It’s a fair question. Who really needs fictional heroes when we have people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Marie Curie?
I do. Actually, I have a pretty long list of fictional people I look up to.
- Obi-wan Kenobi and Rey (Star Wars)
- Mulan (Disney)
- Jo March (Little Women)
- Steve Rogers (Captain America)
- Minerva McGonagall (Harry Potter)
- Korra (Legend of Korra)
To name a few.
One of my favorite heroes is George VI from The King’s Speech. He struggles with anxiety and a terrible stammer. One feeds the other in a crippling cycle of shame and self-doubt.
Speaking in public terrifies me. I stumble in class or interviews because I’m too nervous, and I agonize over it for days. It’s nowhere near as bad as George VI, but seeing someone else struggle with anxiety is encouraging. Seeing him come to terms with it is inspiring.
Technically, George VI is a real person. But I identify more with him watching The King’s Speech than reading about him in a history book.
This isn’t to say that real-life heroes aren’t important. They show us what’s possible, how drive and passion can transform the world. I respect real-life heroes, but there’s an awe and distance that makes them larger than life. Even the most personal C.S. Lewis biography makes him sound superhuman.
Media—and fictional characters—can resonate with us in ways real life doesn’t. Maybe we aren’t running countries, fighting Dark Lords, or saving China, but we do face injustice. Loss. Sleepless nights. The best media not only faces what we do, it reassures us that there is meaning and beauty even if we can’t see them right now. Tim O’Brien says, “That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.”
So let’s be proud of our favorite movie heroes and TV protagonists. Tell a friend about that book character that changed your life.