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Heroes : The Child Within

The epic tale has entertained and inspired since the beginning of recorded history. Whether told by a wise elder or read about in an old, leather-bound volume, accounts of heroes traversing the unknown and encountering mystical beasts have always aroused feelings of excitement in children. However, beneath these feelings, the essence of a child is cultivated; throughout a lifetime, the conscience is a significant force which guides and directs. Since young children are easily influenced, the exposition of literature will have a lasting impact, and themes that are presented will undoubtedly leave an impression. Tales such as Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King” recounts scenes of Sir Geraint’s knightly gallantry and valor, while Virgil’s Aeneid contains a recurring motif of perseverance as the Trojan hero Aeneas persists despite facing numerous hardships. Although the aforementioned characters seem legendary in nature, they are no different from the common individual. J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” is a tale that readers can readily associate with, as it revolves around an ordinary, but hesitant individual, Frodo, embarking on an extraordinary journey, which later results in his evolution into a heroic figure. Having a fault is common to all three heroes; however, throughout their respective journeys, opportunities are presented in which these faults may be faced. Throughout the course of history, hero-figures in literature, much like children, have embodied high moral standards and persistence while embarking upon a quest that leads to the resolution of a personality flaw.

As the heroic quest involves numerous trials of character, high moral standards are vital to the success of the journey; since the beginning of childhood, proper and just actions are encouraged by parents in hopes of producing a youth who will benefit mankind. As well, many religions and societies encourage high moral standards as they promote virtuous acts and the preservation of character within the individual. When Enid of “Idylls of The King” was faced with the decision of either accepting Earl Doorm’s invitation to dine with him, or to stay by her wounded husband Geraint’s side, she said,

“Pray you be gentle, pray you let me be:

I never loved, can never love but him:

Yea, God, I pray you of your gentleness,

He being as he is, to let me be.”

Despite Sir Geraint’s doubts of Enid’s fidelity due to a prior misunderstanding, Enid honoured the vow that was taken when she married. She clearly displays her love for Sir Geraint to be unwavering throughout the poem; high moral standards are exemplified as Enid resists temptation by staying true to herself. Finally, when she cries out, believing that Geraint is dead, he springs to life and slaughters the Earl, symbolic of the good, embodying high moral standards, conquering evil temptation.

As well, Aeneas was faced with temptation; however, rather than in the form of an evil earl, it came in the shape of the beautiful Helen of Troy. As he was fleeing the city during the sack of Troy, Aeneas encounters Helen, the woman who had inadvertently caused the Trojan War. Just as he was about to slaughter her, believing that he would win praise for appeasing his ancestors, his mother, Venus, appeared before him. “It is not the hated beauty of the Spartan woman, the daughter of Tyndareus, that is overthrowing all this wealth and laying low the topmost towers of Troy, nor is it Paris although you all blame him, it is the cruelty of the gods.”

At this point, Venus reveals the deception waved by the other Gods, like a parent revealing to a child the true state of the world, allowing them to make a wise decision. Although Aeneas’ judgement was initially clouded, once he saw through the erroneous perception that had been thrown upon him by the Gods, he held back his sword in integrity, sparing her life. Aeneas embodied a high moral standard as he resisted the temptation that was presented to him. As parents guide children into the right direction when they stray down the wrong path, the forces of Destiny guide the hero.

As a parent reassures a child that everything will be fine when he or she stumbles, Fate gives the same reassurance to the hero. As the heroic quest involves numerous trials of endurance and resolve, persistence is essential for the duration of the adventure. In the first book of the “Aeneid”, a scene is painted in which Aeneas is being tossed about in a ship during a torrential downpour. He despairs, as he believes that he has lost all favour with the gods. “Wherever the Trojans looked, death stared them in the face. A sudden chill went through Aeneas and his limbs grew weak.” Aeneas had already been sailing for two years in a bold attempt to find a site to found a new city; however, his endeavours had been plagued with mishaps. At this point, he wonders if he’ll ever live to fulfill his destiny, but despite all the hardship that he is faced with, he presses onwards. Turnus, the battle-crazed leader of the opposition proved to be a formidable foe that disheartened Aeneas. “There it was moored in a sheltered position along the side of the camp, protected by the water of the river, and to the landward by ramparts. There he made his attack.” Turnus set the Trojan fleet on fire, in hopes of stranding the enemy troops and demoralizing them, but the persistence of Aeneas existed not only in terms of the endurance of life, but as his faithfulness throughout the years to his pietistic duty. Being highly respectful of the gods, painstakingly offering sacrifices despite what he had to deal with, Aeneas was favoured by the Berecentian Cybele, the mother of all gods, who saved the ships by turning them into water nymphs. Despite hardships, the perseverance of the epic hero conquers the opposition.

Although Aeneas was able to defeat the opponent that stood in his way, Frodo Baggins of “Lord of the Rings” had to concede that in order to succeed, hardships of nearly invincible proportions had to be endured. Relentlessly pursued through many lands by Dark Horsemen for the powerful ring he possessed, Frodo encountered many difficulties. In addition to being wounded several times, he was betrayed by one of the members of his own travelling company. Following the betrayal, Frodo decides to continue, “Frodo rose to his feet. A great weariness was on him, but his will was firm and his heart lighter. He spoke aloud to himself. ‘I will do now what I must.’…” Accepting the fact that are all odds were against him, faced with an invincible enemy with deceitful travelling partners, Frodo journeys into the unknown void by himself. In the end however, his persistence is rewarded by Fate with the successful completion of the quest, as the persistence of a child receives praise from a parent.

Whether in the form of the sucking of the thumb or the biting of the fingernails, every child has had a bad habit at some time or another. Just as the parent endeavours to resolve these habits, Fate and Destiny conspire to resolve the personality flaws of the hero. When an epic tale contains an ordinary mortal character, being only human, the individual possesses a flaw, which must be faced and resolved during the course of the heroic quest. At the beginning of book one of the “Aeneid”, Aeneas, weary from years of sailing, invokes death, “O Diomede, bravest of the Greeks, why could I not have fallen to your right hand and breathed out my life on the plains of Troy…” Doubtful of his destiny, Aeneas despairs for his life and is tempted to give up; thus, his flaw is his unwillingness to accept his destiny of founding Rome. However in book six, he journeys to the underworld to meet his father Anchises, and is told, “Your task, Roman, and do not forget it, will be to govern the peoples of the world in your empire.” Aeneas is informed that his destiny is to found the city of Rome and a powerful race that shall rule over the world. Upon hearing this, Aeneas is inspired with confidence, ready to fulfill his destiny; throughout the second half of the “Aeneid”, he steps forward to accept challenges with certainty. As the habit of biting one’s nails may foster feelings of embarrassment due to ridicule from peers, the resolution of the habit allows a child to face the world with assurance.

Although ridicule is a battle with external forces, the battle with oneself is certainly more difficult, such as overcoming a fear of the dark, as one must turn inward. Sir Geraint of “Idylls of The King” was plagued with an uncertainty of the fidelity of his wife, Enid which eventually let matters into a hopeless predicament. However, upon his deathbed, the wail of Enid sprung him to life as it assured him of the very love he had once doubted. Following a tender embrace, Geraint says,

“Not tho’ mine own ears heard you yestermorn –

You thought me sleeping, but I heard you say,

That you were no true wife:

I swear I will not ask your meaning of it:

I do believe yourself against yourself,

And will henceforward rather die in doubt.”

At this point, the mighty knight of the Round Table has faced himself and cast aside all doubt, just as a child faces the darkness and confronts a dreaded fear, dissipating it.

Fear comes in many forms, but most common is the fear of the unknown; children and heroes alike may draw parallels in this respect as it was the hesitation of Frodo that was his personality flaw. “To tell the truth, he was very reluctant to start, not that it had come to the point.” Until Frodo was entreated by Gandalf the Wise to set out upon his quest, he would have been content living out his life at Bag-End. Whether it be the shove of Destiny and Fate or the gentle nudge of a concerned individual, the resolution of a personality flaw is inevitable.

“Without heroes we’re all plain people and don’t know how far we can go” Bernard Malamud’s statement accurately describes the influence of Aeneas, Sir Geraint and Frodo as they all complete epic quests despite being mere mortals. The epic hero is an eternal figure as he or she is a prime model of integrity and perseverance, which is exemplified during a quest which provides a solution to the problem of a flawed disposition. The epic tale is a reflection of human character as the themes that are presented closely mirror universal problems that are faced by everyone. As one sheds the skin of youth, although it may be possible to analyze the literary meaning of these wonderful tales, the magic that they once contained is often gone. More than writings of scholarly value, these pieces of literature exude inspiration and provoke awe in younger audiences worldwide. Like children, one day adults shall, forgetting their worldly troubles, embrace the stories they once loved, be inspired, and once again become heroes.


Wordsworth Poetry Library, The Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 1994) 469.

Virgil, The Aeneid (Toronto: Penguin Books, 1991) 49.

Virgil, The Aeneid (Toronto: Penguin Books, 1991) 6.

Ibid., 215

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of The Rings (Great Britian, Harper Collins Publishers, 1995) 392.

Virgil, The Aeneid (Toronto: Penguin Books, 1991) 6.

Ibid., 159

Wordsworth Poetry Library, The Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 1994) 470.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (Great Britian, Harper Collins Publishers, 1995) 64.

Quotations@annabell.net, Heroes – Quotation guide. 22 Feb 1999. Online. Available http://www.annabelle.net/topics/heroes.html [12 Dec 1999]

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