It’s Hard Being a Hero by John David Anderson
It’s hard being a hero.
This is a glaringly obvious theme in most of my books. In fact, I’m pretty sure one of my characters has ham-fistedly said “Gosh, it sure is hard being a hero,” right before donning their mask, unsheathing their sword, or fashioning their fireball and engaging in an act of bravado. It sure is hard. But they derring-do it anyway, and (usually) for all the right reasons.
Of course the real reason they do it is me. I’m the author; I call the shots. What kind of story would it be if my protagonists didn’t even at least try to slay the dragon (and how bummed would most readers be if they didn’t succeed)? Such is the beauty of being the man-behind-the-curtain: manipulating the narrative to get everyone to a happy ending.
If it were only that easy.
When I was in middle school I experienced what I consider to be an average amount of bullying for a kid of my stature (short, skinny, easy-to-push around) and disposition (awkward, quiet, often alone). That I can even attempt to quantify the level is a whole other discussion, but I knew I was a fairly easy target, especially for a spit wad or a spontaneous shoulder shove. I avoided the bathroom like a Mos Eisley cantina—“a wretched hive of scum and villainy” where a lack of adult eyes made it all too easy to pick on somebody. (In fact, I credit my middle school years with my current ability to go ten straight hours without a tinkle.)
I couldn’t always avoid the teasing, though. There were a few physical altercations—I was invariably on the losing end—but mostly it was words, verbal barbs masquerading as good-natured ribbing. Easy to shrug off. But not really. It wasn’t constant. It wasn’t even all that personal, I don’t think. It was kids being mean-spirited for reasons that I didn’t understand.
And I didn’t bother to tell anyone—any adult anyways. I rolled with it. Because I knew: It could be worse. Because there were kids who were harassed a whole lot more than me. I saw the nudges. The notes. Heard the jokes and the snickering that followed. I didn’t join in, of course. Instead I did what I trained myself to do. What I think many of us did (and maybe still do).
I looked down.
Eyes to the floor. Quicken the pace. Turn down the hall. Out-of-sight, though never quite out-of-mind. These other kids, the ones being bullied, they weren’t my friends. We weren’t sworn to protect each other. I didn’t owe them anything. At least, that’s what I told myself. So I kept my mouth shut. I stayed out of the way. Just another bystander.
Looking back, I know I should have stepped up, put on the metaphorical mask, unsheathed the imaginary sword. I should have used that sharp weapon tucked behind my teeth and spoken up, but I didn’t. Because that’s what heroes do, and I wasn’t a hero. I was just a kid trying not to draw any unwanted attention to myself.
I think that’s one of the reasons I write the books I do, because I want to imagine myself as the kid who does speak up. Not for myself—I did that as best as I was able as a matter of self-preservation—but for others. I don’t know that it would have changed anything. Maybe I would have made more friends. Maybe I would have made more enemies. No doubt I would have painted a bigger bullseye on my back, maybe even gotten a bruise for my efforts. But I wouldn’t be sitting here wondering.
Now more than ever I see a need for young people to have positive role models, heroes who lead with compassion and wisdom and humility as they come to the defense of those who are treated unjustly. Kids can find these heroes in books—indeed, I have an entire pantheon of champions that I still worship drawn from the pages of my own favorites. Even better, though, to see them in the flesh. I’m thankful to have had such real heroes in my own life to show me what’s possible, to teach me what courage is. Every book I write is in some way a tribute to them.
We need them because it’s always easier to look down, to walk past, to worry only about yourself. It takes guts to keep your head up and stare down the dragon, to stand up for others, to do what you know in your heart and soul is right.
It sure is hard being a hero.
But I can’t imagine a world without them.
John David Anderson is the author of many books for young readers, including Sidekicked and The Dungeoneers. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wife, two kids, and perpetually whiny cat in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can visit him online at www.johndavidanderson.org.
His newest book POSTED will be published by Walden Pond Press on May 2.