First, my list for good heroines was informed by how I think women should actually behave. However, I can fancy a book or television hero without (always) making it personal. For instance, I can like a hero without having dated or wanting to date a similar personality. (I would never want to date someone like Booth, for example. Or Mr. Rochester.)
Second, many times my interest in a show is in the hero-heroine interaction. Without that interaction, the hero wouldn’t be enough to carry the show or to model behavior I would want to copy. Imagine Mulder without Scully—yikes! (“Scary Mulder” indeed).
Third, many of my favorite male characters aren’t necessarily the heroes. (Peter McNicol as Larry Fleinhardt is a good example.) On the other hand, the definition of "hero" is up for grabs! (Perhaps, I should say, "main protagonist.")
However, I have been able to come up with a list of favorite heroes (main protagonists) which I will use to create a list of good hero attributes:
- Booth from Bones as representative of the romantic hero.
- Patrick Jane from The Mentalist as representative of the troubled, semi-romantic hero.
- All the Stargate men—naturally (yes, I am including Dr. Rodney McKay).
- Benton Fraser from Due South as representative of the solitary hero.
1. The heroes are confident in a nonchalant way.
Jack O’Neill and John Shepherd take the prize here. I doubt there are two more nonchalant heroes on television. It is appropriate to pair them together since they are an extroverted and introverted versions of the same personality type.
The best example of their similar nonchalance comes from the pilot to Stargate: Atlantis where the following exchange takes place:
O’Neill: This isn't a long trip, so I'll be a succinct as possible.The remaining heroes are less nonchalant but still manage to confront danger and uncertainty with finesse. Okay, McKay gets a little wild and crazy and talks too fast, but in general, these heroes tend to meet problems with aplomb. (McKay is actually the most heroic of the bunch because he overcomes a normal amount of cowardice and courage to perform truly courageous and selfless acts.) Patrick Jane's willingness to call things as they are gives him a little bit of House confidence (without the brassness).
Sheppard: (After a long silence.) Well, that's pretty succinct.
O’Neill: Thank you.
I return to this issue of confidence below--from a slightly different angle.
2. The heroes have a sense of humor.
The heroic aplomb is helped by the heroes having a sense of humor. Benton Fraser may seem an exception here, but I’ve always considered Fraser's “straight man” persona to be partly put on. He isn’t faking so much as he is deliberately being more himself.
Ray: This is what's wrong with you, Fraser. You see a problem, and you gotta fix it. You can't even go to the men's room without stopping and telling some simple stupid charmingly witty Inuit story that inspires people to take on the world's social ills!The remaining heroes are given to excessive irony (Jack and John), rampant sarcasm (McKay), and quick repartee (Booth). I also have to add Patrick Jane's unbelievably mischievous and charming smile. All by itself, it makes you happy!
Fraser: Well, I'm sorry, Ray, but I fail to see how a small group of people banding together to form a neighborhood watch constitutes a form of political anarchy.
Another aspect of hero humor is the ability of the hero to not get pissed at the heroine/react defensively to subtext. This may actually cross the fiction/reality line because it is an attribute I admire and wish I could emulate.
A great example comes from Booth in the first season. Bones makes a promise to a little boy which Booth then keeps.
Brennan: I knew you'd back me up. I knew you wouldn't make me a liar.Here's the kicker (or "kickster," as Bones would say): Booth just smiles. Brennan's assumptions don't bug him; he doesn't feel used or manipulated or out-of-control. (I will refer back to this particular dialog later.)
Booth: How did you know?
Brennan: Because you want to go to heaven
Booth: But you don't believe in heaven.
Brennan: But you do . . .
3. The heroes respect women without putting them on pedestals.
Because, let’s face it, putting women on pedestals is just another form of condescension. (A woman on a pedestal can’t interfere or contribute. She’s just supposed to stay there.)
Some of the heroes (Benton, McKay) are a little uncertain around women and make up for this, in Benton's case, with excessive civility (McKay is just rude). But none of them are dismissive.
The Stargate heroes win the prize for heroes who, without taking women for granted manage to take them for granted. It's the difference between undervaluing or ignoring someone versus assuming someone has the right to exist/be there/contribute something. Booth, for instance, gets kudos for wanting Bones' opinion while not perceiving her as perfect. And Patrick Jane doesn't flare up when Lisbon takes a stand, like when she returns the lottery-won jewelry:
Teresa: All right, guys. It's been fun playing dress-up, but playtime is over.4. The heroes know themselves.
Cho: I'm sorry, boss, what do you mean?
Teresa: This. (She gestures at the necklace Patrick gave her.) It's kind of a waste, don't you think?
Patrick: I would have bought world peace if I could. They didn't have it in the casino gift store. Very limited range of items for sale.
Teresa: You know what I mean.
Patrick: I know those emeralds look lovely with your eyes.
Teresa: Thank you. It's beautiful, but I can't keep it.
Patrick: I understand.
This raises a conundrum. The reason so many romance novels succeed is because the hero doesn't make his problems the heroine's problem. He takes care of things! Unfortunately, he also tends to be ultra-alpha and dominate, which becomes tiresome. Confidence and self-knowledge are not limited to ultra-alpha and dominate males.
Having said that, I will start with the most alpha of my listed heroes. One of Booth's most attractive qualities is that he DOESN'T kowtow to Bones. Regarding the dialog quoted above, one reason Booth doesn't get upset is because his ego isn't that fragile. This is very attractive.
However (note to women), it isn't just the male's responsibility to develop this quality! One reason I get tired of books like Twilight (and a number of mystery series) is because the heroine runs around wondering if she is good enough and having her ego massaged by the confident male. Geez, wouldn't he get tired of this?
To continue, good heroes are never so tunnel-visioned, they don't know who they are. Booth is proud of being a beer-and-skittles guy. He doesn't pretend to be anything else although, like Benton and Jack, he sometimes emphasizes certain personality traits deliberately (he isn't as uninformed as he sometimes acts). He is a good father who has "stepped it up" and sees that as a defining part of his personality.
Patrick Jane has accepted his past mistakes to the nth degree. In some ways, he is too hard on himself, but in some ways, he isn't. Setting aside the Red John stuff, defrauding people isn't terribly kind. And there are enough flashbacks in Season 1 to make it clear that Jane did deliberately defraud some people, even when what he did hurt them emotionally.
All the Stargate guys are totally honest with themselves. One of my favorite examples is McKay when he tells a bunch of bad guys, " I don't know if you noticed or not, but I'm an extremely arrogant man who tends to think all his plans will work."
And Benton, who is actually quite hard to read, is never dishonest. About anything. He is occasionally self-deluded when he thinks he can help someone he can't. In the first season, he tries to save a deceitful, dark-haired woman from herself. In the final episode of that season, he and his partner have this exchange:
Ray Vecchio: Benny, not every woman with long dark hair tries to kill her lover.Ultimately, Benton always acknowledges what must be done.
Benton Fraser: Oh.
To end this section, I agree with Eugene's comment that the hero should not be "fixed" by the heroine. If you can't accept him as he is, ladies, or he doesn't know who he is, stay away from him (you shouldn't need Dr. Laura to tell you that.)
5. The heroes are loyal/stick around.
Okay, guys, if you want to know how to attract/make a woman happy, this is it. Evolutionarily, biologically, genetically, culturally-speaking, the way to a woman's heart is loyalty.
Booth, of course, is way up the list. Actually, they all are, but Booth is the most blatant. One of my favorite quotes comes when Bones and Angela are discussing Bones' brother:
Bones: I worshiped him. You know? God, he was so cool. Everyone knew I was Russ Brennan's little sister. I wasn't cool or pretty, so being his sister . . . You know that game, Marco Polo? I'd be sitting in class, and I'd hear out the window, "Marco!" It'd be Russ, checking in on me, letting everyone know that I was his little sister.Patrick Jane demonstrates that, whatever his behavior in the past, he did adore his wife and child. He also states that he will always have Lisbon's back. When she complains that she can't trust him because he's always doing crazy stuff, he responds, "Lisbon, I want you to know that you can trust me. No matter what happens, I will be there for you. I will. I need you to know that. Now, can I catch you?" (They are doing a trust exercise, and he does catch her.)
Angela: Did you "Polo"?
Brennan: Yeah, sometimes it'd be the only word I said all day. "Polo." And then Mom and Dad disappeared, and Russ took off. Suddenly, no one cared where I was. I miss that. Someone caring where I am all the time. (My emphasis.)
At this point, you hear Booth call, "Bones. Bones. Where are you? Let's go!" off-screen. It is immeasurably touching.
Of course, saying, "Trust me" isn't enough: actions speak louder than words. The Stargate guys, for example, always follow through. The creed, "We don't leave our people behind" may not always be good military policy, but it's good romance and heroic policy.
And Benton, naturally, is Mr. Reliable. His reliability isn't confined to women; he is always there for his partner, neighbors, small children, pets, and total strangers!
To end, I'm going to give Bones the last word:
Booth: Mr. Decker, you and Donovan, you have a code word? Something to let him know that you sent me?
Decker: Paladin. Tell Donovan "Paladin."
(Decker leaves the room.)
Cullen: (stands) Paladin. Defender of the faith. Protector. Suits you, Booth.
(Cullen walks out.)
Bones: You know what? You tough guys are all very sentimental.