Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Searching for the Alpha Hero

We romance authors hear it all the time: "Readers want strong alpha heroes! Make your hero braver, stronger, larger than life!" I used to think that the AM only existed in literature until I started researching the early Britons and Vikings and realized that the Alpha is alive and well throughout our past.

Some famous Alphas come to mind: Alexander the Great. Attila the Hun. King Arthur (ok, I threw that one in as a nod to hunky Clive Owen's turn in the movie!). Napoleon, and his nemesis, the Duke of Wellington. Edward, the Black Prince and any one of the Knights Templar. Many Alphas rose up during turbulent times to become great leaders or warriors. Some, like William Wallace, fought for freedom. Others, like Eric the Red and his son, Leif Ericsson, discovered continents and established a Norse presence over much of Europe and Russia. Royal Alphas abound. England's Henry V rode into battle with a bare head so his enemies would know who he was. Genghis Khan conquered many lands to unite what is now Mongolia.

The Vikings wrote the book on Alpha Male lore. Like many ancient groups, they believed their death was foretold, so it made no difference if one stayed home to watch the farm or decided to go "a-Vikinging." If it was your day to die, it hardly mattered if you were plowing or plundering. That explained their fearsome, ferocious reputation among their enemies. Courage in the face of death was treated as something natural. To fear death was against the norm.

Not to be outdone by its Norse neighbors, America has its own share of colorful Alphas. Wyatt Earp and his legendary brothers. Davy Crockett and Colonel Travis of Alamo notoriety. Great presidents, like Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt (who says you have to look like Hugh Jackman to be an Alpha?). Geronimo and Sitting Bull and other Native American leaders made their mark on the American West. Many other men qualify, but these are just a few to set you on your own path of discovery.

Sometimes, you don't have to crack open a history book or google a name. We have Alphas in our own lives. My own dh, Walter, epitomizes (to me, at least) a "man's man" - a true Alpha. He left high school in the 70s to enlist with the Marine Corps and went to Vietnam. He has always owned his own business and gets out of bed at 5am, even on weekends. He's often worked more than 70 hrs a week running his own construction business, urging on his younger, healthier employees who are worn out. He is a natural leader, overcoming a troubled childhood and reckless youth to become the man he is today. All of us have a father, husband, brother, uncle, grandpa, etc. who can fit the profile of an Alpha. A hero doesn't have to create an empire of millions or lead soldiers into battle to be an Alpha.

When I write my own heroes, I usually imagine certain traits to round out the character so he's not a cookie cutter image of someone else's idea of what a strong hero is. But if we just look at real men in real times, we can put together a profile of what an AM looked like. Strong, whether physically, mentally, or both; independent; braver than most men of his time; a natural leader; often a warrior, whether in the boardroom or battlefield; and just that special something - a touch of power and charisma. Put them all together and you have a hero to be reckoned with.