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When is a hero myth manufactured?

At the RNA SE meeting on 24 April, Nicola Cornick gave us valuable insights on constructing heroes. Taking Robin Hood as an example, she showed how universal the hero values attached to him were: anti-authoritarian, good versus evil, romantic, skilled in fighting and weaponry. The mythic Robin Hood was a construct, an icon, created mainly in the 15th and 16 centuries. Quite who or what the real Robin Hood, Robin of Locksley, Robert atte Hoode was is anybody’s guess.

Heroes such as Nelson, while a genuine fighting commander with outstanding achievements, were also celebrities of their times. After Cape St Vincent, Nelson gave a press interview about how well he’d done, and duly wrote his book describing his battles at sea. His philandering and private life didn’t seem to have detracted from his celebrity, but gave it an attractive, dangerous edge.

Celebrity – the attribution of glamorous or noteworthy status (from Celebrity by Prof. Chris Rojek ) – was an old idea: Roman gladiators courted fame and public acclaim. Byron, who glamorised piracy in his poem The Corsair was a prime self-publicist and wildly fashionable author, but in contrast to Nelson, he didn’t have a solid foundation as a British fighting hero.

We tended to pick heroes from the past to suit our needs in the present, but one outstanding requirement was loyalty. From questions, answers and discussion around heroes, other ‘heroic’ characteristics emerged: the attraction of the bad boy/rebel, the anti-hero, the insider up against the system, the flawed hero, the early death of heroes at their most heroic moment.

Plenty to think about when putting fingers to keyboard!

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