A Return to the Roots: A Hero for Today’s Readers and Times

By Stephen Zimmer


In general, there has been a turn toward anti-heroes within the stories told in today’s speculative fiction, a time where there has been a proliferation of subgenres in the realms of fantasy, science fiction, horror and other primary genres.   Cross-genre fiction has also seen a sharp rise during this time, blending elements of many various genres into unique blends that open some fresh new territory for readers.


All of these developments in genres and kinds of characters are welcome and needed.  They expand the possibilities in storytelling and character development, in addition to encouraging writers to take chances with their fiction.  


Nevertheless, I also see a rising need in today’s fiction for characters like Ragnar Stormbringer or Rayden Valkyrie in an increasingly complex and troubled world.  They are bonafide heroes who dwell within stories that fall into the more primary genres of fantasy, or sword and sorcery, as opposed to some of the current trends in writing today. 


Yet that is precisely why a character like Ragnar Stormbringer has a viable place in speculative fiction at this time.  Hero characters like Ragnar help to fill some growing needs in today’s fiction.  When new trends bring greater participation, voids develop in long-cherished spheres.  Ragnar Stormbringer gets back to the roots of heroic sword and sorcery, and fantasy fiction, but does it in a way that can connect just as strongly with today’s reader as heroic characters within these larger genres did with readers in the past. 


In a world where everything appears relative and many feel an increasing loss of control over their own worlds, a figure who is unapologetic, uncompromising, and strong of will has a definite allure, in my opinion.  A strong hero character calls to the foundational elements within everyone, to unlock the potential in all of us to become the kind of people who can stand our ground, rise to a challenge, and be the kind of individual that friends and families can count on. 


Ragnar is that type of character, through and through.  


This attraction reflects, in many senses, a very primal thing, that reaches all the way back to the earliest phase of human existence. where protectors and leaders stepped forward to make it possible for the first humans to survive within very dangerous worlds. 


In my opinion, the anti-heroes have great appeal today because they often have more complexity to their characters and their actions are more unpredictable.  Ragnar is not an anti-hero, but neither is he without his own blemishes and complexity. 


He is flawed, makes mistakes, and is extremely dangerous, in terms of what he is capable of doing.  He is not predictable in his actions either.


Nonetheless, he is drawn to making choices that result in actions that make him a hero figure.  He does have a code that he holds to, even if rough-edged.    


The reasons are many as to why I am excited about telling his full story, beginning with the stand-alone novella Depths of Night.  Without giving away any significant spoilers, this story has Ragnar engaged in some serious self-examination, and readers will see that he is fully human and capable of looking at himself in a raw, honest light. 


It is a fast-paced, character-driven story, but readers will come away with a strong sense of who Ragnar is and what makes him heroic.  His power comes from determination and will.  He does not have superpowers, nor is he supernatural.  In that sense, readers will be able to relate to him more directly in terms of their own lives and experiences, and because of this I see him as a truly inspirational figure. 

A hero need not be two-dimensional, or bland.  They can have all the depth and varied dimensions of a compelling anti-hero character, while still remaining a genuine hero.    A hero character can struggle with elements that are found in most anti-hero characters, such as being driven out of self-interests, or doing things in a way that threaten moral codes or ethics. 


Ragnar’s temper and primal aspects bring him close to those edges often, and from time to time cross them, but that is part of the struggle of being human to begin with.  It is the overall picture that develops of Ragnar that counts in the long run; and that picture is the portrayal of a powerful hero who calls to the heroic present within all of us.


The challenge to me as a writer is to tell his story in a way that is compelling, engaging, and inspirational in a literary world heavily populated with anti-heroes.  Heroes are timeless, and a return to the roots of fantasy, and sword and sorcery, provides a great foundation to help remind us of the need for them and their continued presence in all genres of literature.


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Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning author and filmmaker based out of Lexington, Ky. His works include the Rayden Valkyrie sword-and-sorcery novels, the Rising Dawn cross-genre saga, Fires in Eden epic fantasy series, the Hellscapes short story collections, the Chronicles of Ave fantasy short story collections, the Harvey and Solomon Tales (steampunk), and the forthcoming Faraway Saga, a young-adult dystopian cross-genre series.

Stephen's visual work includes the feature film Shadows Light, short films such as The Sirens and Swordbearer, and the forthcoming Rayden Valkyrie: Saga of a Lionheart TV pilot.

Stephen is a proud Kentucky Colonel who also enjoys the realms of music, martial arts, good bourbons, and spending time with family.

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After a harrowing end to a long sea journey, the famed northern warrior Ragnar Stormbringer and a force of warriors step ashore in the lands of the Petranni, a tribal people known for their workings in silver and gold. The search for plunder takes a sharp turn when homesteads, villages, and temple sites show signs of being recently abandoned.

When it is discovered that the Petranni have all taken refuge within a massive stronghold, Ragnar and the others soon fall under the shadow of an ancient, deadly adversary. Wielding his legendary war axe  Raven Caller, Ragnar finds his strength tested like never before.


 

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