The Unlikely Hero Trope

Published December 12, 2013 by A. Featherquill

Last December 1, I posted an article about Neville Longbottom’s heroism. As stated in that post, the theme of the month is becoming an unlikely hero. We still haven’t reached the third week, but I would like to post early, because I’ll be busy in the following weeks due to various Christmas activities.

While looking for examples around the web, I realized that there are many types of unlikely hero. Thus, instead of just writing about one great example, I will list down seven popular types based on my web search and give an example for each.

1. From weakling to badass:

This type is probably the most popular. Even Neville can fall under this category. Besides this awkward-boy-turned-basilisk-slayer, another good example is… Captain America.

I got this idea from mashable’s article “What Books Would ‘Harry Potter’ Characters Read“. While there are many other fantasy literatures and comic book superheroes following this pattern, I chose Captain America because sometimes nothing beats the classic.

Frail and sickly Steven Rogers volunteers in the army but was initially rejected. By some luck or twist of fate, Rogers is picked to be the recipient of the super-soldier serum. The once weak boy transforms into a superhero but retains his good heart and honorable character.

2. Too extraordinarily ordinary to become a hero (but think again!)

The best example for this category is definitely… Bilbo Baggins. Small in size, enjoys the comfort and security of his home, respectable, conventional, simple, very ordinary. Bilbo does not have any special ability like The X-men or The Avengers. He does not have the magical powers of a wizard. He doesn’t have the training of a warrior or the power of a king. If there is anything noticeable about Bilbo before his unexpected journey, it is probably his ordinariness.

But, as Gandalf says, there’s more to this hobbit than meets the eye. This hobbit helps the dwarves in their journey to the Lonely Mountain. Some of you may have followed his adventures in Tolkien’s book, but I invite you all to see Bilbo’s development into a hero (although not the Superman-type) in the The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The movie is now showing in theatres worldwide.

3. The adorable animal savior:

I will pick an example from real life for this category. You have probably heard of stories where the dog swims its master back to saftey and other similar events. But have you heard of the hero-dog Kabang?

One day, two girls were crossing the street. They did not notice that a motorcycle was approaching. Kabang came to the rescue and knocked the motorcycle over. The two girls were saved. Kabang also lived. However, the dog’s snout was crushed. Eventually, the dog developed infection. The owners of the dog, being of humble origins, could not afford to give their dog a surgery. Fortunately, the news of the dog’s heroism reached able people. With the help of sponsors, Kabang was able to undergo surgery in the US.

For more information about the hero dog, read this wikipedia article which lists down other titles featuring Kabang’s story.

4. The Woman Warrior

Probably, this type is not quite surprising now as many woman characters take the role of heroes in literature, film, and many other genres. We now have Katniss Everdeen who challenged a tyrannic system, Merida of Brave, Tauriel of The Hobbit’s film franchise, Hermione of Harry Potter, etc. Still, I want to celebrate the power of women by including in this post a case which features women’s greatness.

There was an age when seeing a woman warrior is not only surprising but also forbidden. Take the case of Mulan. What she did was against the norm. Yet she ended up saving not just her father but the whole empire.

My first encounter with Mulan’s story is through Disney’s cartoon movie. It touched my heart to hear the emperor say in the end:

I’ve heard a great deal about you, Fa Mulan. You stole your father’s armor, ran away from home, impersonated a soldier, deceived your commanding officer, dishonored the Chinese Army, destroyed my palace, and… you have saved us all.

Later on, I learned that there is a non-animated Chinese movie about Mulan. If animated cartoons is not your thing, you can give this version a try.

5. The kid who beats them all:

It’s Christmas time so a Christmas-related example seems fitting: Kevin McCallister of the Home Alone movie series.

I have watched the first three installments of this Christmas movie a couple of times, but they never fail to entertain and make me laugh. My favorite is Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and this installment is probably the most suitable example for this unlikely hero category.

Kevin repeats the feat of beating bandits Harry and Marv but this time not just for himself but mainly for the sake of a Christmas toy store whose proceeds will go to a children’s hospital.

6. The Accidental Hero:

The third week post is meant to feature things outside the Harry Potter world. Forgive me, however, because I couldn’t resist posting this small accidental “heroism” of Ron Weasley. I was reminded of this scene after seeing it in Everything Harry Potter tumblr blog:

Ron Weasley: I’m rubbish. I’m lousy. I can’t play to save my life. What was I thinking?
Harry Potter: Get a grip. Look at that save you made with your foot the other day, even Fred and George said it was brilliant –
Ron Weasley: That was an accident. I didn’t mean to do it – I slipped off my broom when none of you were looking and I was trying to get back on and I kicked the Quaffle by accident.
Harry Potter: Well, a few more accidents like that and the game’s in the bag, isn’t it?

Really, the accidental hero deserves a place in this list because of this type’s unassuming brilliance.

7. The Villian turned Hero:

The villian is probably the least likely candidate to be hero simply because the villian is supposed to cause the problems. Nevertheless, some villians have successfully managed to transform into heroes. A good example is Megamind. My friend River Taylor’s post last month about Megamind inspired the example for this category.

While Megamind is a super-villian, at some point, he saves the city from the bad schemes of his newly made superhero Hal/Tighten. I think this character combines categories 1, 5 and 6 and thus makes for a good last entry. He is weak when compared to his nemesis Metro Man and so always loses. Then, this villian suddenly wins and becomes a hero because the situation calls for it. The heroism was somehow accidental.

This incident, however, proves that even villians can turn into heroes!


Stay Magical,
A. Featherquill


P.S. This article will probably be my last post for the year so I would like to take this chance to thank each and every reader, follower and visitor of my blog. Merry Christmas to all of you! Enjoy the holiday season!





6 comments on “The Unlikely Hero Trope

  • I nearly got the chance to watch the ‘Captain America’ film a couple of nights ago, but my plans were hijacked 😦 I really want to see it!!

    ‘Mulan’ is a great Disney film but yeah, it’s crazy inaccurate xD Not just to the original tale of Hua Mulan but to Chinese history and culture in general. I would recommend the live-action version even if animated cartoons ARE your thing. It’s a very well-done adaptation and enjoyable action film.

    Thanks for the mention and the link to my post 😀 I really love Megamind as an example of someone who can make a fresh start and turn their life around no matter how they’ve acted up until that point. Growing up, Megamind was surrounded by bad examples, and he had the worst opportunities and luck imaginable, but in the end, he still “made good” thanks to the influence and example of Roxanne Ritchie. I think Metro Man might have had an influence too, but Megamind saw Metro Man as an impossible ideal, and the experiences in his childhood reinforced that. Roxanne on the other hand was an ordinary person who unflinchingly advocated for truth and justice, and used every resource at her disposal to pursue it. Megamind wanted to be worthy of her approval, and that’s what finally turned him around.

    You know what, I’ve been wanting to watch a film this evening and couldn’t decide what to watch… I think I might have to put ‘Megamind’ on 😉

    Merry Christmas to you, and thanks for all the great blog posts!

    • I’m not that into animated cartoons now. When I was kid, yeah. Which Mulan movie are you talking about? The one I linked above or a different one? The one I was able to watch has Zhao Wei for the role of Mulan. I liked this version better than the animated one. But, for sentimental reasons, I still look back to the Disney version. Apparently, there seems to be another starring Zhang Ziyi. If you know more about any these, please enlighten me 🙂

      I like Megamind, too, and I find it nice how he turned things around. I hope things are going well on your end though I know you may be busy. I hope you find the time to watch both Megamind and Captain America :)))))

      • I’m not sure exactly which one I saw; the DVD belonged to someone else so I can’t check up on the names of the actors, but looking at the link you gave seemed to ring a bell.

        Things are doing okay with me 🙂 I hope things are okay with you too!

  • I really enjoyed reading this post! I havent seen Mulan yet, so I will make it my next movie in my waiting list. I absolutely loved the accidental hero part and Ron Weasley seems like one of the only accidental heroes which come into my mind! 😀
    I think that Snape was the first person who came into my mind when I thought of Villain turned hero. But technically, he was always the hero. He was always a hero from the beginning, but obviously, for us readers, he was a villain, especially after The Half Blood Prince. Deathly Hallows changed our image of the Professor Severus Snape from book one. So, there you have the villain turned hero.
    Im confused now, 😛

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