Going hand in hand with forgiveness, Charms of the Feykin touches on the breaking of a hero’s spirit. Betrayal, loss, helplessness, mistakes, and the whole buffet can build up to make even the most honorable champion snap. This can be countered or minimized by a strong bond between heroes, but there will still be some damage. Physical wounds can heal, but the mental and spiritual ones can linger forever. Even in reality, I’m left to wonder how you recover from such a blow.
Something that I’ve thought about in regards to heroes is that they are more emotionally fragile than villains. We always point out how the bad guys are harboring insecurities, which are kept behind arrogance and cruelty. Yet, the good guys have a similar issue that leaves them more vulnerable. If something happens or they stray from their path then they are wracked with guilt. This goes back to the forgiveness aspect because they need that to recover their heroic spirit. One of the most common fates for a hero is falling from grace and failing. We, as a species, love to see the good guys fall, but not always rise back to their glory. Heck, mythology is filled with heroes dying at the end of their journey.
The key to a hero’s recovery, at least to me, is giving them hope. This could be the promise of a better future regardless of their damage or that they can find redemption. This is where those close bonds can come in useful. For a character that has been isolated, there might not be much to help them recover. They would have to find the strength to carry on and heal within themselves, which can lead to more harm or a false recovery. Imagine a hero who has caused the destruction of a town by accident. They are doubting their methods and role as a hero, but get themselves to believe that it was for the greater good in defeating evil. This means you now have a hero who may do worse because the ends now justify whatever means. Hope from outside sources can undo this fragility of heroism and bring one back from the edge.
I can only think of one big tip if you’re going to be breaking one of your heroes. Make sure the mistake or whatever causes the breakage is logical. If a hero is doing something unheroic then you need to explain why prior to the event. Establish that the action is either a trick, an accident, or done on purpose in response to something. Maybe this is the final act of a hero pushed to his limits and he’s had it with letting his enemies live. That does reduce the guilt in a way, but it can start him toward being a villain or quitting out of bitterness. I will admit that part of this depends on the readers accepting the reason for the event. That’s always the sticking point.
So, can you think of a time when a hero was broken? (Why do I think Star Wars and Lord of the Rings will be mentioned a few times?)