Hero Allure — Libertà’s Hero Poll Results

hero allure in autumn light

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.”

antiheroes to villains Richard Armitage as Lucas North in Spooks

Richard Armitage, master of all these and more

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

Hero allure Burning Fire Ball In Open HandConsidering the results, it occurred to me that these top votes were for qualities which weren’t intrinsically attractive. But they all demanded a reaction. They were dynamic.

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.

hero allure? Jack Reacher? killing-floor coversJack Reacher, on his first outing in Killing Floor, is introduced as “the tough ex-military cop of no fixed abode.”

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?


hero allure? cover of The Zero Trap by Paula GoslingAnd they’re damn’ clever, these blurb-writing johnnies. They know there are some words that we the readers never take at face value on the back of a book. Words like “quiet”.

“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.

John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man

John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man

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

  • Beauty Brunette Woman Reading Book for Hero Allurethe 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

The Son Of The Sheik Does Hero Allure still work?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.

6 thoughts on “Hero Allure — Libertà’s Hero Poll Results

    1. Sophie Post author

      Now that’s a real shame. It’s absolutely great. Most fabulous last chapter ever. Will consider whether I can bear to lend you my copy. Maybe, if you promise to bring it back next month…

  1. Gail Mallin

    I was curious about The Zero Trap and had a look for it too, Liz!
    Not surprised at all that sheikh heroes aren’t popular – having flown a lot on Emirates airline and seen numerous wealthy Arab men behave as if women are very much second class citizens I think “El Sodh” would be a very appropriate name.

    1. Sophie Post author

      Zero Trap is just wonderful. It’s a sort of action mystery, and a good one; would make a great movie. But what makes it great is this slow-burn hero. Not a hint of flash – he just does stuff. And the feeling is bubbling away under the surface right up to the end when he — No I’m not going to spoil it for you. Try the library. Get a second hand copy. Or book into to my house and read it in situ. Bliss.

      I’ve never been much of a fan of sheikhs, to be honest. But then, I started off on the wrong foot with them. I went to see the old silent movie of The Sheikh in my teens with a friend and we nearly got thrown out for laughing. I can still feel the agonising pain in my ribs as we writhed in silence.

      Working in the Middle East I met some exquisitely courteous sheikhs. But I know what you mean about the other sort, Gail.

  2. Elizabeth Bailey

    Maybe we know too much these days. About the Arab world, the military, the police, etc etc. Suspending disbelief becomes harder and the romantic dream won’t cut it because you can’t buy the premise. And feminism has changed the way women react to men. As a writer, one can’t write what the previous generation wrote and get away with it – remembering romances of my youth here. But nothing seems to stop us women from swooning for a romantic hero who ticks all the boxes.

    1. Joanna

      I’d say you’ve put your finger on it, Liz, re suspending belief. And yet you’re also right that we still swoon for the right romantic hero. So what’s the secret?

      As we discussed before, we don’t really know. But if we did, we’d make a fortune 😉

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