Susan here – recently we Wenches were talking about heroes, particularly the first fictional heroes we encountered early on that made our juvenile writer's hearts go pitty-pat. Who were our first book crushes? Which heroes did we want to take away from the book and keep around forever? Those questions led us to wondering how those fictional heroes helped form our earliest ideas of what a hero truly is. Did these early crushes work their way into our novels? Certainly they influenced the heroes we would write later in our novels.
Here’s what the Wenches had to say about their very first book crushes:
Perhaps Robin Hood in the Carola Oman book, but truly it has to be The ScarletPimpernel. I think I was about ten when I plunged into it, and though it's what we'd now call "sweet," it's packed with drama and passion. Unlike many, I don't swoon for rough diamonds. I go for smooth and elegant heroes, so Sir Percy Blakeney, for all his foppishness, appealed. Add in his brave adventurous exploits and his natural leadership of his equals and he was my sort of guy, even when young. We see a similar pattern in Francis Crawford of Lymond from the Dorothy Dunnett books — supremely elegant and gifted, devious, brave and resourceful, and probably my ultimate hero — but I discovered him much later. I sometimes wonder what effect The Game of Kings would have had on me if I'd read it on first publication in 1961 instead of ten years later!
As it was, both heroes came into the mix when I wrote my first book, which eventually became An Arranged Marriage. I'm sure someone could write a thesis on writer psychology based on our first heroes and heroines, but they'd have to peel back some layers, as An Arranged Marriage was my sixth published book.
I am so terribly clichéd! My first swoon-worthy book hero was Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. You have to understand that I was only nine and had never read a romance book, so perhaps I can be excused. I promptly followed P & P with Jane Eyre and utterly adored the indomitable Jane but never fell in love with Rochester. I liked the brooding dark looks but thought he was an inexcusable jerk.
And like Jo, I have to wonder about the psychology of our choices. I have always preferred beta heroes to alphas. While I loved Percy in The Scarlet Pimpernel, I preferred rougher guys like the cowboys in Zane Grey (or James Garner in Maverick, if we can veer from books!). Darcy may have been elegant, but socially, he had this appealing introversion happening that worked for a bookworm like me.
I wonder what it is inside us that chooses our heroes?
I loved Rudyard Kipling's Kim. He was a boy in the book and I wasn't any older when I first read him. Does it count as a bookcrush if you're both twelve? I think SO. I loved Kim's cheerful courage. Loved the way he slipped through the exotic world of India, blending into the crowds, playing many roles, clear-eyed, cheeky, resilient. So wise for his age — for any age, really. Loved the way he became a
spy. Loved the way he traveled from one life to another.
Who else? Willie Garvin. He's the sidekick and male protagonist of Peter O'Donnel's Modesty Blaise series. Massive, muscled and strong, blond, the imperturbable, Cockney-speaking expert with a throwing knife.
And JimGrim from Talbot Mundy. He's another tough, fiercely competent, adamantly principled adventurer. He leads a band of like-minded men and women on adventures through exotic lands.
I think I'm giving away a bit about where my writing comes from …
I can't remember which hero was my very first book crush but an early one was Marcus Flavius Aquila from Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth. I must have been about thirteen years old. I fell in love with the whole book, with the history and the adventure and the way in which Rosemary Sutcliff created such a vivid picture of Roman Britain. Marcus was quite young in the story, in his early twenties, I think, but he had been a soldier and been injured and it felt as though his experiences had give him an edge. He was resourceful and courageous and I totally identified with his determination to restore the honour his family had lost when his father's legion had disappeared without a trace. I think the book and Marcus' character were very influential on me as a writer. I love the idea of a strong hero who rights wrongs and I also enjoy reading and writing the self-contained loner type of hero who discovers that developing emotional bonds with others can be hugely rewarding.
I loved some of the heroes other have mentioned, too — I thought the Scarlet Pimpernel was wonderful, but I hated the way Marguerite treated him and the meek way he took it so he was never a crush. I loved Marcus from Eagle of the Ninth, too, but I read him when I was twelve and was already taken by then. *g* Because when I was eleven I discovered Heyer and had fallen head over heels in love with Damerel. First it was Vidal (Devil's Cub) who was underneath all the bad
behavior, honorable and and then it was Damerel (Venetia) another bad-boy with a self-destructive streak of honor, and a wonderful sense of humor, and then it was Hugo (The Unknown Ajax) who was big and quietly self-confident and who had the wickedest sense of humor. And then it was Damerel again, because, well, he's Damerel.
My crush on Heyeroes has remained strong, even though I'm very susceptible to other book hero crushes, and I know they have influenced me hugely in my choice of heroes in my own writing. I say "choice" but it never feels like I "choose" — the heroes mostly just arrive on the page, and I have to deal with them. Though I'm not complaining — getting to know a hero is always fun. And a sense of humor, or at least the ability to see the ridiculous in life, is often a feature, as well as a deep streak of honor.
Cara Elliott/Andrea Pickens:
I dragged my pen in responding to this question, which was delightful in one sense because I had a sneak preview of all the other Wenchly responses, and got to smile and swoon over the reminders of wonderful “first love” heroes. Like Pat, I fell early and hard for Mr. Darcy, like Jo, I adored Percy, and like Anne I had serial crushes on a number Heyer’s heroes. But the down side was—all those marvelous men were already taken, so I needed to come up with yet another swoon-worthy man. (Yes, I know—it’s hard work, thinking about heroes!) Well, that didn’t take long . . . in my early teens I discovered Mary Stewart, and Max Gale, the hero in This Rough Magic, quickly had my heart doing little flop-flops. Handsome, moody, impossibly arrogant . . . like Lucy, I was annoyed yet fascinated by him and vicariously enjoyed crossed verbal swords with him, determined to win his regard. That he was fiercely kind and loyal beneath his prickly reserve, and a tough, capable hero as well as a sensitive artist had me heaving fluttery sighs for years.
My earliest hero crushes were Superman and Robin Hood — the Superman of the comics, with his dazzling blue eyes and black hair, his muscled strength and his vulnerable side. I read every Robin Hood tale I could find — his loyalty, sense of honor, rebellious courage and sense of humor probably influenced the medieval novels I would later write. When I read Little Women, I adored, as Jo March did, Professor Bhaer—gruff, unkempt, shy, a quiet bull of a man who was intelligent and so kind.
And then, like Andrea, I discovered Mary Stewart. My crush on Mark Langley in The Moonspinners had staying power. The movie helped, I must say—my adolescent heart fell with a thud for Peter McEnery’s Mark—but Stewart’s Mark added more layers to the developing profile of my favorite hero—intelligent, kind, naturally sexy, complicated but understated, and capable of stepping back to let the heroine fend for herself. Blend Mark Langley with Robin Hood, add a touch of Superman and Professor Bhaer, and those components are found in some of the heroes I've written–quiet but powerful, loyal yet rebellious, complex, wry, kind, and often with deep, dark secrets.
Tell us about your first book crush – what appealed to you then, and have you searched for him in every book since?