The Warrior Poet

Susan Sarah here…

A while ago I mentioned the Warrior Poet, a type of hero found in romance and other fiction, as well as in drama, movies, tv. Several years ago, Mary Jo and I, along with Eileen Charbonneau, another writer friend, gave a workshop panel that explored the “Warrior Poet” –as we three decided to call him. So this little blog essay presents workshop notes (and so may seem to drone on and on, especially if you’ve had a full conference lunch *g*). Ours was a multi-media presentation using images, music, chocolate, and gift baskets. I can manage a couple of pictures here, but you’ll have to fetch your own chocolate. Sit back in your folding chairs and enjoy!

Watts_galahad  The term “Warrior Poet” comes from an archetypal hero found in ancient Irish society and literature. Traditionally the Fianna, the elite warrior heroes of Irish legend, were trained as both warriors and poets; think Finn MacCool (Fionn MacCumhaill) and his posse.
The term Alpha hero doesn’t quite explain this guy, nor does Beta hero. But "Warrior Poet" defines the spectrum of his qualities. We also call him the M&M hero -– he’s crusty on the outside, with a hard shell that just won’t melt…but delicious, rich, and soft on the inside. *  Beneath that hardened outer emotional shell, that invulnerability and restrained emotion, the WP (or the M&M) can be soft-hearted with a deep capacity to love. That’s tremendous romance hero potential, and it’s up to the heroine (and the writer) to bring that out in him.
His innate capacity for love is part and parcel of the WP from the start, and it’s an element of his background. WPs are well loved early on, if not by Mom and Dad, then by a nurse, a guardian, a schoolmaster, someone who nurtured and protected him, even if they left his life after that foundation was created. The clay began to take shape, and then halted that, changed that status. The variations on this theme are endless.

The circumstances of his life, his backstory, are often tragic. Somehow life throws him off balance. He learns to suppress and hide a loving nature behind a barrier of genuine–and often intimidating or threatening–strength or power. Often he has developed that shell, whether it’s physical prowess, sharp intelligence, some hard emotional shell, at a price.

On the outside, this guy might be a titled, wealthy peer, or a former soldier, an artist, a knight, a former monk, a mysterious wizard, and so on. Again the possibilities of outer occupation are endless. But something in the WP craves expression, so he might be drawn to healing, to art, to writing, to music, to secret charitable works, small anonymous kindnesses, and so on.

Some examples in my own writing are: a king’s elite knight with the gift of hands-on healing; a tough brigand who plays fiddle and secretly wants to be a farmer; a blacksmith bitterly damaged by life and war, yet when he smiths a sword he frees himself to be a true artist. WPs have a balance, or an imbalance, of contrasting elements. There is strong Yin-Yang in their nature. A potential for complexity, and completeness, in a Warrior Poet hero is what can make him fascinating to write, and hopefully to read.

Hughes_rescue The WP has a long tradition. Odysseus, for example, was a hero who cared about others, who was willing to sacrifice, who was brave, kind, and faithful. In the medieval era, the WP was the chivalric knight, a powerful literary and artistic figure. Medieval audiences loved fictional heroes who surpassed human deeds, slayed monsters, defeated armies singlehandedly. The ideal of the hero, the perfect knight, was so important that they idolized medieval supermen in epic tales told by firesides or written in manuscripts. The Arthurian cycle is the most famous of those, and the Arthurian WP list is very long–Arthur, Lancelot, Gawain, Galahad, Tristan.  There were others too, such as Saint George, Huon de Bordeaux, Bevis of Hampton, Havelock the Dane, Roland, all the superheroes and movie stars of their day. They epitomized the qualities of chivalry, which are in part the roots of the Warrior Poet, but our M&M guy is more complex, more challenging, than simply chivalrous and dedicated to the welfare of others.

In medieval epics, the female characters swoon over these guys. The heroines of early romances are often shadowy figures, not as developed as the male heroes, but it is the women who generate in these heroes the desire to attain the finest heroic qualities. Otherwise, who knows what these guys might have been doing…swilling ale and chopping dragons, perhaps.

In modern historical romances, a Warrior Poet hero may be a tough warrior, a hardened rake, or a bitter duke, but he is never intentionally cruel, nor does he act selfishly early on, only to change his tune once he falls in love.  Love does not transform the WP utterly, as it may do for the Alpha hero. Loving again heals the Warrior Poet–but without it he can function on his own, thank you, and has always done so.

Waterhouse_belledamesansmerci A WP has a burden from the past, a trauma or sadness, but he copes. He protects and sometimes retreats from his vulnerable side. He may be out of balance but he always compensates. He may feel an emptiness, a waiting for the candle to flare. There is something poignant about this guy, and the heroine ferrets out his emotional potential. Until he meets her, he may keep it under wraps.

The heroine fascinates him, enrages him, frustrates him, throws him even further out of balance at first. In this teetering state, he must right himself again. He lands again with more stability than before. The heroine is key to that. But the WP is complete on his own. He does not need the heroine to carry on – he does fine. But he is a better man with her than without her, and he soon realizes that.

The WP heroine is as strong as the WP, though in different ways.  She has feminine qualities, kindness, caring for others, a gentleness, but she has real strength too, and courage.  She is a heroic character in her own right, and out of balance herself. The hero sets her pendulum swinging, and both characters find their comfort levels challenged.  Meeting the other sets off a chain reaction. They are catalysts for each other to discover what they are holding back. “Love is the burning point,” as Joseph Campbell once said. In that crucible, the Warrior Poet and his heroine admix and find new strengths, new capabilities, and emerge more whole. Easa125meetingontheturretstairsposters_1

The Warrior Poet usually has restrained emotions and great physical and mental strength. His stubbornness, independence, control can make him both compelling and irritating to the heroine. She senses the depth in this guy, sees the potential, and knocks hard into that outer shell. But she, unlike others, gets under it.

Vocation is another essential aspect of the Warrior Poet. He is not an idle rich guy, for example. He is driven by some focus and passion. Whether he is a knight, lord, soldier, banker, lawyer, whatever, his life will have more than one focus, though he may have dreams that he has not yet acted upon, or that he has abandoned.

When creating a Warrior Poet as a fictional hero, one of the pitfalls is wimpiness.  He might be an artist, a monk, a sick man, a hands-on healer, a musician, a poet. The WP has a sensitive side, but the trick is to avoid too much sensitivity–it’s just boring. In his best form, he is an agile balance of contrasts. Warrior Poets have a dual nature that creates tension. They are fierce warriors of some kind – and they are poets, artists, thinkers, dreamers, healers, givers.
Think crunchy crust – and gooey chocolately inside.

And this strong/gentle, aggressive/compassionate play of opposites can be very, very sexy. In some ways there’s nothing so sexy as a man who can be fierce and capable of violence, yet occasionally, spontaneously demonstrates great, even surprising, gentleness. He may unexpectedly nurture the heroine.

The WP himself needs healing, needs peace, for he may be too fierce, too strong, this out of balance theme. A contrast of opposites permeate stories that feature Warrior Poet heroes. The WP and his heroine may each be incomplete, wounded, with strength and gentleness already present. The relationship is a sparring match, a test of wills, a clash of opposites–and then becomes a sensual, sexual, even spiritual exploration and union of two complementary parts to achieve a whole.

Trisianisoldaduncanl_3 By the end of the story, the WP hero can more freely express his gentler side, his compassion. Often this is what differentiates him from a true Alpha hero. The Alpha may transform to something new – the Warrior Poet already had it there inside of him. No one has to teach him anything. He needs to feel free to express his own innate qualities. Healing of some kind is often a crucial element in these stories. The WP and his heroine both heal, and come together as an integral whole.

In some ways, the Warrior Poet is the most realistic of heroes, the most balanced, the most attainable and familiar sort of hero. He is everywhere, on the news every day, and living in our own homes. He has strength and gentleness, courage and hesitancy, power and tenderness. He’s fascinating, and he can live without his heroine: and therein lies a great challenge and journey for her, and the writer, and the reader too.

He’s my favorite sort of hero, and besides — he’s like candy-covered chocolate, tempting to crack that outer crust to find what’s most irresistible about him.

So … there are the notes for my part of our workshop (missing are the examples from books, that’s in another set of notes!). What examples come to mind of Warrior Poet and M&M heroes in novels that you’ve read (or movies, tv, etc.) — ? 

Stealing_sophie3 ~Susan Sarah

Stealing Sophie in its full cover glory. Connor MacPherson is a true M&M hero.  🙂

*(btw, that’s a trademarked M&M! We loooooove M&Ms!)

 

20 thoughts on “The Warrior Poet”

  1. Oh, yummmmm, Warrior Poets! I’d forgotten just how compelling the archetype is until rereading your notes. Though I was part of the workshop, Susan sarah and Eileen Charbonneau were the true heart of the concept–mostly I threw chocolate covered kisses into the audience to focus attention. 🙂
    This is by far my favorite type of hero–maybe a little wounded, but not a mindless Alpha.
    Incidentally, it was Susan Sarah who came up with the title for my first contemporary romance. THE BURNING POINT was her suggestion, from the Joseph Campbell quote above.
    Warrior poets, yessss….
    Mary Jo, happily contemplating

    Reply
  2. Oh, yummmmm, Warrior Poets! I’d forgotten just how compelling the archetype is until rereading your notes. Though I was part of the workshop, Susan sarah and Eileen Charbonneau were the true heart of the concept–mostly I threw chocolate covered kisses into the audience to focus attention. 🙂
    This is by far my favorite type of hero–maybe a little wounded, but not a mindless Alpha.
    Incidentally, it was Susan Sarah who came up with the title for my first contemporary romance. THE BURNING POINT was her suggestion, from the Joseph Campbell quote above.
    Warrior poets, yessss….
    Mary Jo, happily contemplating

    Reply
  3. Oh, yummmmm, Warrior Poets! I’d forgotten just how compelling the archetype is until rereading your notes. Though I was part of the workshop, Susan sarah and Eileen Charbonneau were the true heart of the concept–mostly I threw chocolate covered kisses into the audience to focus attention. 🙂
    This is by far my favorite type of hero–maybe a little wounded, but not a mindless Alpha.
    Incidentally, it was Susan Sarah who came up with the title for my first contemporary romance. THE BURNING POINT was her suggestion, from the Joseph Campbell quote above.
    Warrior poets, yessss….
    Mary Jo, happily contemplating

    Reply
  4. Oh, yummmmm, Warrior Poets! I’d forgotten just how compelling the archetype is until rereading your notes. Though I was part of the workshop, Susan sarah and Eileen Charbonneau were the true heart of the concept–mostly I threw chocolate covered kisses into the audience to focus attention. 🙂
    This is by far my favorite type of hero–maybe a little wounded, but not a mindless Alpha.
    Incidentally, it was Susan Sarah who came up with the title for my first contemporary romance. THE BURNING POINT was her suggestion, from the Joseph Campbell quote above.
    Warrior poets, yessss….
    Mary Jo, happily contemplating

    Reply
  5. I’ve been trying to think of warrior poet examples all day. I think because of the use of the word warrior, the first ones I came up with were all in the military or vets.
    The first one was a Catherine Mann hero in an IM – Tag – a loadmaster seargant who reads shakespeare to relax. Then, I thought of all the veteran Carla Kelly heroes. Then, Aiden Bedwyn.
    How about the duke in MJP’s a perfect rose – the one who thought he was dying and fell for the actress?
    How about the hero in Kinsale’s the shadow and the star?
    Or the conscientious objector in Lorraine Heath’s Always to Remember?
    It may be that my favorite hero type is the warrior poet as well. Thinking of them became easier as the day went on.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  6. I’ve been trying to think of warrior poet examples all day. I think because of the use of the word warrior, the first ones I came up with were all in the military or vets.
    The first one was a Catherine Mann hero in an IM – Tag – a loadmaster seargant who reads shakespeare to relax. Then, I thought of all the veteran Carla Kelly heroes. Then, Aiden Bedwyn.
    How about the duke in MJP’s a perfect rose – the one who thought he was dying and fell for the actress?
    How about the hero in Kinsale’s the shadow and the star?
    Or the conscientious objector in Lorraine Heath’s Always to Remember?
    It may be that my favorite hero type is the warrior poet as well. Thinking of them became easier as the day went on.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  7. I’ve been trying to think of warrior poet examples all day. I think because of the use of the word warrior, the first ones I came up with were all in the military or vets.
    The first one was a Catherine Mann hero in an IM – Tag – a loadmaster seargant who reads shakespeare to relax. Then, I thought of all the veteran Carla Kelly heroes. Then, Aiden Bedwyn.
    How about the duke in MJP’s a perfect rose – the one who thought he was dying and fell for the actress?
    How about the hero in Kinsale’s the shadow and the star?
    Or the conscientious objector in Lorraine Heath’s Always to Remember?
    It may be that my favorite hero type is the warrior poet as well. Thinking of them became easier as the day went on.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  8. I’ve been trying to think of warrior poet examples all day. I think because of the use of the word warrior, the first ones I came up with were all in the military or vets.
    The first one was a Catherine Mann hero in an IM – Tag – a loadmaster seargant who reads shakespeare to relax. Then, I thought of all the veteran Carla Kelly heroes. Then, Aiden Bedwyn.
    How about the duke in MJP’s a perfect rose – the one who thought he was dying and fell for the actress?
    How about the hero in Kinsale’s the shadow and the star?
    Or the conscientious objector in Lorraine Heath’s Always to Remember?
    It may be that my favorite hero type is the warrior poet as well. Thinking of them became easier as the day went on.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  9. Thank you Susan/Sara for your post on Warrior Poets. And the images were great!
    Warrior Poets….
    How about Captain Picard? Would he meet muster? Or would Worf be a better candidate (after his son Alexander showed up)? Definitely the hero in THE SWORD MAIDEN was a WP and possibly Duncan in KOF.
    I’m with MaryK… I need/want some examples so I visualize. Pleeeaaassseee.
    –the littlest wenchling

    Reply
  10. Thank you Susan/Sara for your post on Warrior Poets. And the images were great!
    Warrior Poets….
    How about Captain Picard? Would he meet muster? Or would Worf be a better candidate (after his son Alexander showed up)? Definitely the hero in THE SWORD MAIDEN was a WP and possibly Duncan in KOF.
    I’m with MaryK… I need/want some examples so I visualize. Pleeeaaassseee.
    –the littlest wenchling

    Reply
  11. Thank you Susan/Sara for your post on Warrior Poets. And the images were great!
    Warrior Poets….
    How about Captain Picard? Would he meet muster? Or would Worf be a better candidate (after his son Alexander showed up)? Definitely the hero in THE SWORD MAIDEN was a WP and possibly Duncan in KOF.
    I’m with MaryK… I need/want some examples so I visualize. Pleeeaaassseee.
    –the littlest wenchling

    Reply
  12. Thank you Susan/Sara for your post on Warrior Poets. And the images were great!
    Warrior Poets….
    How about Captain Picard? Would he meet muster? Or would Worf be a better candidate (after his son Alexander showed up)? Definitely the hero in THE SWORD MAIDEN was a WP and possibly Duncan in KOF.
    I’m with MaryK… I need/want some examples so I visualize. Pleeeaaassseee.
    –the littlest wenchling

    Reply

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