1. John Carter
John Carter was a classic hero mysteriously transported to the unknown planet of Mars. He helped the Martians of Barsoom fight an epic civil war and saved them from destruction. For nearly 100 years the stories of John Carter, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, have been thrilling generations. John Carter has become a heroic paradigm in all forms of culture including literature, comics, TV, and cinema. He set the example and inspired many modern heroes. George Lucas said he wanted Star Wars to be an adventure in space, like John Carter Of Mars. Next spring, Disney will bring to life one of the greatest heroes in a live action movie. Finally after a 100 years, John Carter’s story can be witnessed on the big screen.
2. Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe is a castaway who survived encounters with cannibals, captives, and mutineers on a deserted island. The book marked the beginning of realistic fiction as a literary genre. After his stories were published, castaway novels became very popular. His legacy even dips into our everyday language. The term “Robinson Crusoe” is used synonymously with “castaway” and is often used as a metaphor for being rejected.
Raised by apes, Tarzan became a heroic adventurer of the jungle. Written also by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan is the quintessential savage turned hero. Many works were inspired by Tarzan and mimicked the idea of children being raised by animals. In the 1940s, a Finnish writer named Lahja Valakivi published novels obviously inspired by Tarzan but adapted to a Finnish setting. The hero was named Tarsa and was raised by bears.
4. Conan the Barbarian
“Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.” - Robert E. Howard, The Phoenix on the Sword, 1932. Conan the Cimmerian the most famous barbarian in fiction. Conan (by Robert E. Howard) inspired other books and short stories starring the iconic barbarian. Many fans are familiar with the character because of the famous the movie franchise starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
5. Odysseus from the Odyssey
Odysseus is the epic hero in Homer’s Odyssey. He is most famous for the ten eventful years he took to return home after the Trojan War. Odysseus had the defining characteristics of a Homeric leader: strength, courage, nobility, a thirst for glory, and confidence in his authority. His most important trait was his intellect. With his quick thinking, Odysseus was able to squeeze out of some tight situations.
Hercules was the son of Zeus and one of the most famous heroes in Greek mythology. Hercules is known for his great strength, but he is also known for lacking self-control and intelligence. Many of his adventures start with him making a horrible mistake and trying to fix it. Hercules has also had an undeniable influence on modern pop culture characters such as He-Man. He has been seen on television, in movies, comic books series, and even video games.
Achilles was a great warrior in the Trojan war and the main character in Homer’s Iliad. Achilles is the most famous Trojan warrior, and his strength and bravery are unrivaled. He is the finest Greek warrior because he is selfless, courageous, and devoted to the gods. An Achilles’ heel is a metaphor based off the character Achilles and is a deadly weakness in spite of overall strength, that can actually or potentially lead to downfall.
Beowulf was a legendary hero depicted in one of the oldest surviving pieces of literature in the English language. Beowulf single-handedly defeated three monsters that were terrorizing his kingdom. Beowulf is essentially the first literary hero to ever be documented. His epic tale was originally passed through oral tradition, and the authorship to the manuscript is highly debated. One of the most famous novels based off Beowulf is Grendel. Grendel tells the tale of Beowulf through the eyes of the antagonist.
9. King Arthur
King Arthur was the fearless British leader who led the defense of Romano-Celtic Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. King Arthur left several big footprints in Western culture. He was known as the perfect (British) king. He became the embodiment of chivalry for the middle ages, and he was the classic rags to riches peasant boy turned king. The tales of the knights of the round table continue to pervade literature and cinema and are even parodied in comedies like Monty Python.
10. The Three Musketeers
“All for one, and one for all!” The Three Musketeers, written by Alexander Dumas, is a wonderful adventure about 4 friends in France during the 17th century. The Three Musketeers are important heroes because they represent an important development in historical and popular fiction. Dumas showcased that one could write about history in an enjoyable and entertaining way. His stories are highly accessible, and that is why we continue to enjoy his works even today. Trademarks ‘JOHN CARTER OF MARS,’ JCM Design, ‘BARSOOM’ and ‘PRINCESS OF MARS’ owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and used by permission. © 2011 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
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