Heroism, As Seen in Aang
Gone are the Greeks clad in olive and bronze, but their literary legacy still survives in popular culture. Ancient concepts of heroism are discernible in Michael Dante Dimartino and Bryan Ronietsko’s Avatar: the Last Airbender. Aang’s upbringing, guides and progression toward his task follow the template of classical folklore.
An element of strangeness and obscurity surrounds Aang even in his early years. He grows under secluded, sheltered and unusual circumstances. Little is known about his past due to his low profile; he is raised by the monks, a nomadic, elusive people who reside in a floating air temple. His existence is kept secret to protect him. Likewise, Aang is sheltered from his destiny, unaware of his powers as the Avatar. His humble beginnings are key to his development as a hero. Lastly, despite the monks’ efforts to conceal him, Aang is different from the others. A mass genocide wipes out the Air Nomads while he spends the next century of his youth frozen in an iceberg under the sea. The absurdity of his situation marks him a hero even before he becomes one. Aang’s discrete, anonymous and abnormal childhood is a feature adapted from Greek mythology.
A hero’s humanity is seen in his weaknesses; all heroes require helpers in their greatest time of need. The assistance of Appa, Zuko and Katara is pivotal in Aang’s journey. Firstly, Aang owes much to his sky bison, Appa. Appa transports Aang around the world—quite literally, Appa is critical to Aang’s arrival at his final destination. Similarly, Zuko contributes to Aang’s success by teaching Aang firebending. Only with Zuko’s training could Aang defeat the Fire Lord. Lastly, Katara offers Aang guidance and support, as expressed most vividly in the opening lines, “But I believe Aang can save the world.” All heroes have a phase of doubt or despair; Katara was there for Aang through his. Remnants of Greek ideals are preserved in Appa, Zuko and Katara’s presence as helpers...
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