What’s In a Name? That By Which We Call A Hero By Any Other Name Wouldst Act As…Villainous? Courageous? Cunning?

Welcome to Week 3 of Picturing the Word!

This week in class we watched movies and read books with the theme “You have great power.”

We watched:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Chris Columbus, 2002)

Spider-Man (Sam Raimi, 2002)

Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)

Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones (George Lucas, 2002)

“Doctor Who” (Boom Town 1.11, Parting of the Ways, 1.13)

And we read:

Superman for All Seasons (Spring)

Kingdom Come (Chapter 1—Strange Visitor)

One of the conversations I found most interesting during class this week (and a topic that we do not discuss in the podcast) was the topic power usage. We often think of power as something that is either positive or negative, but power qua power is a neutral tool. Power can be wielded in such a way as to do good or to do evil. What actually makes a hero a hero is not that he has power, but that he chooses to use that power for good and not for evil.

One more non-podcasted thought: story creators often have trouble determining just how much power to make available to their characters. This is the problem of the transporter in Star Trek—there are only so many situations into which the writers can put Kirk that cannot be solved by simply beaming him out at the last second. This is also one of the most difficult problems to solve with Superman—when you have a character that is nearly invulnerable there are only so many problems he can have. Hence, Superman needs Lex Luthor to make him interesting—Lex is a character that presents a challenge that cannot be solved by Superman’s physical invulnerability alone. Too much power is a magic bullet which renders the plots uninteresting and predictable; too little power is no longer a hero myth but rather a garden-variety action flick. Writers need to be careful to strike a balance between hero and villain to make them well matched. No one wants to read a story about Dumbledore dueling a muggle.

Seeing as this is the third podcast based on a class entitled “Heroes and Saviors,” John and I thought it was only fitting that we start to define what a hero is. In this podcast we look at some of the different categories of heroes, examine the doubling that frequently happens between the hero and villain of the same story, and wonder what draws us, as the audience, to some heroes rather than others.

As always, please feel free to join our conversation by commenting below or emailing John and I at picturingtheword@gmail.com.

Happy listening! ‘