Monday, February 06, 2006

The Real American Heroes

I was thinking yesterday about the real American heroes. The word "hero" is taking a lot of abuse lately. It has been abducted for political purposes, and forced into meanings for which it was never intended. The end result is that the word has less weight when it appears in a sentence. When used properly it might confuse rather than impress the reader.

The heroes I have in mind and those who went on the hero's journey. Characters, perhaps based upon real-life people, who have become larger than life. These characters become types upon which we can model aspects of our own lives. This is the classic definition of a mythical hero.

So who were these heroes? Do the names Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, and Johnny Appleseed mean anything to you? (Not to mention more attributable literary heroes such as Huck Finn or Rip VanWinkle).

My fear is that these names don't mean anything to the average (or even extraordinary ) person under thirty. This isn't automatically a bad thing. Perhaps they have been superseded by newer heroes (it's always difficult when metaphors harden and become rigid entities unto themselves and cease being organic metaphors).

But, I hope that these heroes and their stories are preserved. Surely their ghosts still walk the streets in modern cities like Austin, Phoenix, and San Diego.

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