The Hypocrisy of Heroism

Since I was a kid, I’ve always struggled with imagination. And it’s only gotten worse now that I’m older. I’m simply too cerebral, and I find myself contemplating the feasibility and logistics of any fantasy I manage to cook up in my head.

I’ve been so serious my entire life that to this day, I remember a creative writing assignment from the 5th grade, the basis of which was just making up a story of our own choosing.

I struggled, and I struggled, badly.

Whether or not the arbitrary credibility of such an assignment could even establish precedence for it to count as a legitimate grade or not was irrelevant at that moment, because I struggled so badly that, shockingly, despite being the straight-A student I was, I passed the assignment by the skin of my teeth.

However, I still remember listening to the story handpicked by my teacher, a story by my wildly imaginative friend Nymiah. At the time, to my adolescent mind, it had a poetic prowess to it that flowed elegantly despite the crass humor, invading aliens and impromptu potty pains. I remember how the whole class laughed for the entire reading as I sat there riveted—jealous, but riveted, nonetheless—fascinated at how someone could bring something so intangible, so absurdly illogical to life, despite the limitations of reality.

Needless to say, it’s no wonder that fiction continues to be my favorite genre. I truly can’t stomach nonfiction despite my age, so I still re-read my favorite childhood author Rick Riordan incessantly. From Percy Jackson to the Kane siblings, I re-read all of their stories every year like it’s the first time, always excited to re-explore the delightful world of Greek and Egyptian mythology.

Recently, this culminated in the redirection of my attention to one of his newer series that takes place in the same Greek mythology-based world of Percy Jackson, but from the perspective of a now ‘grounded’ god, Apollo, son of Zeus, who is being punished for standing against the gods in the series that precedes his.

And here begins my problem.
In one of the most recent novels in the series, readers are re-introduced to Jason Grace, one of the heroes of Olympus from the eponymous series that precedes Apollo’s story. The whole reason Apollo is grounded and stripped of his full powers is because he stood against his father and the other Olympian gods in the Heroes of Olympus series, in which Jason was one of the heroes that helped re-instate the power of the gods.

Long story short, and without delving into further unnecessary exposition—

Jason dies.

And that’s why I have a problem.

Because Jason also had a chance to prevent his death.

So if I could bridge the gap between reality and fantasy, like my old friend Nymiah once did all those years ago, I would use my fleeting opportunity to ask Jason why he’d allow himself to die!

Not only did Jason fulfill the oracle Sybil’s prophecy of him dying at the hands of Caligula, one of Apollo’s main adversaries, but at his ex-girlfriend’s suggestion to revive him with the Doors of Death, which were previously used to help save the gods of Olympus, his friends ultimately dismiss the idea because—shocker—Jason wouldn’t have wanted to cheat death like that.

Seriously?

After everything Jason went through to save the world, I think it more than warrants him being able to cheat death. The good-guy-with-the-moral-high ground trope is extremely tired.

The moral implications of heroism don’t make sense to me. If they’re based on character, doesn’t that immediately translate to merit? Even in the mythology that Jason’s world revolves around, you do good, and the gods bless you and you receive eternal bliss in the plains of Elysium in the afterlife. If this same principle is perennial within this realm of mythos, how does it not translate to this situation? Jason deserved better, and he could’ve gotten it as well, so why would he reject the possibility?

Why would you let yourself die, Jason?

Although Riordan has already explained in his works that the lives of demigods like Jason have a 10% survival rate, it’s the principle of the matter, because Jason’s story is not an isolated incident, especially since the mythology it evolves from was formulated due to human desires to explain the unexplainable. It’s this recurring trend displayed in writing that re-aligns heroism with this incessant need to be a loser, this almost contradictory sort of cognitive dissonance in literature.

And why is that?

It goes beyond the perennial questioning of why good things happen to bad people, but why the possibility of creating heroic characters in writing who dabble in the dark arts every once in a while, and still preserve their humanity is seemingly taboo.

Why are the characters that we label heroes always the ones who, despite being the most deserving, never allow themselves the seemingly hedonistic pleasure of selfishness, if just for a moment, of that glorious feeling of deciding that they deserve to have just a little more than the crook next to them? Why would this tip their cache so far in the negatives, that they can no longer be called heroes? Why is it so impossible to believe that we could have the self-control necessary to prevent ourselves from becoming the things we hate? Or are we telling ourselves that we as people are too flawed, too monstrous in our greed, to ever grasp the concept of self-control?

While I do not condone strictly doing good things to offset the bad things we chose to do later, I also don’t believe that every bad thing we’ve been warned against or every value with a negative connotation has an irreversible impact that damages us for all time, that prevents us from being the heroes of our own stories. Because we can be good people who do deserve good things and choose to have them when the opportunity presents itself.

Jason should have saved himself.

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