But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man's money dishonestly and no man's insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.
If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.
— Raymond Chandler, from "The Simple Art of Murder"
"Now about Lankhmar. She's been invaded, her walls breached everywhere and desperate fighting is going on in the streets, by a fierce host which out-numbers Lankhamar's inhabitants by fifty to one — and equipped with all modern weapons. Yet you can save the city."
"How?" demanded Fafhrd. Ningauble shrugged. "You're a hero. You should know."
It is an odd thing that the words hero and heroine have in their constant use in connection with literary fiction entirely lost their meaning. A hero now means merely a young man sufficiently decent and reliable to go through a few adventures without hanging himself or taking to drink.
Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
"To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods?"
And they ask, "What is a Hero?"
though the answer's very clear,
He's the one who faces danger
when the darkness hovers near.
He will face the fiercest foe
when another needs his aid,
He will dare to defy Death
even though he is afraid,
He works not just for glory
and he does it not for gain,
But because he knows that others
will be spared a greater pain.
He won't always follow orders,
for he dares to answer, "Why?"
And unless he likes the reason,
he refuses to comply,
He will brave the battle boldly
even though he may not win,
He will face his fate unflinching,
for he is a Paladin.
And they ask "What is a Hero?"
though the answer's evident,
He's the one who faces death
knowing that his life's well spent.
— Quest for Glory II: Trial By Fire
"Then what is magic for?" Prince Lír demanded wildly. "What use is wizardry if it cannot save a unicorn?" He gripped the magician's shoulder hard, to keep from falling.
Schmedrick did not turn his head. With a touch of sad mockery in his voice, he said, "That's what heroes are for."
"I remember when you were young and I used to tell you stories about your father; what was it you'd say to me?"
"Teach me to be a Hero!"
— Walter Beck & The Hero, Fable 3
True Heroism is alike positive and progressive.It sees in right the duty which should dominate and in truth the principle which should prevail.And hence it never falters in the faith that always and everywhere Sin must be repressed and Righteousness exalted.
— John McClellan Holmes
"I have been Roland, Beowulf, Achilles, Gilgamesh. I have been called a hundred names and will be called a thousand more before the world goes dim and cold. I am hero."
— Marathon 2: Durandal
Someone’s looking for a lead
In his duty to a king or to a creed
Protecting what he feels is right
Fights against wrong with his life
—Robert Palmer, Every Kinda' People
"If the lake should disappear, they must find the hole through which the water ran. But it would be useless to try to stop it by any ordinary means. There was but one effectual mode.—The body of a living man could alone stanch the flow. The man must give himself of his own will; and the lake must take his life as it filled. Otherwise the offering would be of no avail. If the nation could not provide one hero, it was time it should perish."
The true secret in being a hero lies in knowing the order of things. The swineherd cannot already be wed to the princess when he embarks on his adventures, nor can the boy knock on the witch's door when she is already away on vacation. The wicked uncle cannot be found out and foiled before he does something wicked. Things must happen when it is time for them to happen. Quests may not simply be abandoned; prophecies may not be left to rot like unpicked fruit; unicorns may go unrescued for a very long time, but not forever. The happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story.