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Heroes and Anti-heroes

What makes a hero? Five of Canada's top writers share their stories inspired by the theme of this year's CBC Massey Lectures by Margaret MacMillan. From the ugly underbelly of our deification of celebrity to the beautiful simplicity of small, often overlooked acts of heroism.
Circa 1750, The Greek hero Hercules cuts off the nine heads of the Hydra, a monster from the marshes of Lerna in Greece, while his friend Iolaus sears the stumps, to stop two heads growing back in place of the missing one (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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What makes a hero? Five of Canada's top writers share their stories inspired by the theme of this year's CBC Massey Lectures by Margaret MacMillan. From the ugly underbelly of our deification of celebrity to the beautiful simplicity of small, often overlooked acts of heroism. 


We love our heroes -- those super-human people who change our lives, or even change the course of history. But there's more to it than that. A hero to one may be an enemy to another. And sometimes we hoist our heroes so high up that we lose sight of their human flaws. 

Every year the Canada Council for the Arts and CBC Books commission five of our country's top writers to write something inspired from the latest CBC Massey Lectures. In 2015, the theme is 'heroes and anti-heroes.' The writers were given free reign to interpret the theme however they saw fit. 

Left to right: Kate Pullinger, Jordan Tannahill, Katherena Vermette, Raziel Reid, and Paul Yee.


Guests (in order of appearance):

"A hero is someone who makes the world better in some big or small way." 

Katherena Vermette
Katherena finds heroes among those who are often overlooked.Read her poem pieces of moon. Katherena won the Governor General's Award in 2013 for her collection of poems, North End Love Songs. 


 

"A hero is someone who disappoints you."

Raziel Reid  
Raziel doesn't believe in heroes. He thinks we put too much stock in their perfection. Read his short story The Youngest Most Sacred Monster.  Raziel Reid won the Governor General's Award in 2014 for his young adult novel When Everything Feels Like the Movies.

 

"A hero is someone who takes risks, goes into the unknown."

Paul Yee 
Paul likes heroes who are complicated. In his short story, he revisits the history of the Chinese labourers who built the Canadian Pacific Railway. Read Each Era Has Heroes. Paul Yee won the Governor General's Award for his children's book Ghost Train.


 

"I recast Edith in this feminist retelling of the story as a hero and a foil for all of us."

Jordan Tannahill
Jordan finds heroism in one of the more seemingly weak characters in the Book of Genesis. Read Jordan's retelling of the story of Lot's Wife. Jordan won the Governor General's Award in 2014 for his drama, Age of Minority:Three Solo Plays.

 

"A hero is someone who inspires you to think hard about what you want to do with your life."

Kate Pullinger  
Kate digs into her family's history to bring a charismatic and troubled uncle to life. Read her story, The Trees. Kate won the Governor General's Award in 2009 for her novel The Mistress of Nothing

 

Related website:

Heroes and Antiheroes: an original CBC Books literary series

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