Reluctant hero

For the 1951 film, see Reluctant Heroes.

The reluctant hero is a heroic archetype found in fiction. A summary of the archetype:

"A reluctant hero is a tarnished or ordinary man with several faults or a troubled past, and he is pulled reluctantly into the story, or into heroic acts. During the story, he rises to the occasion, sometimes even vanquishing a mighty foe, sometimes avenging a wrong. But he questions whether he's cut out for the hero business. His doubts, misgivings, and mistakes add a satisfying layer of tension to a story".[1]

Another commentator notes, with respect to game design:

The wonderful aspect of a reluctant hero is that he or she doesn't have to adhere to any stereotype, such as being incredibly strong or a trained kung-fu master. These can be average guys off the street; indeed, it's often their simple, homespun down-to-earth thinking that saves the day. This ordinariness is an important factor in allowing the audience to understand and bond with the hero.[2]

The reluctant hero is typically portrayed either as an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances which require him to rise to heroism, or as a person with extraordinary abilities who nonetheless evinces a desire to avoid using those abilities for the benefit of others. In either case, the reluctant hero does not initially seek adventure or the opportunity to do good, and their apparent selfishness may draw them into the category of antiheroes. The reluctant hero differs from the antihero in that the story arc of the former inevitably results in their becoming a true hero.

In many stories, the reluctant hero is portrayed as having a period of doubt after his initial foray into heroism. This may be brought about by the negative consequences of his own heroic actions, or by the achievement of some position of personal safety - leaving the audience to wonder whether he will return to heroism at the moment when he is needed the most.


In fiction

In real-life


  1. Jessica Morrell, Bullies, Bastards And Bitches: How To Write The Bad Guys Of Fiction (2008), p. 62, ISBN 1582974845.
  2. Leo Hartas, The Art of Game Characters (2005), p. 82, ISBN 0060724315.
  3. 1 2 Segal, Robert A. (2000). Hero Myths: A Reader. Blackwell Publishers. p. 168. ISBN 9780631215141.
  4. Andrew J. Rausch, The Greatest War Films of All Time: A Quiz Book (2004), p. 217, ISBN 0806524707.
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