School’s out this week, so this episode is more on the fun side. Students twelve and up are often introduced to an ancient legend such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, or Beowulf. But the ancient language style of these stories and the extinct cultures they depict can sometimes seem alien to students. Ironically, a story with actual aliens in it might seem more familiar. Students already know a lot of the patterns of epic literature if they’ve seen the original Star Wars trilogy, read The Lord of the Rings . . . or played the first three Halo video games.
Master Chief fits perfectly in the pattern of a legendary hero. He is physically imposing, although his superpowers come from science rather than the gods. Like most heroes, including the Spartans for which his type of soldier is named, he’s laconic, speaking only to say something short, witty, and to the point. He fights monsters and fights with total loyalty to protect humanity — even if he’ll never have the chance to be part of human society himself.
By beginning with a hero students are already familiar with, it’s quite a lot easier to then recognize the characteristics of heroes from unfamiliar legends. Whether ancient or modern, we all need heroes to look up to and bring out the best in us. That means that as parents and teachers we should recognize that the methods of storytelling may have changed over time, but great legends are still told and should be recognized as such.
Activity: Traits of a Legendary Hero
Before this activity, students should be familiar with the basic story of the first three Halo video games. Assign each student or group of students a different hero from a great work of epic literature. Examples include Gilgamesh, King Arthur, Sigurd, Beowulf, Odysseus, Achilles, and Hercules. Provide each student with the worksheet below. Students can research their ancient hero and compare him to Master Chief. After filling out the sheets, students can report back to one another and assemble a list of traits common to heroic characters in epic literature.
Music in this Episode
“Shenandoah.” American Folk Song.