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Who’s your hero? Of course, the “right” answer is “my mother!” or “my father!” or some historical figure, or a saint. But if you grew up reading books and/or watching movies and television, fictional heroes may have inspired you as much or more. And why not? Sir Philip Sidney famously argued in The Defense of Poesy that imaginative literature could be superior to both philosophy and history at teaching virtue:

Now therein of all sciences—I speak still of human, and according to the human conceit—is our poet the monarch. For he doth not only show the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect into the way as will entice any man to enter into it. Nay, he doth, as if your journey should lie through a fair vineyard, at the very first give you a cluster of grapes, that full of that taste you may long to pass further. He beginneth not with obscure definitions, which must blur the margent with interpretations, and load the memory with doubtfulness. But he cometh to you with words set in delightful proportion, either accompanied with, or prepared for, the well-enchanting skill of music; and with a tale, forsooth, he cometh unto you, with a tale which holdeth children from play, and old men from the chimney-corner, and, pretending no more, doth intend the winning of the mind from wickedness to virtue

Put that in 21st century language by checking out NPR’s In Character series and its

profiles of some influential but imaginary characters — fictional figures who have had a deep and lasting impact on Americans’ lives.

Among the characters: The Lone Ranger, Charlie Brown, Holden Caulfield, Nancy Drew, Virgil Tibbs (the detective played by Sidney Poitier in In the Heat of the Night), and today, my own fictional hero, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who helped a journalist keep things together while she was reporting from Iraq.

More stories of how BtVS influenced various people–some more than others–are archived here.

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