When you think about heroes do you think of superheroes with super powers? Like Batman or Spiderman? Does it have to be someone famous? Do you think of firemen or surgeons? Do you think heroes have to be men?
I’ve been wondering about this for a while. The other day I was presenting a workshop and I asked the children what they thought a hero was. They replied that it was a rescuer, or someone who helps you or saves you. We then talked about a film we had just seen called White Fang, about a boy looking for gold in a harsh, cold landscape over one hundred years ago, and a wolf-dog he meets (the book was written by Jack London who also wrote Call of The Wild). Who was the hero in this story, I asked? The children went quiet for a moment, thinking. Then I realised from the different answers they gave that they also understood what I had been writing about in Jack Pepper and Hero.
We all assume that the main character in a story is the hero, and almost inevitably they are. But I was impressed that the children had considered all the characters in the story and seen how the challenges brought out the best in lots of them. I thought the same thing when I was writing about a boy called Leo who confuses fame with being a hero.
A few years ago I was out walking on the heath, a long way from home and nobody was about. I tripped over the root of a tree and landed badly, and couldn’t stand for a while. Harry, my dog, came racing over and stood by me and stayed with me until I could get up. We tend to assume that dogs think like us, that Harry did this because he cared or felt sorry for me. But I think he did it for another reason, and that is because instinctively dogs know they survive by being together in a pack. I suppose we would call it loyalty – people who stick together in families, friendships, communities – we look after each other and together we are stronger.
This is what I was thinking about when I was writing about Jack Pepper who is the little dog in both books (Jack Pepper and Hero). By being so loyal, Jack Pepper also motivates loyalty in those around him.
I think there are many other qualities about people that make them heroes – people we want to be like. In the end, it’s the effect that someone has on us, maybe even a little dog, which connects us to our own super powers, like loyalty.