We were talking the other day about the lack of heroes in books, and I had a stray thought. Chasing it down and pouncing on it, I realized it was a thought worth following. Oooh! This could be a list. A list of role models for young men, and also for young women, to look for in husbands or wives.
Reading is a time-honored way for the reader to explore facets of the human character, and consciously or subconsciously, learn more about their fellow human beings. With younger readers, they can imprint on favorite characters like baby ducklings on a mother cat. Yes, I know that sounds weird, but here’s the thing. Whether the young readers – and I will be clear here, I’m talking teens, and furthermore, teens like I was, who considered juvenile or YA books beneath them (yes, I was an arrogant little snot at that age).
I’m also NOT talking about romance stories. I know some of my favorites back then had no plot of boy-meets-girl, and some of them did. What I’m specifically talking about is looking for role models in books of heroes. We all know that heroism is sometimes the quiet acts of life, unnoted and uncelebrated. But the characteristics of a hero in a book: loyalty, duty, honor, love of fellow man, and a willingness to lay down his life for his friends… that’s what I’m looking for. Someone to inspire hero-worship in the readers who get to know them.
With the trend toward anti-heroes, the fatally flawed, broken characters, we have sometimes lost sight of these role models in fiction. I wanted to create a list – and it wound up being a twinned list – of books for young people who are looking for a hero, for a role model that will influence their selection of a mate later in life. I was specifically not looking for YA titles, and if you are looking at this list for your own children, be aware that I consider older teens quite capable of handling both sex and violence in their books. They are certainly exposed to it on the screen enough, and at school.
In either of the lists, the leading hero could not be whiny, bitchy, or irredeemably flawed. A character like John Ringo and David Weber’s Prince Roger (the March series) still works well because he does grow, and further, Colonel Pahner, although not a main character, is an excellent role model. I chose to split the lists into Books for Boys and Books for Girls. But that might not be what you expect, either. The role model list of leading male characters, below, I’m recommending for the young ladies to read. In a world where the strong female character is emphasized, we must not lose track of the need for a beau ideal, a man who can inspire a young woman to seek the best when she looks for a partner, not simply his looks or wealth.
Character! That’s what we want. And inspiring heroes, and damsels who can’t be bothered to be distressed, and the men who respect them… You’ll find all that and more in the list of books below.
I want to thank everyone who helped with suggestions for the lists. I’m not including all of the titles that were given to me, some because I wasn’t looking for YA, and some because I was emphasizing character rather than other features. You will find that I’m listing the books by character name, rather than individual books, as many of these are series. Some of the comments in the list are from the people who gave the recommendations to me (I’ve anonymized the lists since they were collected in private groups).
- Caine Riordan from Chuck Gannon’s Fire books.
- Harry Dresden. I’d argue that he has failings, yes, but nowhere near as big as his strengths, and he seems to have overcome most of them.
- Travis Long from David Weber’s The Manticore Ascendant series. Where the MC is a straight arrow and too shy to talk to girls.
- Steve Maxwell from Peter Grant’s Take the Star Road series
- Jack Holloway from H Beam Piper’s Fuzzy series.
- Bahzell Bahnakson from David Weber’s
- Pete Brumbar from Lloyd Behm’s Martian series. I must point out there is a kitten. I love books with kittens…
- Finn the sometimes-dragon from Dave Freer’s Dog and Dragon series. If we’re going to have kittens, we must also have puppies.
- Jake Sullivan from Larry Correia’s Hard Magic series.
- Xen Wolfson from Pam Uphoff’s Gods and Wine series.
- Earl Harbinger, conversely, and Owen Pitt, from Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter series. Earl Harbinger is a splendid example of manliness, honor, loyalty, duty…. why yes, I do have a little character crush
- Tom the definitely-a-dragon from Sarah Hoyt’s shifter series. She points out he “started out pretty flawed, but he’s coming along nicely… “
- Tarzan, John Carter, Carson of Venus, all from Edgar Rice Burrough’s series and books.
- Pretty much any Louis L’Amour book… they do have strong adults who are good role models; not wanting trouble but meeting it head-on when it comes….
- Conrad from This Immortal by Zelazny (Cedar’s note: I haven’t read this one, not familiar with it)
- Also from Zelazny, I see recommendations for Lord of Light’s Loki and Mahasamatma, as good role models in sometimes hard to choose right situations.
- Mannie from RAH’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
- Edward from Rob Howell’s A Lake Most Deep
- Captain Pausert from James Schmitz’s Witches of Karres, and Dave Freer’s follow-on, Wizard of Karres.
- Heinlein’s “Space Cadet”. A young man, Matt Dodson, learning about what it means to serve mankind. There are few women, but that’s due to the year it was written. You know, there do not have to be women around to take the measure of a man. His treatment of his fellows is sufficient.
- John Christian Falkenberg, from Jerry Pournelle’s Co-Dominion universe.
- Black Jack Geary and Tanya Desjani from the Lost Fleet series. (I believe this is Jack Campbell’s work) She starts out a little rough (a century of war will do that) and he’s an old school boy scout.
- Wilson Cole from the Starship series by Mike Resnick.
- Corran Horn from I, Jedi by Michael Stackpoole.
- Dalinar Kholin and Kaladin from the Way of Kings.
- Has there been a vote for Glory Road yet? Oscar is def. not an anti hero, and Star is about as far from distressed damsel as you can get & still need a hand….. (there hadn’t been, but yes, this.)
- Tryton from Ben Hales Warsworn series.
- Ishmael Horatio Wang (pronounced Wong) in the “Golden Age of the Solar Clippers” series by Nathan Lowell. First is “Quarter Share”. Yeah, he starts out in shock. He grows.
- Mighty Mike O’Neal from John Ringo’s Posleen series
- Hadrian and Royce from the Riyria Revelations series (by Michael J Sullivan) are two very strong male characters. They’re flawed, but grow into positive, strong men as the series goes on. Love that series.
- Kind of well duh but Tolkien. Gandalf – You shall not pass! Frodo, clawing his way up- the Mount of Doom to destroy the One Ring. Galadrial Elf Queen offered the power to rule the world and saying NO.
So, readers, who can you suggest? Who did you imprint on, when you were a younger reader, and how did it influence your choices later on?