Conan from Robert E. Howard’s series
I started reading the Conan books when I was in elementary school, and the subject matter felt so adult. I read the series several more times as I grew up and I find that I still love the principle character. Conan is often uncouth and, well, barbaric. But he’s a noble beast. In a world that has grown increasingly complex and ambiguous, getting inside the head of a character for whom all of life’s choices are balanced on the edge of a broadsword (or between the sheets) can be cathartic. On top of that, Conan is a paragon of freedom. The world is his oyster, the way we often wish it was for us.
Croaker from Glen Cook’s The Black Company
At turns both wry and insightful, Croaker is the perfect narrator for a story of fantasy warfare and dark sorcery. While he plays a central role as both a physician and a soldier, he is also able to get out of the story’s way when necessary, while still remaining poignant. Through his eyes we glimpse a world torn by strife, rivalries, and the domination of the weak, and yet Croaker never gives up all hope. He’s a friend, a brother, a comrade, and a hopeless romantic.
Sturm Brightblade from The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
These books have a host of great characters, but my favorite hero of the bunch has to be Sturm. Honorable to a fault, he lives — and eventually dies — for his code. But Sturm never loses his humanity. He remains our good and stalwart friend through the dark times, and someone we miss dearly.
Arya Stark of A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin
For all the lords and ladies, knights and kings, in this series, the character that resonated the most with me for her sheer bravery and gumption was little Arya Stark. While she might seem bratty and presumptuous, Ayra is a character who believes that everyone should be able to choose what they want in life. While that makes her unpopular in a world where freedom of choice is scarce, it won my heart. And even when the odds stacked against her are monumental, she never gives up.
Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock
The last emperor of a dying empire, Elric is an albino and physically frail, but when he is partnered with his demon-possessed sword, Stormbringer, he becomes unstoppable. Elric does quite a few things that are not heroic in a traditional sense, but his quest for purpose and meaning in a chaotic world, to me, is the heart of heroic fantasy.
Molly Millions from Neuromancer by William Gibson
Augmented by military cybernetics, including retractable claws and spooky mirrored eyes, this “street samurai” is a lethal blend of mercenary ruthlessness and hard-bitten femininity. She might not be the kind of woman you’d bring home to mother, but things are never dull when Molly’s around.
Looking back over these choices, a couple things are apparent to me. I love heroes who kick ass. Croaker is probably the most unremarkable (on the surface) of the characters above, but even he wouldn’t blink twice before cutting the throat of an enemy who threatened his mercenary brethren.
On top of that, a hero must strive. Passivity bores me. Whether I’m reading sword & sorcery or classic “literature,” I want the hero doing something, struggling to right heinous wrongs, pushing back against oppression, fighting for truth and justice. That’s what I try to impart to my own characters when I’m writing.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this list of my favorite heroes. Please add a few of your own in the comments.
Jon Sprunk is the author of the fantasy epic Blood and Iron as well as the Shadow Saga trilogy (Shadow’s Son, Shadow’s Lure, and Shadow’s Master). He’s also a mentor at the Seton Hill University fiction writing program. For more on his life and writing, check out www.jonsprunk.com.