How often is hero allure part of what compels us to pick up a book?
Last week we asked people to vote on which qualities would hook them into the hero’s story. We were thinking of just that first engagement: what we learn from the blurb, the first few pages or Amazon’s sample.
Across A Crowded Room
With more and more novels to choose from every year, it’s becoming a major issue. I suppose it’s the literary equivalent of eyes meeting at a party. Something in you jumps to attention and says, “Oo yes, this one.”
So what lures us in? Well, the favourite quality, which two thirds of us voted for, was biting humour. (People could vote for as many as they fancied, by the way.) More than half of us voted for both enigmatic detective and genius professor geek. Next favourite was a risk taker/man of action. He pulled in just under half of the voters. And coming in fifth was a man who is logical, impervious to passion and proud of it.
The Alchemy of Hero Allure
These guys move the story along. Conflict is pretty much a given. They have questions to answer.
They might not know it yet — heck, they might hotly deny it — but in the course of the story they have the potential to burn some serious heat.
What’s more, depending on the story, every one of them could as well be a villain as a hero. Or even inhabit that unforgettable hinterland where the two meet.
To illustrate the point, I refer you to Mr Armitage as Guy of Gisborne. (That man was born to play Sydney Carton!) But I digress.
Hero Allure in the Hands of Blurb Writers
To check my thesis, I spent a happy morning pulling favourite books off my shelves to see what blurb writers had made of some of my favourite heroes.
And there we have both elements:
- potential for conflict in his job as well as the fact that he does it no longer and
- no fixed abode? Huh? WHY?
“A quiet professor of astronomy” in Paula Gosling’s wonderful The Zero Trap turns out to be a leader of men, a genius and a man of action too; not to mention a lover to dream of.
Consider, too, the hidden depths of Georgette Heyer’s Quiet Gentleman: laid-back Regency dandy, except when he’s being a sleuth or sorting out his family.
We might have included “the quiet man” in our poll, I suppose. But then there was a story by Maurice Walsh by that title and he was played in the movie adaptation by action man John Wayne.
So whatever the quiet man may turn out to be in the course of the story, it’s never what it says on the tin. And the poll assumed our descriptions were basically accurate.
Reader Insights in Discussing the Poll
- the hero has to have a code — though probably it will be some way into the story before you identify what it is, I think
- a hero has to care passionately about something — same caveat
- the high handed heroes of the last century don’t cut the mustard with most people any more. Whoever thought “you little fool” was a term of endearment, anyway?
Ave Atque Vale The Sheikh
We’ve had nearly a century of desert passion — from E M Hull’s 1919 original via the movies of Rudolf Valentino to the 1985 Harem, and countless novels from three generations of queens of romance, including Barbara Cartland, Denise Robins, Johanna Lindsey and all the top names at Harlequin. Indeed, the publisher ran a whole series called “Desert Brides” for a while.
I even wrote a couple myself, one entirely spontaneously, after seeing a desert prince and his entourage in a Cairo hotel and thinking there’s a story there. Let’s not talk about the other. (If you must know, its working title, eventually, was El Sodh. Nuff said?)
But maybe things are changing. In our poll, nobody voted for the sheikh.