Source and activity 2

Fairy tale characters: The hero

Illustration of prince
Example of a fairy tale 'hero'.

Most fairy tales feature at least one hero. Heroes can be male or female, rich or poor, children or adults.

This illustration is from 'Little snow white and other fairy stories' from about 1898. Download hero illustration (PDF: 2.09 MB; 1 page).

Challenges a hero might face

The hero is usually faced with a problem which has to be solved. This may involve going on a journey, solving a riddle or puzzle, or undertaking a difficult task or impossible test.

The hero often has to face danger and difficulties, but wins through in the end.

The hero often has to defeat or capture the villain in the story in order to survive.

Sometimes the hero has to rescue someone else who is in trouble or danger, as for example the sister in 'The six swans'. At other times, the hero has to save himself or herself, for instance Hansel and Gretel who manage to escape from the witch who lives in the gingerbread house.

What makes a hero?

The hero is often described as:

  • Good
  • Kind
  • Brave
  • Smart
  • Resourceful.

The hero does what needs to be done, even though it might be difficult or challenging. The hero may be reluctant or fearful about going on a journey or taking on a task, but does it anyway.

The hero doesn't usually have magic powers, but sometimes he or she has access to magic helpers or objects. At other times, the hero has to rely on outwitting his or her enemy.

Suggested activities

  • Read the following stories:
  • Ask the pupils to decide:
    • Who is the hero in the story?
    • What problem does the hero have to solve?
    • How does he or she eventually solve the problem, and what resources do they use?
    • What do the heroes in the stories have in common?
    Literacy and English experiences and outcomes: [ENG 1-19a; ENG 2-19a; LIT 1-16a; LIT 2-16a; ENG 1-17a; ENG 2-17a; LIT 1-09a; LIT 2-09a; LIT 1-07a; LIT 2-07a]
  • Ask the pupils to think of words and images that they associate with the word 'hero'. Can they think or name any modern day heroes? What heroic qualities do these people have?
  • Find examples of heroes in recent news stories. What kind of people are described as heroes today? Take one example of a news story, and decide who is the hero, what problem they had to solve or overcome, and how they achieved this. Ask the pupils to try re-writing the news story in the style of a traditional fairy tale.

    [LIT 1-14a; LIT 2-14a]
  • Read or tell the story of 'Hansel and Gretel'. Who is the hero in this story, and why? What problem does the hero have to solve, and what dangers do they have to face along the way? Encourage the pupils to consider that there might be more than one hero in this story. How do the brother and sister work together to solve the problem? What do each of them contribute?

    [ENG 1-19a; ENG 2-19a; ENG 1-17a; ENG 2-17a]
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Download character comparison activity (PDF: 47KB; 2 pages)


Source and activity 3



Themes in focus — Fairy tales


Related material at the Library

Find out more about fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm in our collections:


Search our main catalogue for books about fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm.


Discover more about the Brothers Grimm in our past treasures display.


Hansel and Gretel creative writing competition winners.


Read a news story about the Grimms' Scottish connections in a letter that Jacob Grimm wrote to Sir Walter Scott.


Elsewhere on the web

Find out more about storytelling duo Macastory.


Learn more about traditional tales and stories with the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

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