Whatever happened to the Three Musketeers? Or the Knights of the Round Table? Whatever happened to heroes? The old books tell stories about men and women who were noble and virtuous. Most new books, however, are another story.
Not long ago, a friend
of mine received his M.A. in Literature from
"The rat-man of
The real joke is this: the rat-man is not the exception to the rule. He is the modern standard for literature. Post-modernism, a literary trend that began early in the twentieth century and continues today, defaces true heroism by relying on social deviants like the rat-man as the "hero" of various questionable plots.
The post-modern movement, which encompasses most of the literature of the 20th century, is founded squarely on the anti-heroic. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the anti-hero is the defining ingredient of post-modern lit... ...today, [heroic] themes are virtually non-existent in literature...
Why does it matter what happened to heroes? It matters, says professor William Kilpatrick, because heroes can form the foundation for "character education"--for instilling [heroic] values in readers. Real-life heroes are best, Kilpatrick says, but even "a child… surrounded by crass and uncaring adults… could always catch a glimpse of another vision from…the pages of a book. Thus it was no accident that character education placed so much reliance on story and history."
Likewise, it is no accident today that [modern] authors shy away from heroes. They cannot tolerate heroism, at bottom, because the hero always points the reader toward two fundamental [heroic] truths:
1. The hero reminds the reader that absolute values really exist. When you read a story about a hero, how do you know that person is heroic? You know because you see the hero living up to certain unchanging standards that every human being, in their heart of hearts, acknowledges as good: moral courage, selflessness, loyalty, faith, perseverance, etc. When we look at the hero we find that there are certain values that have not changed since the dawn of time: a knight sacrificing his life to save a maiden appeals to modern college students just as much as sixteenth-century peasants...
As G.K. Chesterton said, "There are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands." When we see a hero standing, "bloodied but not bowed," we see a standard--the unchanging standard …
2. The hero reminds the reader that all of us, at one time or another, have fallen short of the absolute standard. Why are we impressed by the hero? Because he does what we would like to do: he displays moral courage in the toughest situations. Could we guarantee that we would act the same way in the same situation? Unfortunately, no…
The "infinity of angles at which one falls" are portrayed in countless novels today--but no post-modernist will discuss the angle at which one stands. The rat-man dominates because the hero contains too much ... truth.
[The hero shatters] two of the [modern] world's most precious... myths: 1) All ethics are relative; and 2) Men are inherently good....
...The Plague and countless other post-modern novels have swallowed up such heroes. This disease, the disease of post-modernism, can be cured only one way: [we] must create more heroes--in literature, and with their lives.