The six characters I've chosen for examples are mostly from well-known and celebrated stories. Even though they all happen to be male, I know several awesome female characters also fit the bill. I might make a separate blog post for them some time. But for now, here are six true male heroes.
Warning - Even though most of these are well known stories which I'd assume most of us are familiar with, my reflections are riddled with spoilers. If you haven't read them and would like to, you might prefer to skim over what comes below.
1) Gilbert Blythe
Soon after Matthew Cuthbert's death, he quietly relinquished the offer he'd received to teach at Avonlea School, choosing White Sands instead, which was further away and less convenient. His only reason was so that Anne could teach at the Avonlea School instead, which would enable her to stay close to Marilla in their time of need. He made no fanfares or announcements. In fact, he assumed that since her opinion of him had always been rock bottom, she might reject the offer if she knew. Anne ended up finding out through the grapevine, and Gilbert's generous gesture inspired her to make peace with him, after years of animosity.
2) Atticus Finch
Who could forget the way his two children found out their daddy had once been the best shot in Maycomb County? He simply killed a dangerous, rabid dog, when the sheriff insisted he was the best person to do it. In the preceding years, he'd never even mentioned his impressive skill, and that made a greater impression on Jem and Scout than if he had. It's what we'd come to expect from the lawyer who would agree to stand for the truth and defend a man whose case was doomed from the start.
The young hero from 'The Horse and his Boy' instinctively tried to protect the heroine, Aravis, who had always treated him with a haughty attitude. Mistaking Aslan for a fierce, wild lion who was about to tear her to pieces, Shasta slid from his horse's back to shoo him away, although to all appearances, he didn't have a chance. His brave action helped change Aravis' opinion of him.
4) Richard Dudgeon
He's the self-proclaimed devil's disciple, from the play by George Bernard Shaw. Despite his rebellious talk, when it came to laying his own life on the line to protect another, he didn't hesitate. He believed that the other man had a greater reason to live than himself.
5) Albus Dumbledore
The Hogwarts Headmaster had many memorable moments, but I'm thinking particularly of his actions directly before his death scene on the astronomy tower. To the very end, he was trying to help and protect his beloved students. He immobilised Harry so that he wouldn't rush in to get himself involved. And he took the time to help Draco Malfoy face the fact that he wasn't the ruthless killer his father and the death eaters had trained him to be. What a great sacrifice, from an old wizard in extreme pain, who'd just been through an horrific ordeal. It's one of my favourite moments of The Half Blood Prince. 'My dear boy, let us have no more pretense. If you were going to kill me, you would have done it when you first disarmed me. We wouldn't be having this pleasant chat about ways and means... You are not a killer.'
6) Harry Potter
The 'boy who lived' pulled off many feats of physical mastery and daring, often just scraping through, but I've no doubt his finest moment was right at the end of The Deathly Hallows, when it dawned on him that he was the horcrux Voldemort never meant to make. Harry reached the conclusion that all of his previous adventures had been leading to this moment, and he had no other choice but to face Voldemort, knowing that only his own death would defeat the evil villain. As soon as the realization hit him, he didn't hesitate. You don't get much more heroic than that!
So there are just six of my picks. I've read several more, which I'm sure you have too. If you'd like to suggest any others we might like to read, please do so in the comments.