Somehow, it seems appropriate to write about heroes on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that took the lives of so many of our uniformed heroes.
One of my favorite of the new independent authors that emerged following the Kindle Revolution is Marion Harmon. In his second book, Villians Inc., he explains what a hero is through an excerpt of a fictional book written by one of his characters:
Whenever somebody asks me to define what a hero is, I remember Latane and Darley’s experiment, staging epileptic fits in front of one, two, or three observers. A solitary observer will help immediately if he’s going to help at all, but the larger the crowd the longer the delay. It’s the Bystander Effect: the wider the diffusion of responsibility, the greater the impulse to let someone else goes first. The hero goes first.
The experiment the fictional Dr. Mendell is referring to is real, and was written about in 1969 in American Scientist magazine.
The phrase “the hero goes first” is what really stuck with me, as I think Mr. Harmon intended. Thinking back to 9/11, I keep thinking of the firemen, and the stories of survivors who saw firemen going up the stairs of the Twin Towers as everyone else was going down. 343 of those brave people were killed when the towers fell. They embodied the meaning of “the hero goes first.”
The hero is someone who doesn’t say, “this is more than I signed on for, let someone else do it.” When things get more serious than expected, the hero digs in and pushes on. He goes first.
The hero of Librarian is a disabled — he uses the word “crippled” for himself, as we’d expect people in a feudal society would — bookish, naive mage who is sent off on a task he really doesn’t want by his Guildmaster. He soon discovers the problem is far bigger and more dangerous than the Guildmaster indicated. But instead of sending word to the Guildmaster asking for more help or for someone else to take up the quest, he just starts taking care of what needs to be done himself, enlisting the help of a few notable individuals he meets along the way, but never shirking his own responsibility.
That, to me, is what makes him a hero. It’s not physical strength (he has little), it’s his strength of character. In a world of bystanders, he’s determined to be the one who goes first.
That’s why he’s worth writing about.