My Eleven Favorite Literary Heroes

After compiling a list of my favorite literary heroines back in March, it’s only fair to devote a post to their male counterparts. Except that, well, I forgot about it for a while, until Sarah J. Higbee recently shared her own list. Thank you for the reminder, Sarah!

Featuring the same number of heroes here as I did with heroines proved tough. It’s not that I don’t like or admire male protagonists. I just happen to be drawn more to stories with female leads. But once I took a close look at my bookshelves, the eleven male characters I eventually picked started jumping out at me. (Not literally, but you know what I mean.) And I’ll admit, some of them won’t surprise you at all. 😉

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Bilbo Hobbit Desolation of Smaug

1. Bilbo Baggins (J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit)

For a homebody steering clear of adventure, Bilbo Baggins truly reaps the benefits of his journey with Gandalf, Thorin Oakenshield, and the other Dwarves. He develops bravery through confrontations with trolls, Mirkwood spiders, Gollum – and finally, a greed-ensnared Thorin. It’s not easy to stand up to your friends when you disagree with them, yet Bilbo reminds us than doing what’s right isn’t always easy. Also, Bilbo holds firm to his values throughout The Hobbit. Even though he’s not the same Hobbit when he returns home, he still cherishes friendship and the simple joys of life. This isn’t lost on Thorin, who tells Bilbo during their final scene together, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” I couldn’t agree more.

Perks-Wallflower 2012 cover

2. Charlie Kelmeckis (Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

While most of the heroes on this list have done or experienced what we’d call “the extraordinary,” Charlie is more of an everyday hero. The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows this bright, introverted, sensitive boy as he navigates the choppy waters of his first year of high school. He’s forced to climb mountains such as socializing, friendship, and vulnerability, and past traumas have made these actions painfully difficult. Yet Charlie yearns for connection and learns to persevere. His struggles reminded me so much of my own from the same time in my life. Maybe that’s why I wanted to hug Charlie when I finished reading Perks. He made it through a year of hell with a few bumps and bruises, but with his soul still intact – and if he could do it, anyone can.

Curious Incident cover

3. Christopher John Francis Boone (Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime)

Here’s another male character I wanted to embrace once I finished his story. Although knowing Christopher, he’d appreciate an algebra textbook more than a hug. The 15-year-old protagonist of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime has an autism spectrum disorder. He excels at mathematics, refuses to eat foods that are yellow or brown in color, and interprets metaphors at face value. However, Christopher’s condition isn’t the only thing that makes him memorable. He remains dedicated to solving the murder of his neighbor’s beloved dog Wellington, even when his father implores him not to get involved. Later, Christopher shows a similar determination to find his mother when he learns she’s still alive. For a character who struggles to understand or express emotion, Christopher still draws empathy from readers because of values that are universal despite differences in gender, age, cognition, and other factors.

Frodo Baggins

4. Frodo Baggins (J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy)

He may not be first alphabetically, but Frodo Baggins was the first literary hero I thought of for this piece. He’s kind, curious, and gentle – and the most unlikely candidate to carry The One Ring to its destruction in Mordor. Yet when others argued about the quest’s purpose and who couldn’t be trusted with the ring, Frodo volunteered to be its bearer, even though he knew the price he might have to pay. No one can argue with that degree of bravery. I cheered for Frodo every step of the way, ached for him as he fell deeper and deeper into the ring’s poisonous thrall, and prayed he would come back around in the end.

Wizard of Earthsea cover

4. Ged Sparrowhawk (Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle)

Of all the characters in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series, the legendary wizard Ged Sparrowhawk is the one I hold dearest. As the protagonist of the first installment A Wizard of Earthsea, he’s eager to learn magic but impatient with the training process. His arrogance leads him to attempt to call a spirit from the dead and loose a shadow-spirit on the realm that pursues Ged across the isles of Earthsea. Not only does Ged learn he must confront the spirit, but he realizes what it represents: his own evil, materialized. I’ve always loved what their meeting symbolizes, and how Ged accepts his darkness and becomes a stronger, better person – a wizard wise beyond his years and (as chronicled in Le Guin’s later Earthsea stories) one of the most important archmages in Earthsea’s history.

Harry Potter Deathly Hallows cover

5. Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series)

Leave Harry Potter off this list? Are you kidding?! He’s smart, responsible, and one of the bravest fictional characters I’ve ever met. He endures the Tri-Wizard Tournament despite scrutiny from his classmates, the media, even his closest friends. He follows his instincts of going after the Horcruxes despite not knowing initially what to look for or where. And above all, Harry’s willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the people he loves and the only true home he’s ever had. Hermoine may be the brains of the trio, but you can’t argue that Harry absorbed everything he learned about wizardry and wand lore and used it to outmaneuver Voldemort. I also admired that Harry turned to other characters he trusted whenever he needed help. A hero may want to prove himself, but Harry understood that he couldn’t do everything on his own.

Jon Snow Season 5

6. Jon Snow (George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice Saga / “Game of Thrones”)

Whether you watch the TV show, read the books, or do both, one of the constants has been the portrayal of Jon Snow. He’s one of the few characters in the Song Of Fire And Ice series with a clear moral compass, placing honor and integrity above ambition and desire. Being a bastard also forced him to grow up quickly and made him an outcast. Yet, Jon was always determined to prove his worth. What I admired most about Jon was his ability to make difficult choices. Sending the wildlings south of the Wall didn’t win him any popularity contests in the Night’s Watch – but John knew what would happen to the wildlings if he didn’t. I know what actor Kit Harington and the producers have said about Jon Snow’s fate at the end of Season 5… but I’m still clinging to a weird hope that his character will be resurrected in some way. He holds too great a key in the overall plot to be gone for good. But you never know…

Fire Kristin Cashore cover

7. Prince Brigan (Kristin Cashore’s Fire)

Please forgive me if I melt into a puddle. Prince Brigan is one of the few fictional male characters for whom I fell head over heels. (I have good reasons!) And unlike most of the heroes on this list, Brigan isn’t the protagonist of Fire. Instead, he’s the love interest. General and military advisor to his brother King Nash, Brigan doesn’t fit the “soldier / warrior” stereotype. In reality, he’s a soft-spoken, gentle soul weighed down by his duties, and long troubled by the dangerous influence that Fire’s mind-warping father (now deceased) wielded over Brigan’s father (also deceased). No wonder Brigan despises Fire when they first meet. But like Fire, he evolves as the story progresses, opening up as he helps Fire reach her full potential and proving he’s far from perfect yet capable of giving and receiving love.

Samwise Gamgee

8. Samwise Gamgee (J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy)

If Frodo’s on this list, then Sam also deserves a spot. Because in many ways, Frodo wouldn’t have made it to Mordor to destroy the One Ring if Sam hadn’t gone with him. This Hobbit is the epitome of a sidekick. He always made sure Frodo had enough to eat or got a little more rest, even if it meant making sacrifices for Frodo’s benefit. And even when Frodo cast him aside in Return of the King, Sam stayed true to his friend, following Frodo in case the creature Gollum betrayed him (which Gollum did), taking possession of the Ring just before Frodo fell into enemy hands, and finally rescuing Frodo and carrying him up Mount Doom so they could finish their task. He’s the friend anyone would want beside them when hope was dim.

the-road-cormac-mccarthy1

10. The Father (Cormac McCarthy’s The Road)

There are few bright spots in what’s still the most frightening book I’ve ever read. One of those highlights is a character simply known as “the man,” or “the father.” Vigilant and haunted by his wife’s suicide, he guards his young son as they trek south across a bleak, disaster-ravaged landscape. They encounter starvation, cannibals, exposure to the elements, and other threats along the way. The father also realizes at one point that he suffers from a potentially fatal respiratory illness. Yet his son’s survival remains his greatest priority, and that might be his only motivation to keep pushing forward. Funny how the father comes after Samwise Gamgee alphabetically. They both epitomize selflessness; and in the father’s case, his is the ultimate show of a parent’s sense of responsibility toward their child.

Shadow Study

11. Valek (Maria V. Snyder’s Study series)

Like Prince Brigan in Fire, Valek isn’t the protagonist of Snyder’s Study series. (That would be his magician-diplomat girlfriend Yelena Zaltana.) However, I wouldn’t feel right if I left him off this list. The master spy and assassin first appears in Poison Study, and within the first few chapters I found reason after reason to admire him. His keen observations, ability to outsmart most everyone, and that slowly increasing concern for Yelena’s well-being… At one point, after Yelena’s attacked by a soldier, he demands to know who it was and follows it up with a dead-serious “I’ll kill him.” That got a thumbs-up from me. All that said, Valek truly shines in Snyder’s latest novel Shadow Study, where readers more about his early days as an assassin. Seeing how he honed his persistence and a few trademark quirks (he’s an accomplish stone-carver) shed new light on his character and made him more endearing.

Who are some of your favorite literary heroes, and why? Share your picks by commenting below.

27 thoughts on “My Eleven Favorite Literary Heroes

  1. Thank you for the mention, Sara – I’m delighted that you posted this blog as I was looking forward to seeing your choices. And I think they’re great, though I’m very intrigued that a couple of your heroes are the love interest, rather than the main protagonist. I heartily endorse Samwise, Christopher and, of course, Harry. A nice varied selection:)).

    Liked by 1 person

    • “… though I’m very intrigued that a couple of your heroes are the love interest, rather than the main protagonist.”

      I think my reading tastes are to blame – most of the books I read have female protagonists! *lol* And I really wanted to be fair and highlight the same number of heroes as I did with heroines. So I had to scramble for some choices.

      But I do think Valek and Prince Brigan have earned their spots on this list. Heroes aren’t just characters who save the day; they’re characters we look up or admire. Brigan and Valek fall into that category, and for unique reasons. Plus, they play crucial roles in the stories they appear in, to the point that they’re a sort of sidekick like Samwise Gamgee. Sidekicks “with benefits,” I guess (*lol*), but they help their leading ladies do what needs to be done.

      Interestingly enough, both Fire and Yelena appeared on the Heroines list a few months ago. 😉 I guess it’s proof that my favorite couples are ones that work in teams.

      Thanks for commenting, Sarah. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Heh heh, if your last names is Baggins you are automatically reserved a spot on a list like this 🙂 I also love the inclusion of Jon Snow. I’d probably pick Tyrion, who does good deeds even if it doesn’t involve much epic fighting, plus he’s a unconventional hero and I like those. Hope GRRM keeps him around for a long long time!

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Heh heh, if your last names is Baggins you are automatically reserved a spot on a list like this :)”

      Yup! *lol* I doubt anyone would argue with that!

      Oh gosh, I love Tyrion, too. What a devil. I thought about putting him on this list, but there were other characters I wanted to highlight. I wanted a little variety, too. Not just epic fantasy everywhere you look. *lol*

      Btw, I was recently tagged on a different kind of characters list, and Tyrion may be making an appearance there. 😉

      Like

  3. Harry and Bilbo would definitely make my list! (Probably not Frodo though) I’m still in denial about Jon. He’s always been one of my favorites too! His fate is uncertain in the book, rather annoyingly cliffhangery too! There are ways he could survive though, I’ve got it all figured out lol

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yay for Bilbo and Harry! 🙂

      Jon’s last chapter was a massive cliffhanger, I agree. But I also agree that there’s plenty of room for his survival, given certain characters who were still at the Wall when That Chapter ended…

      Btw, did you see Kit Harington’s latest photos from Wimbledon? He’s sporting an awfully familiar look. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Of course I’d choose all of the Tolkien characters you mentioned! 😉 And Harry! For my list I’d add Moist from Going Postal (even though he’s not really a hero and more of a brat, but I find him so funny), Percy Jackson, Neb from Castaways of the Flying Dutchman (such a nice boy and so many bad things happened to him; I was young when I read the book and it stuck with me).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t know all of these, but of course Harry had to be on there! 😀 I also love that you included Charlie, as a lot of people might not think of him as a hero since they often think of fantasy characters, but he’s definitely a hero!

    Liked by 1 person

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  8. I don’t know how I missed this post? Oh well. I admire any of you who can narrow these down!
    Surname Baggins is an instant addition, I agree. I love Frodo and find him rather underappreciated (which is really strange). As for favorite male characters, it’s harder for me for a different reason. My favorite female characters tend to be pretty set, with few additions over the years. But I seem to pick up favorite male characters like stray dogs. Maybe it’s because I’ve read more young adult novels, and I find a lot more YA guys I like/sympathise with than gals? (It’s usually the opposite with adult fiction!).
    I haven’t read Fire (hides in corner because she hated Graceling), but your thoughts made me laugh. I am the same way. There are just a tiny, tiny fraction of characters I fall hard for.
    And I love the Father in the Road. An inspired choice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Rebekah! This was actually harder for me to complete than the 11 heroines list I did back in April. (Or was it May?) I’m just glad I was able to think of the same number of heroes as I did for heroines.

      *lol* Yeah, if you’re a Tolkienite, any Baggins might be an insta-pick for a heroes list. But I agree that Frodo doesn’t get highlighted as much as Sam, Bilbo, Aragorn, etc., and that it’s really strange that he doesn’t. Not every character chooses to carry a poisonous burden like The One Ring. That’s something to be admired, I think.

      “I haven’t read Fire (hides in corner because she hated Graceling), but your thoughts made me laugh.”

      Fire is a very different novel from Graceling. The protagonist is much different from Katsa… But I also know that not everyone is crazy about Cashore’s writing. What didn’t you like about Graceling, if you don’t mind me asking?

      Like

      • Yes, Frodo has such a quiet strength (which the wisest LOTR characters acknowledge), and there’s nothing flashy about him. When I hear people say Frodo is boring/weak/whatever, I bristle because *He’s been carrying the RING the whole time, getting closer and closer to the source, and he’s just a hobbit!* He’s no wizard or warrior, or elf. He has no superpowers.
        *Whew,* that felt good!

        And Graceling . . . you might get a blog post length response, so I’ll send it to you to avoid taking up a whole page in your comments! And also, I am not wild about posting any negative opinion in someone else’s comment feed 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • You couldn’t have worded that argument for Frodo more perfectly. *four thumbs up*

        *suddenly wonders where the two new thumbs came from*

        That’s perfectly fine about Graceling (I saw your email, btw), and I understand your point. I also try not to comment on positive reviews for books if I don’t feel the same way about them.

        Like

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