for many years and, in some cases, centuries.

  4. […] My writer friend Jon Sprunk just posted something of interest for Heroic Fantasy fans. Drop by and take a look here. […]

  5. Nathan Long says:

    In my own stuff, I do my best to keep the struggle personal and somewhat commonplace. My heroes may be out fighting wizards and changing the course of nations, but they’re doing it because they’re struggling to just stay alive, or to put food on the table, or get back home, and those damn wizards and nations just happen to be in the way of them having a quiet, normal life.

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