Images of the Hero: Heroism in Literature (East/Southeast Regional Meeting of the CCL)
In The Hero with A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell asserts that the mythic figure of the hero is central to understanding the human experience. He argues that “the hero is symbolical of that divine creative and redemptive image within us all, only waiting to be known and rendered into life.” The hero, in other words, might be said to be the embodiment or archetype of the imago Dei raised to the highest pitch, functioning as an exemplar of what humanity at its level best can do. Thomas Carlyle also nods to the transcendently human nature of the hero in Of Heroes and Hero Worship, when he says that the hero is “he who lives in the inward sphere of things, in the True, Divine and Eternal, which exists always, unseen to most, under the Temporary, Trivial…”
The figure of the hero has perennially occupied a central place in the Western literary canon, from Homer to Tolkien. Yet in recent decades, the assumed virtues of traditional concepts of heroism and traditional depictions of heroes have been challenged and become subject to significant revision in popular culture. While the contemporary heroes of the Marvel Comics universe enjoy immense, culture shaping popularity, Homer’s heroes find themselves increasingly left out of secondary and post-secondary syllabi. These things raise the questions of what a hero is and what role the hero has yet to play in the 21st Century. Do the traditional heroes of the Western canon still have a role to play as transcendent ideals of humanity that carry us forward, or are they retrograde constructs in desperate need of revision?
This conference invites papers that explore the answers to these questions and attendant questions related to the mythic and the symbolic. Paper submissions might address the theme of literary heroism from any number of angles, but the following questions are offered as a starting point.
- What is the role of a hero, a traditionally aristocratic character, in a society that sets a moral premium on egalitarianism?
- Does the classical epic still have a place in the English curriculum, and if so, what is it? If not, has it been replaced? With what?
- How do literary heroes inspire differently from the heroes of history, and is the idea of a real-life Hero a contradiction in terms?
- What is behind our fascination with deconstructing heroes? Is the hero archetype, in fact, immoral?
- What is literature’s role in either upholding or interrogating the ideals of heroism?
- Is the Western ideal of the hero compatible with a Christian ideal of human virtue?
- What might a theologically informed reading of the hero archetype look like? Does it offer significant revision to the canonical Western Ideal?
- Any exploration of what might be considered the heroic in other mythic or symbolic literary figures is, of course, welcome.
The East/Southeast Regional Meeting of the Conference of Christianity and Literature will take place at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, VA (just outside of Washington, D.C.) on June 10-11, 2022. Please send paper abstracts/proposals of 400 words or less to Cory Grewell (firstname.lastname@example.org) by March 31, 2022.