Folk hero

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A folk hero or national hero is a type of hero–real, fictional or mythological–with the sole salient characteristic being the imprinting of his or her name, personality and deeds in the popular consciousness of a people. This presence in the popular consciousness is evidenced by its historical frequency in folk songs, folk tales and other folklore; and its modern trope status in literature, art and films.

Joan of Arc depicted on horseback in an illustration from a 1505 manuscript. The martyr and saint Joan of Arc is a national hero in France
Giuseppe Garibaldi, one of Italy's "fathers of the fatherland"
Davy Crockett, hero of the Alamo
Statue of Pier Gerlofs Donia, a Frisian folk hero

Although some folk heroes are historical public figures, many are not. The lives of folk heroes are generally fictional, their characteristics and deeds often exaggerated to mythic proportions.

The folk hero often begins life as a normal person, but is transformed into someone extraordinary by significant life events, often in response to social injustice, and sometimes in response to natural disasters.

One major category of folk hero is the defender of the common people against the oppression or corruption of the established power structure. Members of this category of folk hero often, but not necessarily, live outside the law in some way.

Historically documented folk heroes[edit]

Possibly apocryphal folk heroes[edit]

Folk heroes known to be fictional[edit]

  • Beowulf - Scandinavia, legendary Geatish hero later turned king
  • Pecos Bill - United States, giant cowboy who "tamed the Wild West"
  • Paul Bunyan - United States, giant lumberjack of the North Woods
  • Febold Feboldson - United States, farmer who could fight a drought
  • Martín Fierro - Argentina, hero of the eponymous poem by Jose Hernandez
  • Koba - Georgia, folk hero whose legend bears a resemblance to Robin Hood
  • Joe Magarac - United States, steelworker made of steel
  • Juan Bobo - Puerto Rico, trickster folk hero
  • Alfred Bulltop Stormalong - United States, immense sailor whose ship was so big it scraped the moon
  • Chen Zhen - China, martial artist who fought against Japanese aggression in pre-World War II China
  • Momotarō - Japan, legendary figure from the Edo period who defeated a band of ogres
  • Väinämöinen - Described as an old and wise man with potent magical powers.

Real people with fictionalised lives[edit]

  • El Santo - Real life Mexican wrestler, with heavy fictionalised adventures in movies and comic books

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Seal, 2001. Page 6.
  2. ^ Seal, 2001. Page 34.
  3. ^ Seal, 2001. Page 49.
  4. ^ Seal, 2001. Page 50.
  5. ^ Seal, 2001. Page 77.
  6. ^ Czesław Robotycki (2003). Cultural Identity and Ethnicity in Central Europe: Proceedings of the International Conference on Ethnic and National Minorities in Central and Eastern Europe, Jagiellonian University, Cracow, May 11-16, 2000. UJ. p. 90. ISBN 978-83-233-1774-6. 
  7. ^ Charlie T. McCormick; Kim Kennedy White (2011). Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music, and Art. ABC-CLIO. p. 809. ISBN 978-1-59884-241-8. 
  8. ^ Seal, 2001. Page 107.
  9. ^ Seal, 2001. Page 125.
  10. ^ Appalachia Appalachian Mountain Club, 1964.
  11. ^ Monahan, Robert. "Jigger Johnson", New Hampshire Profiles magazine, Northeast Publications, Concord, New Hampshire, April, 1957.
  12. ^ Seal, 2001. Page 132.
  13. ^ About Kaluaiko'olau Archived November 27, 2004, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ Danielle S. Sremac (1999). War of Words: Washington Tackles the Yugoslav Conflict. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 35–. ISBN 978-0-275-96609-6. 
  15. ^ Tanya Popovic (1988). Prince Marko: The Hero of South Slavic Epics. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 978-0-8156-2444-8. 
  16. ^ Velma Bourgeois Richmond (17 September 2014). Chivalric Stories as Children's Literature: Edwardian Retellings in Words and Pictures. McFarland. p. 182. ISBN 978-1-4766-1735-0. 
  17. ^ Tanya Popovic (1988). Prince Marko: The Hero of South Slavic Epics. Syracuse University Press. pp. 7–. ISBN 978-0-8156-2444-8. 
  18. ^ Wes Johnson (2007). Balkan Inferno: Betrayal, War and Intervention, 1990-2005. Enigma Books. p. 469. ISBN 978-1-929631-63-6. 

Works cited[edit]

  • Seal, Graham. Encyclopedia of Folk Heroes. ABC-CLIO, 2001.