Monday, 22 November 2010

The Perfect Hero

In spite of a number of cunning displacement activities which included cleaning the oven (always a sure sign that a deadline is approaching)I made it to the end of Chapter 9 last night.  That faint smudge of light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter … Just one more chapter to go, and I am already planning my reward.  High on the list of treats is to sit down and read the latest Jack Reacher thriller, Worth Dying For.  These are books to read in one gulp.  Once picked up, there is no putting down, so I have, with immense self-discipline, not even looked at since it arrived. 

I can never quite work out why I love Lee Child’s thrillers so much.  He writes in very short, simple sentences, which ought to be irritating but instead are a master class in PTQ (page turning quality).  I don’t understand why I find Jack Reacher such an attractive character either.  He doesn’t have much of a sense of humour and I don’t get the sense he’s a great lover – he’s not big on foreplay,  for instance, although he does seem to have a taste for capable women, which has to be good. And while there’s definitely something appealing about the travelling light thing – he doesn’t have any possessions and just buys new clothes when the old ones are dirty – I do find myself occasionally distracted from some high voltage scene by wondering whether it’s not time he changed his underpants ... 

On the other hand, here is a guy who is big and brave and strong and overwhelming competent – what’s not to like?  Competence is the one vital characteristic of a hero, I think.  Jack Reacher certainly has it in spades.   It doesn’t matter how sticky a situation you’re in, Jack can get you out of it.   He’s got lots of other heroic qualities too: integrity, intelligence, independence and the irresistible appeal of the maverick.  Oh, yes, he’s very, very attractive, and I for one would join the queue for a night of madness (I’m capable , Jack, even if I don’t wear a uniform)  But this is not a guy for a long-term relationship.  What would you talk about, for a start? 

I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes the perfect hero recently – or at least, what makes my perfect hero, and I realised that there’s no one fictional hero who does it all for me.  My perfect hero needs the humour of Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar, the assurance of Loretta Chase’s Lord Perfect, the loyalty of Richard III in The Sunne in Splendour, the body of just about any of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ heroes, the decency of Simon in Mary Stewart’s My Brother Michael (she barely describes him and yet you just know how incredibly attractive he is) and the practicality of Sir Tristram in The Talisman Ring.  Oh, and the sexual prowess of Phin Tucker in Jenny Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation ( I’ll meet you on the dock any time, Phin.) 

So why can’t I just take the best of all of them and roll them up into one perfect hero of my own?  Because perfection is boring – or as Jane Austen put it more pithily, ‘perfection makes me sick’ – and a real hero has the capacity to change.  He can’t do that if he’s perfect to start with. 

Have you got a favourite fictional hero?  I’d love to know if there’s a perfect hero out there I’ve yet to encounter!


  1. Gilbert Blythe (Anne of Green Gables et al)handsome, dashing (according to Diana) and steadfast, I have loved Gilbert since I was 11...Lord Worth from Regency Buck if I had to choose a Heyer hero, the archetypal reformed Rake, Raoul from Nine Coaches Waiting, a wild, sulky boy and of course Darcy and Wentworth - and of course Eric from the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, brooding, unpredictable and wicked. Sigh

  2. Oh, Gilbert! How could I have forgotten him? Anne of Green Gables was my first, and unforgettable, experience of romance. Of course Gilbert goes on the list!